Exhibition views
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Miklos Onucsan, <em>Stiff Ballet for the End of the Century,</em> 1996, video, 14’ - Mendes Wood DM
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Miklos Onucsan, <em>Stiff Ballet for the End of the Century,</em> 1996, video, 14’ - Mendes Wood DM

Track Changes

03/09 2016 – 08/10 2016

Curadoria por Plan B
Ioana Batranu, Rudolf Bone, Sorin Campan, Victor Ciato, Horia Damian, Belu-Simion Fainaru, Adrian Ghenie, Octav Grigorescu, Victor Man, Ciprian Muresan, Iulia Nistor, Miklos Onucsan, Serban Savu

The exhibition Track Changes takes the model of a boîte-en-valise show‭, ‬following the program of Galeria Plan B through a retrospective and subjective selection‭. ‬Looking at the past and trying to construct a possible narrative‭, ‬this show links different positions in Romanian art of the last fifty years‭. ‬It traces a line from the dictatorial regime of the communist times‭, ‬when art had to negotiate its existence within the context of state censorship‭ (‬softer in the 1960s and very harsh in the 1980s‭), ‬and the‭ ‬post-communist transition of the 1990s‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬when art took its socio-political role very seriously‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬until the 2000s‭, ‬marked by an autonomous and independent position in a broader context of the international art field‭.    ‬

The relative political openness experienced in the 1960s‭, ‬after the dark 1950s‭, ‬allowed artists to exhibit works that didn’t respond to the official political discourse‭, ‬artists who‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬as Octav Grigorescu suggested‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬were dreaming of a blissful place of the image‭. ‬This kind of art was envisioning an autonomous place in relation to the social and political reality‭, ‬recreating a‭ ‬connection with the grand tradition of art and philosophical thinking‭. ‬The iconic watercolors of Victor Ciato‭, ‬entitled Moment 0‭ (‬the self-proclaimed moment of a new beginning‭), ‬the metaphysical painting of Sorin Campan‭, ‬the utopian spaces of Horia Damian‭,‬‭ ‬and the mythological universe of Octav Grigorescu are representative‭ (‬works‭) ‬for those visionary years‭. ‬

Once the new dictatorial ideology had enforced additional constraints‭ (‬following Ceausescu's return from China and North Korea in July 1971‭), ‬the late 1970s and the 1980s witnessed a reinstatement of the social and political art that responded subversively‭ ‬and courageously to the difficult context of the time‭. ‬Artists such as Onucsan or Bone resisted the pressures of the regime through conceptual art and performance‭, ‬while Ioana Batranu responded to the issues of this enclosed‭, ‬corrupt‭, ‬and confused society‭ ‬with painting‭, ‬following her own analytical tools of filtering‭. ‬The artists of the 1980s and 1990s referred persistently to social and political issues‭, ‬animating their work at the same time with a poetic vision‭, ‬a synthesis which is apparent in diaspora‭-‬artist Belu-Simion Fainaru's work but which remains essentially political‭.‬

Alongside other voices of their generation‭, ‬Ciprian Muresan‭, ‬Adrian Ghenie and Serban Savu engage the recent past of Eastern Europe as an occasion to extricate the very notion of history from ideological falsification‭, ‬to bind it up with personal experience‭, ‬conceptual accident and the history of art‭. ‬Equally concerned with global issues and immune to the utopias of revolution or liberalism‭, ‬artists from the 2000s generation conjoined their discourse rather with a metaphysical and apolitical approach‭. ‬Both‭ ‬Victor Man and Iulia Nistor‭ (‬a young voice of the diaspora‭), ‬deal with the conditio humana in these uncanny times‭, ‬and reimplement an autonomous art language in the contemporary context‭.‬

