HALO is the word Ceausescu exclaims fifteen times on December 21, 1989 to the enraged crowd at Piaţa Palatului. A word that has become a symbol of the fall of the dictatorship in Romania. 4 days later television broadcasts a show trial that condemns Ceausescu and his wife to death. The execution takes place on the same day.
Anton Roland Laub, a Romanian artist, born in Bucharest, since 2000 living in Berlin. The stigmas of the dictatorship of the “Genius of the Carpathians” occupy a leading place in his work. In 2017, he published Mobile Churches. A story about seven sacred buildings in the Romanian capital, which survived the systematization process because they were hidden behind housing blocks.
A green background, a piece of paper with the word ALO and a typewriter marked with Romanian flag is the chorus of Laub’s book. It comes back to us like a boomerang. It doesn’t leave us even for a moment. It demands attention because every thought is recorded. Everything between the chorus is a puzzle.
Laub wants the viewer to know only one thing: the main character of the play is Nicolae Ceausescu and the “empire” he has been building for 22 years. His face breaks through the screens from the last speech, the day of the trial, and the drawings hung on a gilded rope.
With pictures of a familiar face, Laub abandons us. He will not be our guide, rather a demanding teacher. He leaves us in some places and when we think we already know where we are and what puzzles to connect we get a screenshot from the Christmas song by Wham !. Maybe this story shouldn’t be taken seriously? Maybe we should sing? Yes, we can, but we won’t even get to the first verse. The mannequins in Ceausescu’s clothes remind you that we are not going skiing. The rooms to which we are entitled, or rather the daring to enter, are places of remembrance. The symbols and signs that are in them, such as propaganda books, red stars, marble floors, Persian rugs, or fur coats are objects that we must constantly watch because they “have something to tell us”. They are also rooms where everyday rituals take place. Sleeping, eating, washing, but the contrast of the equipment on them shows that something has gone very wrong.
Laub ends Last Christmas (of Ceaușescu) with a cliché from Lionel Richie’s song: Is it me you’re looking for? This is followed by a series of photos from the Romanian Parliament Building, built by the dictator. The emblem of the Socialist Republic of Romania was replaced by the flag of the European Union. However, this is not enough to deal with the trauma left by the “Son of the Sun” and the physical presence of Ceaușescu’s objects is still not his only form of being.
In Laub’s photobook, nothing is accidental. Red cover, golden inscriptions, postcard-sized photographs, TV scraps. As in the Ceausescu regime, every move and every cadre is controlled. That is why reading it’s as heavy as the amount of gold that “Genius of the Carpathians” decided to put into the legendary bathroom in the People’s House. Last Christmas (of Ceausescu) has such a rhythm that you have to watch it fifteen times. If you are an attentive observer maybe you will manage to finish this puzzle somehow.
Author: Anton Roland Laub
Title: Last Christmas (of Ceausescu)
Place of publication: Berlin
Date of publication: 2020
Author of photographs: Anton Roland Laub
Authors of the text: Frizzi Kella, Lotte Laub
Language: German, English
Graphic design: July Mollik
Editor: Frizzi Kella
Publisher: Kehrer Verlag
Number of pages: 144
Format: 16,5 x 22,5 cm
Printing technique: offset