Gorzo’s Wunderkabinett

February 24, 2010

I don’t know any prominent contemporary Romanian artist to whom the bravadoes appear so appealing and at the same time to whose artistic production and discourse the appetite for bravado causes so much harm as to Gorzo. He was so often presented and even tacitly presented himself as a scandal artist (which is not to be understood as one and the same thing as an artist with an attitude) that most people who don’t necessarily develop a particular interest in his work still label him accordingly. He has assumed the pose of enfant terrible of the national contemporary art scene at times when it would have made much more sense to present its audiences, in a determined manner, with the embedded intellectual meanings of his art. Over and over again, he thrived as (media) star, but was downplayed and at times even downplayed himself as artist. And yet, despite all this, Gorzo remains both an epitomical presence within the Romanian contemporary life and an artist possessing a genuine power to express personal and collective identities. He is able like few others to successfully take upon him the difficult task of making personal reveries and obsessions converge with the wider frame of culturally shared mythologies.
This is a topical path Gorzo has been pursuing for quite some time now. The artist almost compulsively returns to the figures he extracts from the Romanian folklore, first and foremost from the mythological constructs that shape the collective and mostly subconscious imaginary of the Maramures area, where he was born. The artworks that draw on this source are definitely his most consistent to date and far more poignant than his iconoclastic approaches to political or politically confiscated figures, such as Romanian president Basescu or the revered medieval ruler, Steven the Great.
The solo show now on view at laika art space in Bucharest, titled Wunderkabinett, presents a surprisingly fresh reworking of Gorzo’s approach to his personal bestiary. Some tens of small and medium size wood carvings, monochrome and rather flat in their appearance are displayed on the pristine white walls of the small exhibition room. They coherently embed the artist’s option for being as less intrusive as possible in the treatment the material, its natural colour and texture being plainly and sensuously exposed. The surface of the walls is turned into an invaded territory by the artworks: Gorzo’s strange and yet uncannily familiar silhouettes spread around, from floor to ceiling, refusing any sort of symmetry, any predictable or explicitly narrative trajectories. Still, this invasion possesses a smooth quality about it, as the chromatic contrast between the works themselves and their temporary background is not stark, but a rather mild one.
It seems to me that Wunderkabinett functions, among other semantic implications, as an attempt to go beyond the interplay between the painted surface and the three-dimensional object, a topic which may sometimes look a bit facile and which was employed by the artist quite frequently in the past years. Actually, he used it so frequently that the above mentioned topic verged on becoming typical of him, perhaps even threatening his art to slip into some sort of mannerism. To quote Jerry Saltz, one sign that something might just be wrong with (someone’s) art is that “the same things that were said about an artist a decade ago are still being said today”. This situation is one that Gorzo’s production is sometimes dangerously nearing, in a manner perhaps similar to that of Tara (von Neudorf) – though they’d both probably sneer at the idea of such a similarity. Thus, the move away from such a risky position which is successfully attempted by means of the Wunderkabinett show is surely welcomed.

In terms of formal appearance and technical instruments deployed, this move can be easily and simply described as a “removal” of the colour from the surface of the carved object. That does not necessarily mean that the wood carvings in the exhibition discussed here are decidedly presenting themselves as pieces of sculpture. But by refraining from his usual expressionistic, deceivingly naive and so often refined use of colour, the artist brings them closer to the simple, yet often rich and subtle language of drawing. I don’t want by any means to assert that such a formal option is in itself more meaningful and adequate than others or that what one might call the vicinity of sculpture with drawing is by itself preferable to the interlacing of sculpture and painting. The meaningfulness of this approach in the context of the show at laika art space lies in the fact that the concise, cool, somewhat unassuming look of the works that derives from it is perfectly appropriate for the inventorial endeavour which the exhibition proposes itself to be. The artist’s emphatic beasts are here both shaped and displayed with a kind of entomological detachment. It looks like they’ve become for Gorzo (or at least that they could become) object of scrutiny, not just of fascination. If the solo show at M.N.A.C. a few years ago brilliantly confronted us with a much more complex Gorzo than most of us probably imagined, the present project presents us with Gorzo as a more reflexive artist than we’d have expected him to be (or at least as one with a considerable reflexive potential).
Getting back to the issue of bravado in his art, one might say that the laika art space exhibition stands as a convincing argument that he is most coherent and meaningful as an artist when he puts it aside. His most forceful art happens when he tackles his inner, bizarre, personal / collective imaginary world straight on. Many of his most striking works are those which tend to appear most aloof. It is this kind of art which is displayed at laika. Therefore, in more than one respect, the Wunderkabinett exhibition has the merit of getting the viewer to encounter Gorzo at his best.