The visual material exhibited here oscillates between metaphysical and political issues‭, ‬understood as responses to the same reality and connected dialectically‭. ‬The last fifty years of Romanian art is following just as other so-called peripheral spaces did‭, ‬the sinuous road of a society passing from dictatorship to democracy and globalization‭. ‬But‭, ‬regardless of the perspective in‭ ‬each artist's oeuvre‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬either the self as a point of reference or the world around it‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬the form of expression tying them is the poetic‭. ‬None of the works on display illustrate didactically a single point of view‭, ‬but they all show a great capacity of adding new meanings and layers every time and in each context they are shown‭. ‬Perhaps the quality of this show resides in the mirror effect itself that changes the background of the works while keeping them as examples of a circular historical flux‭, ‬always playing between the autonomous condition and the political engagement and back‭.‬

Plan B opened 2005‭ ‬in Cluj‭, ‬Romania initiated by Mihai Pop and Adrian Ghenie‭; ‬Plan B functions as a production and exhibition space for contemporary art and at the same time a research center focusing on the Romanian art of the last 50‭ ‬years‭, ‬by revealing‭ ‬works of remarkable artists without previous international exposure‭. ‬Since 2008‭, ‬Plan B is running a permanent exhibition space‭ ‬in Berlin‭, ‬Germany and is coordinated by Mihai Pop and Mihaela Lutea‭.‬

About the artists and works in the show:

Ioana Batranu‭ (‬b‭. ‬1960‭, ‬lives and works in Bucharest‭) ‬approaches themes that are marginal in relation to what used to be the official culture in Romania and expresses them with acute sensitivity‭, ‬in a permanent vacillation between subjectivity and reality‭.‬‭ ‬There are a few recurrent themes‭ (‬Melancholic Interiors‭, ‬Enclosed Gardens and Latrines‭) ‬which‭, ‬seen together‭, ‬form a coherent image of her personal project‭: ‬looking for the point in which the break with the world and the attempt to make peace with it are‭ ‬simultaneous in her existence‭. ‬The conflict between the two leads the artist to subjects located at the periphery of the society‭ ‬in which she lives and never to the center thereof‭. ‬Studies for the Latrines series of oil paintings‭, ‬the watercolors on view reconsider the harsh reality of the late 80s‭, ‬which coincided with the downfall of the communist regime and the outbreak of the 1989‭ ‬Revolution‭. ‬The bleak‭, ‬impersonal interiors become instances of an alienating public space defined by the loss of privacy and strict daily routine‭. ‬

Rudolf Bone‭ (‬b‭. ‬1951‭ ‬in Oradea‭, ‬Romania lives and works in Oradea‭) ‬is one of the most important sculptors and performance artists of his generation in Romania‭; ‬he comes from the experimental context Atelier 35‭ ‬Oradea‭ - ‬the young group of the Romanian Fine‭ ‬Artists‭' ‬Union‭ - ‬active in the 80‭'‬s‭, ‬partially in the underground‭, ‬without a real political and financial support‭, ‬far from ideology and even subversive towards the communist regime‭. ‬The art of Rudolf Bone is a significant reference for understanding the experimentalism and reconsidering sculptural practice in Romania‭. ‬Bone is remarkable in his ability to combine a light touch and‭ ‬playful approach to art making‭, ‬with his constant and serious preoccupation for finding a stable and unique truth‭. ‬Confronted with the political and social reality of the Ceausescu era‭, ‬his work got a more and more subversive note‭. ‬The artist has been consistently intrigued by the specificity of different materials‭; ‬he worked with matter as diverse as sand‭, ‬soil‭, ‬string‭, ‬glass‭, ‬photography‭, ‬aluminium foil castings‭, ‬and live plants and fish and extended his sculptural practice into performance‭. ‬Interested in the idea of art in progress and the ephemeral character of the artwork‭, ‬he is often recurring to breaking glass in his happening‭, ‬as in Haiku‭, ‬first realized in 1986‭. ‬With this work‭, ‬Bone is also tackling a central idea for the artistic creation‭: ‬the attachment of the artist to his own creation‭, ‬to which he sets a forceful counterpoint‭. ‬The ephemeral object‭ ‬has no chance to develop into cult‭. ‬The acoustical effect of the breaking glass is carrier of a strong message‭: ‬the force of the moment impresses itself deeply into the viewer’s perception‭. ‬The artist’s physical involvement in his own happenings during the 80s in Romania was a call for participation and involvement‭.‬

