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1994 - The wrinkles of matter

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Marilena was one of the seventeen artists I worked with in the project 010101 …, the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art’s 2nd annual exhibition. As that event is practically unknown to most contemporary readers, I will sum up the context here. The two annual exhibitions of SCCA that I curated (the other one being Ex Oriente Lux, 1993) were conceived as engineering attempts at changing the development course of the visual arts in post-1989 Romania, from ideological, methodological and technological points of view. With 010101 …, we (the advisory board and I) were aiming at extracting the art production from the isolation of the studio, by helping the artists in their confrontation with the hard realities of society. The participants were selected by an international jury on the basis of project proposals focusing on social groups/communities struggling with economic, ethnic or other issues. The selected artists were encouraged to look at their work as a process and at the results as site specific. The general outcome, namely the 010101 … event was supposed to be a media-based factual report, not a regular group art show, and that was the last constraint in an effort to bring the artists in close relation to their subject.
Seen from this moment in time, Marilena’s approach of the challenges implied by 010101 … was one of the most engaged and effective. In About Old Age, Death her choice went for a situation so intense and so complex that one could call it exemplary for the pauperized society inherited from the communist period and enhanced by the bizarre neo-capitalism that characterized Romania in the 90s. The place was a block of one-room apartments somewhere on the outskirts of a provincial city (Iaşi). The inhabitants were predominantly single old women who were discarded there, down and out from their previous lives, due to three factors:
- the wave of savage demolitions of privately owned housing operated by the Ceauşescu regime immediately after the big earthquake of 1977;
- their status of single women, due to the fact that their husbands passed away mostly before their time, and mostly due to dire life conditions;
- their sheer poverty, that made them dispensable to the society, before, but sadly enough also after 1989.
Despite the circumstances (or maybe precisely due to them) this community was functioning in a very efficient way, almost like a beehive. Mutual support was taking various forms, from the most basic therapy through conversation to practical aspects like doing the shopping for the weaker, helping the sick ones with daily tasks, and so on. I saw Marilena at work in that place. She was totally blending in, moving from one apartment to the other and from one occupant to the other with perfect easiness; deepening herself in conversations that were obviously the continuation of previous endless chats, being one of them, a woman concerned with the tasks of the day and with the unknowns of tomorrow.
The female universe, with its energies and dilemmas is fundamental to Marilena’s work, and the family stays central to her creative mechanisms. It is esthetically relevant that Marilena was preoccupied as a young artist by her coming of age, by her burgeoning femininity, while in her full maturity she turned towards the issues of decay and marginalization. Her relation to her grand mother was triggering new processes, that brought her to a new perspective on her own work. That rotten building from Iaşi, with its humanity, so warm and engaging despite its tragic dimension, was an embodiment at urban scale of Marilena’s obsessions with the feminine body, with its fragility and resilience, with its dignified passage towards death.
Marilena translated that particular experience in the morphology characteristic to her work. And that is what we artists do - operating a transfiguration of the reality as it comes upon us, into something subjective that belongs to us. About Old Age, Death allowed me to see how powerful and how genuine Marilena’s artistic obsessions are and how strongly connected they are to everyday life.


ABOUT OLD AGE, DEATH
This century made us live in the moment, and forget about old age and death. We got used to hide them, to be ashamed of them, and to be afraid to think about them. We lost something vital, the dignity of our old ones in relation to death. A block of studio flats of the second type comfort, 4 floors without an elevator, inhabited almost without exception by old people. …People with small pensions that cannot secure a decent life, with an income that covers the rent and partially the food but in no case the price of medicine. For any of those women illness becomes a problem. … They told me their life’s story; they made me live with them the main events that shaped their existence. … They told me about their parents, their brothers, about the husbands and children, the house in the village, about the war, the refuge - about how they got to be alone and how they prepared themselves for the passing beyond …. To me the important thing was that I could enter their reality, communicate with them. …
The material I gathered for this project contains also photographs, the filmed images of the Muddy Volcanoes - the inorganic structures, the bubbling, the earthy sonorities of these moving lands, the crease of matter like the wrinkles on the old women’s faces ….

(Marilena Preda Sânc, statement in 010101…, catalogue edited by the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts, Bucharest, 1995, pp.162-163)

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