In November 1957, the Soviet Union managed to successfully launch a living earthly creature in to the outer space and by means of that to outrun its main rival, the U. S. A., in the race for conquering the cosmos. The unusual hero of this adventure was a female dog, which afterwards became world famous by the name of Laika. Sputnik II, the spacecraft that took Laika to orbit the Earth, was not a retrievable flying module. Thus, the later-to-become-iconic animal was, obviously without knowing or wanting it, launched simultaneously towards fame and towards death.
In the late autumn of 2008, laika art space was opened as an artist run space with two locations, one in Bucharest and one in Cluj. The space was since remarkably well managed by Marius Bercea, Vlad Olariu and Mircea Suciu (featured, for a while, also by Serban Savu). The space’s explicit aim is to promote emerging contemporary artists as well as atypical projects signed by already established artists from the international art scene. Assuming the name of the peculiar space explorer, laika art space implicitly assumes a drive towards the experimental, towards taking projects from the artists’ studios or imagination and launching them into the fascinating and risky outer space of the art world.
On February, 5th, 2010, laika art space in Cluj opened an exhibition called “How It’s Made”, featuring the young Cluj based artist Mihut Boscu. The exhibition consisted of one single piece of sculpture, namely a seemingly realistic rendering of the sealed compartment embedded in Sputnik II were Laika was placed when launched. Laika, the sacrificial victim of sciences and politics, was brought once more to the attention of a public and the art space which took inspiration in the aeronautical project briefly described above became the stage for it; it became the setting for the contemplation of the beautiful and macabre “machine” which took life literally as far as possible only to get it killed. The sculptural object was made out of materials such as metal pieces, Plexiglas, plastic, screws and so on. Neatly handcrafted and aesthetically pleasurable, presenting either pristine white or transparent surfaces, the sculpture looked eerie, strangely low-tech to a twenty-first century spectator and even weirdly domestic.

As far as I know –mostly from various discussions I’ve had with (very) young Romanian artists and art students– science fiction, spectacular scientific practices and hypothesis, applied science or space conquest represent fields of often passionate interest for more than a handful of them. In some cases, I think this manifested interest is not just a sort of teenage snobbism, a rave-type drive for being cool or a mere influence of the computer games many of them grew up or live with, but something significantly more genuine and relevant, in terms of artistic attitude, be it consciously assumed or not. In this respect, I believe the young artists I’m talking about mainly tend to approach those domains with both fascination and, more importantly, with an interest not so much for the political contexts, social consequences or ideological constructs which shape the practices involved in them. Rather, they would focus on what I’d call the existential implications of the ideas at work in the above mentioned domains of human knowledge and activity.
Thus, science and / or science fiction tend to become references which some these artists seem to consider that may enable them to artistically state something about the human existence, without feeling obliged to attain and demonstrate a serious, acute social and political awareness and to forge the respectively necessary intellectual and communicational instruments. Science and science fiction may be regarded, from such a perspective, as topical realms which could provide the opportunity of a double escape: from empty aestheticism as well as from pointless and overdone political content, to pitfalls which have made so many victims in the Romanian art of the last decades.
It is not my purpose here to analyze the theoretical correctitude or the political adequacy of such a conceptual position. I’m only saying that it is a stance that functionally underlines the production of Mihut Boscu, and that he is producing good, exciting art out of it. He is an artist with impressive imaginative abilities and is tireless “making worlds”, to quote Daniel Birnbaum’s concept. One factual proof of these is that in less than a year, this young man in his early twenties succeeded in building up two convincing solo shows, the “Long Gone Future / Ramasitele viitorului” at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca in May 2009 and the exhibition at laika art space.
The idea lying behind the later is one of elegant simplicity. It is one of those things that can make one think, when confronted with an art work, either “I could have done it, too” or “how come no one’s thought of this before”? To replicate Laika’s flying container on the premises of laika art space may seem to be a sort of mimetic joke. Yet it is much more than this. Boscu’s one piece show certainly fitted the goal of the artist run space which hosted, by being something different that one is used to see from young artists. If his work engages in dialogue with the concept of mimesis, it also has the merit of not being mimetic in relation with current trends that –sometimes so obviously and bluntly- pervade nowadays Romanian art; neither is it mimetic, for that matter, in respect to any immediate father figure, which happens all too often to young artists.
Among others, “How It’s Made” touches upon issues like the relation between handcraft and technology, a relation which art, as proven by the show, can, in a sapid manner, render paradoxical. The sculptural project speaks to its audience about the fantasies and ambitions of the few being transformed into reason for astonishment and for the pride of many. It is about our civilization’s need to know more, do better, reach further, as well as it is about the same civilization’s acceptance of cruelty in the name of knowledge; or in the name of power, which are maybe one and the same thing. Let’s stop here; it’s getting too political for such a plainly beautiful assemblage.
The presence of the object into the laika space had something of a hypnotic, somewhat chilling quality. It is an art project that doesn’t just remind the viewer of a dramatic episode in the history of mankind’s technological progress and topological expansion, but metonymically restages it, throws it into one’s face. No, it is not a sophisticated artistic endeavour, it is not necessarily an exquisitely refined one, but it is certainly heartfelt, while still being able to forcefully demonstrate that real artistic reflection, powerful imaginative thinking and research abilities lye at its foundation.

Intelligent and funny, skilled and sensitive, possessing what I can’t better describe than by the dull words “artistic intuition”, this is the kind of persona Mihut Boscu is challenging the art world with. If using a sports jargon, one could rightfully say: this boy’s got what it takes; let’s see him play the game!