Sorin Campan's‭ (‬born 1940‭, ‬lives and works in Cluj‭, ‬Romania‭) ‬works achieve their appearance of simplicity through a nuanced reflection on the instruments of painting and a series of detours‭. ‬Their enigmatic articulation demands a patient reading‭: ‬simple images like nocturnal landscapes or still lives with fruit are pretexts to localize mystery‭, ‬to subject it to a kind of order‭, ‬which does not coincide with its translation or explanation‭. ‬Beyond the always surprising dosage of transparency and secrecy‭, ‬the quality of the painting‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬the austerity of means and the often exuberant chromatics‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬make Campan a remarkable artist‭.‬

Victor Ciato‭ (‬b.1938‭, ‬lives and works in Cluj‭) ‬is one of the few post-war Romanian abstract painters who did not surrender to the pressures of Socialist Realism‭. ‬On the contrary‭, ‬in reaction to the oppressive system‭, ‬Ciato detached himself from the dominant aesthetics marked by figuration and developed his own artistic reality based on pure abstraction‭. ‬The two watercolors presented are part of a series entitled‭ '‬Moment 0‭', ‬painted between 1966‭ ‬and 1968‭. ‬After finishing his studies at the Fine Arts Institute‭ ‬Ion Andreescu ‬in Cluj in 1964‭, ‬Victor Ciato's‭ ‬‘Moment 0‘‭ ‬represented a turning point in his artistic practice‭. ‬In this way he wanted to free himself from the academic norms and the ballast of prolet-cultist painting and reinvent‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬in a real modernist manner‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬creating his own norms‭. ‬In this way he achieved the‭ ‬series of abstract watercolors‭, ‬works that were not meant to represent anything in particular‭. ‬They are puristic abstractions‭, ‬colored in a refined manner‭; ‬nowadays‭, ‬their artistic value is doubled by the importance of the auto-formative‭ (‬self-formative‭) ‬exercise‭, ‬performed in those circumstances‭. ‬Related to the art of that time‭, ‬the search into the problematic field of the non-figurative can be perceived as a radical gesture of re-definition‭.‬

Horia Damian‭ (‬1922-2012‭) ‬was born in Bucharest‭, ‬where he had his first personal exhibitions‭, ‬before settling to Paris in 1946‭. ‬He had encounters and collaborated with artists like Fernard Leger‭, ‬Constantin Brancusi‭, ‬Auguste Herbin‭, ‬Saldavor Dali and Ives Klein‭. ‬Horia Damian‘s work is rooted in a European tradition of monument builders‭, ‬most admirably exemplified by his fellow Romanian Brancusi in such structures as the‭ Column of the Infinite‭ ‬and‭ '‬The Gate of the Kiss‭'. ‬Through the deliberateness of the choices of his subjects and the analysis in depth of a very few themes‭, ‬Damian may be likened to Christo who also reveals the infinite variety of object-ideas through work cycles‭. ‬But unlike Christo and Yves Klein‭, ‬Damian‘s friend and contemporary‭, ‬Damian is ultimately concerned with the intuition of an extra-terrestrial spatial order‭. ‬Damian created monumental‭, ‬symbolic sculptures giving them a metaphysical perspective that would distinguish them from the contemporary works of American Minimal Art made by artists like Ronald Bladen‭, ‬Robert Grosvenor or Tony Smith‭.‬In 1975‭ ‬he constructed for the Guggenheim Museum in New York‭ '‬The Hill’‭. ‬The director of Guggenheim Museum of that time‭, ‬Thomas Messer writes about Damian‘s works‭: ‬in all of these‭, ‬Damian aims for essentially the same results and all his concepts therefore have parallel meaning within his total oeuvre‭. ‬Damian‘s art‭, ‬based upon impeccable craftsmanship and an obsessive preoccupation with materials‭, ‬cannot be faulted for lacking concreteness‭. ‬But despite the sparseness and reductiveness of Damian‘s structures‭, ‬minimal and formalistic interpretations do not suffice in this case‭. ‬For his explicit references are to a celestial rather than a terrestrial space‭, ‬to an ideal rather than a palpable world order‭, ‬and to sacral rather than temporal realities‭.‬

