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In between worlds; crossing self-histories 1981-2011

We are going through important times in Romanian contemporary art, a moment marked by the imperative act of retrospection. Revisiting the past is necessary, and I refer here particularly to the years after the Second World War, the decades which have imposed internationally what we call contemporary art and also to the same decades that have drawn almost indelible political and cultural borders. In galleries and museums around Europe retrospective exhibitions that also take into account the gender component or the feminist dimension of the art product, are organized almost with programmatic peristence: Mary Kelly: Projects, 1973-2010, Withworth Gallery, Manchester UK, 2011; Susan Hiller, Tate Britain, London UK, 2011, or Three Women: Maria Pininska- Berès, Natalia Lachi-Lachowicz, Ewa Partum, Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, Poland, 2011. Thus, some cultural operators have understood how important this updated analysis of the past decades is for a deeper understanding of the artistic phenomenon within a socio-political context and for shaping a clear cultural identity.

The first decade of the 21st century was consumed under the post-modern theoretical apparatus of the globalization era, apolitical par excellence, focusing solely on the flexibility to cancel the relations between center and periphery. However, the actual existence of the marginal, both at socio-political and artistic level, implies the impossibility of giving up the center or its exclusion. The so-called gray area of Eastern Europe has shaped its own aesthetics and assuming this fact is imperative not only from a Western European perspective or North American (full of prejudices), but rather from its own perspective. Marilena Preda Sânc’s exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Utopii / Cotidiene, Crossing Self-Histories 1981-2011, (June 23rd to September 25th , 2011) and edditing a substantial catalog of her work is a small step toward a natural integration of an important name in contemporary Romanian art, with a remarkable activity since the 1980s, into the circuit of events and research projects of this kind in Europe.