Belu-Simion Fainaru‭ (‬born 1959‭ ‬in Bucharest‭, ‬Romania‭) ‬lives and works in Haifa‭, ‬Israel‭. ‬Făinaru’s work uses a wide range of media‭, ‬such as sculpture‭, ‬installation‭, ‬drawing and video‭. ‬The works contain several layers of meaning that touch upon Jewish-Romanian history and issues of identity and territory‭. ‬Although his predilection for these subjects is‭ ‬indisputable‭, ‬Fainaru’s oeuvre also unmistakably addresses universal human themes‭.‬Dr‭. ‬Daniel Wayman of Tel Aviv University writes on the practice of Belu-Simion Fainaru‭: ‬Over the years the artist Belu-Simion Fainaru has coped with issues connected to the concept of the nothingness that drives his creativity‭. ‬The monastically compressed‭ ‬characteristics of the works‭, ‬the sparing choice of materials‭, ‬the limited forms and colors‭ (‬chiefly black and white‭), ‬as well as the use of Hebrew lettering‭, ‬direct the viewer to symbolical spiritual meanings and to philosophical issues beyond the identification of the present physical object‭. ‬In some of the objects derived from the ready made concept in art‭, ‬the tension is created by disruption of the functionality and by the disconnection from useful purposefulness‭. ‬These duality systems prompt us to engage in queries regarding the existing present‭, ‬the identity or actual reality that we apprehensively embrace when facing the threat of the void and the nothingness‭.‬As in Black Sea‭, ‬2008‭, ‬the black liquid as a recurrent element in his work‭, ‬refers to the image of the black milk‭, ‬that appears‭ ‬in Paul Celan's poem Fugue of Death as a recurring theme‭: ‬Fugue of Death/Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall/we drink it at noon in the morning‭/ ‬we drink it at night we drink it and drink it‭.‬Like Celan‭, ‬Fainaru combines contrasts creating a rich symbolic reality derived from the past and the present‭, ‬from the sacred and the profane‭, ‬from the soul and the body‭. ‬Like Celan’s meridian address that describes a symbolic search for a map of his childhood and an aspiration to find a place that is no place‭, ‬as in the poem where he finds himself anew‭, ‬thus does Fainaru combine objects and images‭, ‬sights and memories that create an‭ ‬internal and external journey in search of identity and place‭.‬

Adrian Ghenie‭ (‬b‭. ‬1977‭, ‬works in Cluj and Berlin‭) ‬isolates and abstracts particular episodes fromthe convulsed history of the 20th century‭. ‬His paintings are brimming with history while also manifesting astrange detachment from it‭: ‬historical scenes are reconstructed as tragic or comic dialectical images‭,‬disconnected from chronological continuum‭, ‬familiar in their references and strangely elusive as reconfiguredsums of these references‭. ‬In their suspension‭, ‬they materialize accidental intersections of self and history‭.‬

Octav Grigorescu‭ ‬In the person and art of Octav Grigorescu‭ (‬1933-1987‭) ‬there coincided a typically avant-garde nostalgia for the primordial and worship of the elementary‭, ‬on the one hand‭, ‬and a postmodernist taste for crepuscular delights and the presentiment of death‭, ‬on‭ ‬the other‭. ‬Born in 1933‭, ‬Octav Grigorescu died in 1987‭ ‬at the age of just fifty-four‭, ‬but during his short lifetime he created a‭ ‬body of work that made a mark on twentieth-century Romanian art‭. ‬A draughtsman‭, ‬engraver and painter‭, ‬he was hugely productive‭.‬Octav Grigorescu plunges into his archaeological‭, ‬historical‭, ‬mythological‭, ‬biblical and even everyday reveries‭, ‬filtering in an‭ ‬extreme subtle way echoes of Da Vinci‭, ‬Poussin and Hans von Marees‭, ‬to which any number of other names might also be added‭. ‬The‭ ‬memory is also at work at the strictest level of technique when Octav Grigorescu recreates the illusion of the palimpsest‭, ‬which is extremely suggestive precisely in his historical paintings‭, ‬where the evocation of temporality is a necessity and a condition‭. ‬The integral realism of which Octav Grigorescu speaks at one point means the rehabilitation of the plenitude of the world as‭ ‬a whole and emergence from under the fascinating curse of the fragment‭. ‬His historical paintings and those on biblical themes are a series of visions in the original‭, ‬etymological sense of the word‭, ‬visions that tend to capture key moments in the history‭ ‬of mankind‭. ‬A unifying perspective joins the cruel events of history with biblical times‭.‬

The works of Victor Man‭ (‬b‭. ‬1974‭, ‬lives and works in Berlin and Cluj‭) ‬study the limits of understanding from a different perspective‭: ‬the fine dosage of contextual references both encourages and renders incomplete an elucidation of what might be happening‭ ‬in his paintings‭, ‬of the nature of their diaphanous incidents‭. ‬Man returns to the subtle infrastructure of information and visual clues that allows a scene to be imaginatively placed‭ ‬somewhere, ‬and assumed to represent‭ ‬‘something’‭, ‬and pushes this limit until it folds upon itself‭. ‬The distinct visual vocabulary of Victor Man is informed by a constant exploration of the paradoxes and contrarieties of his own being‭. ‬‘Victor Man operates in the depths of vision‭, ‬on the eye‭, ‬on the uterus-eye begetting visions on things‭, ‬meaning the divine seeds‭, ‬planes‭, ‬sketches and croquis‭. ‬In his work‭, ‬Victor Man is tirelessly and obstinately looking for the level at which one may operate‭, ‬at which he may intervene through sight over the formation of things‭, ‬the highly spiritual and ultimate operations level of encounter between the eye and the uterus‭, ‬where painting’s plasticity is found and alchemically identified with the germinative plasticity of things and nature‭.‬

An additional proof of his pursuit and heroic advancement on his path‭, ‬that Victor Man heroically and epically proves himself capable of‭, ‬is this recent painting‭ (‬2015‮–‬2016‭) ‬titled Early Paradise‭ (‬and actually representing a study for a World Flag‭), ‬this exceptional painting within painting in which representation is explicitly allegoric‭, ‬the illustration of the astral eggs and the‭ ‬ovular deformed head stretched towards the maternal breast‭, ‬an egg‭, ‬a tear‭, ‬a bud‭, ‬a drop of dew‭, ‬etc‭., ‬culminating with a new‭ ‬stage in the imagination of the de-colouring‭, ‬of the shadowing‭, ‬this time by simply effacing colours‭, ‬as in a restoration work and the return‭, ‬thus trans-visual‭, ‬to the drawing beneath‭, ‬by blotting out to the canvas as reality support that creates a flash‭ ‬upon the covered light‭, ‬shadowed by history‭.‬ (‬from a text by Bogdan Ghiu‭)‬

Ciprian Muresan‭ (‬b.1977‭, ‬lives and works in Cluj‭) ‬turns the quotidian experience upside down‭, ‬along with art history’s authority‭. ‬His sharply ironic works tackle the social transition in today's Romania‭, ‬the replacement of values like tradition‭ ‬and religion‭, ‬but also the substitution of communist propaganda for the new imagery of a consumerist society‭. ‬Video holds a special place in Ciprian Muresan's extensive practice including drawing‭, ‬sculpture and installation‭. ‬For Dog Luv‭ (‬2009‭), ‬one of his early video works commissioned for the Romanian Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale‭, ‬Muresan sets a social debate in a theatrical context‭, ‬as handcrafted puppets of black dogs were animated based on a text by playwright Saviana Stanescu‭ ‬about humanity’s darkest traits‭. ‬The dialogue about torture and execution gradually extends into an enactment of the cruel actions discussed‭, ‬the power relations between the five dogs shifting dramatically throughout the video‭, ‬from solidarity to violence‭. ‬By dressing the characters in black‭, ‬a method used by puppeteers to hide from the audience‭, ‬Muresan unmasks the dogs as puppets‭, ‬while placing‭ ‬the puppets‭, ‬as well as puppeteers on the same stage‭, ‬therefore equally redistributing the importance of these elements‭, ‬and hijacking the traditional format of puppet theatre‭. ‬