The responsibility of the retrospective act implies a decision of self-evaluation and therefore a form of assumed detachment, a trenchant exposure of an artistic identity. Marilena Preda Sânc covers three decades of activity marked historically and conceptually by personal stories captured in four major themes: Module, Bodyscape, Feminisms and Globe. The anatomy of the project urges us to a self-referential journey as an expression of subjective concerns, not only related to philosophical issues, but also to social and political ones. MPS chooses a very personal condition, even militant anti-impersonal, in favor of surveying the identity, placed at intervals between the almost organic medium of painting, subject to chromatic skinning and whipping and a light-aggressive gestural representation of graphics, interventions on the photographs and video art. The artist’s painting or graphic are never purely abstract and basically never impersonal. It is visible in paintings, collages, book-objects, the escape in a strange world boosted by constructions and physicalities often absorbed in an arid area. There is something here of literary science fiction atmosphere, of parallel or future world in which the body-matter and environment display their isomorphic character. The absence is only apparent, because itself becomes presence in the horror vacuum composition always located at the confluence of construction/deconstruction with modular heavy layers, imperfect, sharp, eroded by time. The atmosphere consumes you. You are challenged to an attack on resistance. Color is key to the grammar of painting, a visceral color replacing the words and refusing to rest as a body solicited to exhaustion. “For me the color is air, sound, meat. I think in it faster than in words.”1 A dry violence, a detached and harsh emaciation, a desert steppe incite the viewer limited to contemplation. Painting reveals directly, almost brutally, without false subtleties, with tones heated in the density of compositions crossing the representation of the four elements, modular geometries and feminine silhouettes. The color paste often lies on the surface as a volumetric structure, a canvas flesh from a tactile overflow. The module architecture reconfigures the permanence of the subjective landscape, at the confluence between a possible genesis and an imminent apocalypse. The modules’ verticality, with or without color, try that phallic expression of the beginnings, archaic element, Stonehenge - witness of time that, like any matter, succumbs to the passage of time. The module is the lithic element for the configuration of possible worlds, the ideal space for refuge and their compositional structure calls for musical construction theory. In the genesis of the work signed MPS, the modules are a priority, because they are the concrete expression of inner projections, of a mind whose oxygen is reconstruction, the permanent invention of possible spaces where you can isolate when reality, itself a source of utopias, coerces you to adapt. In drawing, modules come to give that shape of stability, dry calmness, free from the impulsive chromatism of paintings. The drawings are like an alert intermezzo because we can not rest here either, caught between geological traps. The book-objects from the 1980s-1990s meet the artist’s concerns about body and space, color and terrestrial density. MPS seems to find herself in the inner earth radiography where strength, balance and instability converge. The relationship between body and space is subject to exploration also in photograph (interventions on photographs, photocollages, 1980s), a brave and experimental practice at the time. MPS exposes her body for metaphysical reasons related to the conceptual side of artistic approach and to a form of self-analysis or relationship with space through her own body as a living element. The desire to integrate her body in drawings and documents from the years 1983-1985 (My body is Space in Space, Time For Memory of All) was the consequence of a natural relationship to her feelings, her own interiority with the possible world, shaped through
modules. The selfreferential approach took place in a very personal context and disconnected from the theoretical feminist dimension, a time when information from the West penetrated with difficulty and truncated and in a period in which the concept of nudity was subject to censorship. From this point of view, we could talk about a subversive aspect of these photos with graphic interventions, because despite the ban of the political
system, they were made with the intention of being exhibited and even managed to travel around the world as mail art, a valid alternative for many artists at that time. Awareness and assuming concrete feminist messages are synchronous with the free access to information that occurs after 1989.
So, on the other side, not as a rupture, but only as a supplement through other means, approached since the 1990s, there are the (globe)object, the video performace and multimedia installationss, perfecting personal anxieties, this time detached from the propensity for the utopian space and connected to everyday realities. After the 1989 revolution, the years of transition allow a significant exteriorization of socio-political issues raised by several artists in the preceding decades on the underground level, in the privacy of studios or in certain private areas. However, the opening of the borders sparks off the interest in new technologies, environmental exploration becoming possible for video artists and not just a luxury of poverty to whom the victim generations of communist regime were condemned.
The body, a recurrent theme in the art of MPS, is no longer a self-exploration tool of immersions into utopian constructions, becoming an instrument of exteriorization and castigation of socio-political realities. MPS assumes the coherence of the feminist discourse between the assertion of personal identity and denouncing the marginal status of women and their fragile nature. Although the gap of feminist events and results reached in the West on political and cultural levels is obvious, in Romania a few feminist concerns arise in 1990s feminist art with a more or less subtle message, and MPS manages to stand out through a coherent and conscious approach of feminist issues, and especially through contextual specificity. “Marilena Preda Sânc can be considered the first Romanian artist concerned spontaneously-systematically with issues of femininity, understood as a minority”.2 From Bodyscape Handscape Mindscape (1993) and Among the Cars (2006) to the newer Diva (2008-2011) MPS locates the specific issues of women from the former communist bloc, in the context of transition and post-modernity characterized by copy-paste takeovers of the Western models without real assimilation, emphasizing the role of power in the construction of norms, prejudices and social discrimination.
The Algorithms of Power (1995) defines the relationship between the past and present political, which retains, despite the change of regime and contextual confusion, the same mechanism of domination. Neighborhood (The Fence, 2003), old age / ageism3 (About Oldness, 1995), the environmental fate of the earth, but also its political future, also decided by the power (Globe, 1999; Eurogame Bambilici, 2006) are issues which do not escape paradigms as East/West, center/periphery, articulating a specific aesthetic of the area in question. Where the image is insufficient, MPS comes with fragments of text, an important component of her work. The often uncomfortable body positions noticeable in paintings, collages, drawings, book-objects and photo interventions of the 1980s and later, are also evident in video as an expression of the need for protection from external environmental aggressions. For MPS “what is personal is political”, taking over, with the same gap of two decades of artistic events in the West that could represent the phrase, a fact which can only determine an understanding of body and identity politics as a barometer for measuring the influence of power within the systems of government on personal relationships. MPS’ private life is only the private background irremediably invaded by local
socio-political aspects integrated (or not) in the global context (Globe, 1999). Personal experience is fundamental, and to withdraw in privacy, with all the related setting, where the presence of the maternal figure testifies to an immanent attachment, yet perturbed as expression, becomes an insufficient act to cure, even temporarily, the social wounds (The Window with Memories, 2006).
The declamative persistence of survival, of the existential act directly expressed in video performance (Bodyscape Handscape Mindscape, 1993) -ALIVE4 - and also the brief autobiography from the video-performance with the same title (Brief Autobiography, 1998) translate an interest in understanding and assuming her own identity in the context in which we can define ourselves only in relation to each other. The artist’s status and also the status of the woman artist or simply the status of the individual, male or female, during transition, cannot evolve naturally evading the deep social complexes caused by a history of a system ignorant of a uniformized population. After 1990 the affirmation and confirmation of identity issues remain essential for the artists from Eastern Europe. If Western art with a feminist message raises a question of identity through the representation of sexuality as a tool for social change in favor of independence and self-discovery, or by representing the body, often self-referential, as an argument against male objectification, the only valid vision for centuries of artistic production, art from the East comes to extend this socio-politically engaged requirement, adding the need to express other identity priorities. Gender identity or the status of women under communism or postcommunism, themes approached by MPS, are not high on the agenda of Romanian artists, who are rather trying to recover their stolen freedom and redefine their place in the fresh post-communist society. Paradoxically, the oppression of the communist past and current deviations from a true democracy fed political fear, the fear of taking a public opinion or the lack of civic attitude. MPS is among the few artists since 1990 in Romania who had the courage to take on a discourse with political commitment and among fewer artists who took on a discourse with double political commitment: one related to the communist past and the consequences on present times and inside it, one (contextually) feminist.
The entire discourse of MPS can be seen without hesitation as a nucleus in which the interests for a given medium complete each other. The nude from painting can also be found in photography and video, while the problem shift is subtle, from escaping into the utopian environment to the lucid self-referentiality through which women internalize and exteriorize, in a balanced way, human experience. The two worlds under the sign of utopia and on the other hand, under the sign of dailiness, are complementary, revealing nuanced passages, sometimes not integrated, faithfully fastened together with a personal thread.
The artistic act proves to be, once again, a dosed act of exteriorization, preserving the boundaries of confidentiality. With the diversity and intensity of concerns, with two worlds integrated to a vision without the claim for certainties, MPS’ work reveals a trenchant honesty, open and unconcealed. The four themes that cross her artistic endeavour coexist. In the visceral splash of color, in the modules drafted in a minimalist mathematic manner, in the arms parade with feminist slogans (FemSlogan, 2007) or in the act of crucifixion and the hammer crushing of the globe (Globe, 1999) we find MPS always the same.
There is no desertion, only recurrence.

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