Iulia Nistor‭ ‭(‬b‭. ‬1985‭, ‬lives and works in Frankfurt am Main‭) ‬deals with the potentiality of uncertainty and disorientation wherein painting becomes an epistemological instrument‭. ‬Her painting process is a constant negotiation between informing and discharging the image and focuses on qualia‭ (‬the qualitative character of experience‭), ‬as well as on the sensual aspect of things‭. ‬Nistor works at the intersection of semiotics and visual phenomena‭, ‬where a signifying language of images is built into a sensuous field using overlays and veils of tone in order to create phenomenal depth‭. ‬The multiple layering and the repeated process of adding and subtracting introduce the dimension of time‭, ‬which contrasts with the immediacy of the expressive and symbolic elements‭. ‬Coordinates also determine the position in a 3-dimensional space of qualia for E1‭ ‬F8‭ ‬P4‭ (‬2016‭) ‬and E7‭ ‬W6‭ ‬A3‭ (‬2016‭) ‬as‭ ‬Pieces of Evidence‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬a format of oil on wood paintings with the same dimensions 40‭ ‬× 50‭ ‬cm‭/ ‬50‭ ‬× 40‭ ‬cm‭. ‬Nistor thus questions conventions of our perception and thought in order to create new potentiality of understanding‭. ‬She is creating iconic images from the ephemeral‭, ‬while trying to preserve it‭. ‬

Serban Savu‭ (‬b‭. ‬1978‭, ‬lives and works in Cluj‭) ‬paints the New Man‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬the long-awaited product of the communist society‭, ‬created in the ideological laboratory‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬caught in the melancholy of his daily condition of anonymity in the transition to capitalism‭. ‬The‭ ‬distance between ideal and real loads the image with tension as Savu paints the image of a world after the failure of a historical project‭. ‬Characterized by empathy and close scrutinity‭, ‬observation and abstraction‭, ‬reduction and re-composition‭, ‬his paintings are capable of initiating an assessment of the present moment understood in a wider‭, ‬historical sense‭.‬Darker than most of Savu's paintings of quotidian tableaux‭, ‬the eerie landscape in Blackout‭ (‬2016‭) ‬is a rare scene because of the absent human figure‭, ‬which is however present through the ghostly silhouette of the partly collapsed high voltage transmission‭ ‬tower‭. ‬Derelict in the vast natural expanse‭, ‬the massive man-made structure acts both as a reminder for the failure of technology‭, ‬and a reflection on humanity at large‭.  ‬

Miklos Onucsan‭ (‬b‭. ‬1952‭, ‬Gherla‭, ‬Romania lives and works in Oradea‭) ‬works in a conceptual vein‭, ‬addressing a wide range of issues that are highly personal and yet manage to acquire a more general resonance‭. ‬His interventions also bring to mind a Fluxus-like spirit‭. ‬In his own statement his work does not seek to represent or to replace the existing reality‭, ‬but rather guides our perception through almost imperceptible alterations of what we encounter in the world‭. ‬For Stiff Ballet for the End of the Century‭ (‬1996‭), ‬Miklos Onucsan used a real experience as starting point‭: ‬on a terribly hot day‭, ‬as people were trudging along the street‭, ‬a child released a balloon that started‭ dancing‭ ‬in the air‭, ‬while deflating‭. ‬From that fleeting moment‭, ‬Onucsan developed a performance enacted by a group of people acting rigidly‭, ‬but simultaneously involved in a choreography activated by the balloons they hold and let go‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬a free‭, ‬unedited and unpredictable dance within the predefined‭, ‬fixed coordinates of the performance‭, ‬as much as a poetic tribute paid to the century that was about to end‭, ‬based on a both critical and humorous comment‭.‬