New exhibitions at the Paintbrushes Factory

June 8, 2010

It’s working. The Paintbrushes Factory has successfully come to the end of an important period in its functioning, the first crucial months in which it had the rather difficult task of establishing itself as a significant art centre. As it happened at the opening of the cultural venue, in October 2009, pretty much all the galleries and artist run spaces involved in this endeavour proposed some event or action in the same evening. The afternoon and the evening of May, the 29th benefited from a quite large attendance, a friendly, yet professional atmosphere, and the acute presence of that fundamentally productive feeling that good things can happen and that things are moving into a good direction of development. All these were serious indicators that this type of joint cultural ventures are by far the best way for the young and dynamic Paintbrushes Factory to get in touch with the general public and also with the professional milieu.
The Traiectoria fair for fashion and accessories was open most of the day: it was small, rather chic and truly welcoming. It offered good quality products and, besides the hardly bearable warmth in the space, it was a really nice place to be. The fair also most probably attracted some public who wouldn’t usually be present at the exhibitions or performances organized at the Paintbrushes Factory.
Navid Nuur was the artist presented by the Plan B gallery, his solo show in Cluj being titled Phantom Fuel. He is clearly one of the most impressive (if not the most impressive) non – Romanian artists officially represented by a Romanian gallery so far. It’s maybe not much and one shouldn’t mistake the charming Nuur for a star of the international art world. But the collaboration between him and the Cluj based gallery certainly is a symptom of the gradual, albeit slow, professionalization of the Romanian agents acting on the international art market.


Born in Teheran in 1976, living in The Hague, represented by a gallery in Amsterdam and one in Cluj, exhibiting in Milan, Sankt Gallen, Gent, Kassel or Sarajevo, the (Iranian) Navid Nuur is a perfectly international artist. He belongs –behaviourally, in terms of professional status and maybe even in terms of the way he is perceived– to a typology of contemporary artists that also includes personalities such as his more famous fellows Tiravanija or Abdessemed.
He is quite keen in describing his works as “interimodules”. Now, there has been a long history of artists who were renaming the game, so to speak, and refused the simple medium based definition of their art products. So, in this respect, Nuur is neither particular, nor spectacular, when he refuses to acknowledge his works as sculptures or installations. However, when coining them “interimodules”, he does fairly coherent offer a legit key for reading his art, for deciphering its semantics. If “module” is not necessarily very clearly linked with the features of his artistic products, “interim” aptly alludes to the strong link his works have with temporality, even if they are not necessarily site specific endeavours. The absence of a tendency towards permanency properly adds poignancy, freshness and wit to his art.
Finding and revealing the lyricism of the commonplace is what probably strikes as the strongest and the most charming feature of his artistic production. He uses everyday materials and objects and reveals their eerie poetical potential. Take for example Hold on the Hollow, one of the most complex pieces in the display, consisting in an apparently unstable, suspended assemblage of jars, tied together by a belt, some of which are filled with soap dissolved in water. The viewer is invited to remove the top of those jars, which has a wire structure initially submerged in the water, and to place the structure upside down on the jar. Temporary “sculptures” of wire and soap bubbles result and they then stand as fragile products of the collaboration between the artist, the viewer and pure chance.
Welcome / Welcome is composed of two pseudo draperies made out sandpaper stripes, placed at the entrance / exit in between the two rooms of the Plan B gallery space. The work is ironic as it is surprisingly beautiful; it is conceptually engaging and refreshing, while at the same time remaining challenging in a very physical way. The physicality of Nuur’s art can make one literally uncomfortable, the immediate proximity of some of his works being somatically difficult to bear for some spectators, especially in olfactory terms.

The rather large scale “monument” made out of washing powder boxes (Untitled), from which the content has been generously spilled onto the floor is one perfect example of this sensorial dynamics. Roughly to the same typology belongs Forrest with no view, certainly the most subtle work in the show, in more ways than one. An air freshener was embedded in the wall, whose only perceivable action is to spread its smell into the air by two tiny, barely visible holes. Another remarkable work, wittily approaching the double nature (physical and psychological) of perception is Light Licker. A neon tube is painted black; it is positioned in a corner of the room as an elegant minimalist sculpture. But it still tantalizingly remains in between what Groys would call the field of art and the field of the profane: one can still rather easily identify the object as neon tube and if he or she is to look at the ceiling, he / she would probably notice the tube actually missing from there.
Maja Borg was Sabot gallery’s choice for the show opened on the 29th of May, titled Construction work: the pornography of world peace. As it was the case also with the previous two exhibitions of emerging artists (Alice Tomaselli and Ylva Ogland, respectively) that were hosted by Sabot, the choice proved quite inspired. Still, perhaps more than in the cases of the other above mentioned collaborators of Sabot, what strikes the viewer with regard to Borg is the astute maturity and the almost uncanny seriousness of the 28 years old Swedish artist.
It is true, on the other hand, that her maturity and seriousness require an attentive viewer and a reflective effort. No, she does not propose cryptic metaphors, but quite complex ones. Her displayed works possess a layered semantics and ambitiously refer to issues such as utopian beliefs in a common survival solution for humanity, sex in the age of mechanical reproduction of pornography, systems and chaos, and the beauty as result of tension and dialogue. It is equally true that there is directness in her art that represents its main flaw. Thus, Maja Borg gives us riddles; we put some intellectual effort in deciphering them, because we definitely need adjacent information in order to fully grasp their meaning, and we take or not visual pleasure in what she shows us. What she is not allowing us is our own hermeneutic space, though; she is denying us the possibility of encountering the liberty of imprecision, the charming unknown. Maybe paradoxically, her art is sometimes simply too focused.
The three works in the show at Sabot are titled On Your Back Woman! (By Wolf Madame), Construct – Two Moments in Beauty and Ottica Zero. The first is a five minutes short film, depicting nude or very casually dressed female couples wrestling in bed, in funny, intense and overtly erotic manners. The video work is part of the twelve films selection made by the Swedish director Mia Engberg. Titled Dirty Diaries, her project has as primary goal the production and presentation of “feminist porn”. On Your Back Woman! (By Wolf Madame) decidedly inscribes itself in the paradoxical logic of that concept. Borg’s film constitutes a poignant questioning of the way rules get generated in an erotically charged relationship, of the border between intensity of feeling and violence, and of the possibility of porn to be feminist and progressive, after decades of rejection by the feminists of this type of allegedly degrading imagery.

However, the most consistent work in the show is Construct – Two Moments in Beauty. It is the most beautiful, in the very immediate meaning of the word, art work in the exhibition. It has a strong collaborative feature, Maja Borg’s visuals being paired by three soundtracks made by artists from different parts of the world: AVI Dabach from Israel, Andrea Herrera Catalá from Venezuela and Teodora S. Vlad from Romania. The sound responses to the images proposed by Borg are varied in tone and mood, adequately showing the semantic openness of the flow of images constructed by the Swedish artist. The images are played on three monitors, with a slight time delay. Strong colours and graphic traits are juxtaposed, in a sensuous succession, which somewhat reminds the works of Pipilotti Rist. The moments of sheer beauty are generated at the breaking point of forms, in those moments of interval between formed and formless, between visual comprehensive convention and colourful chaos.
Clujest gallery hosted a solo show of Feleki Károly, called Hóstát. Some tens of black and white photographs produced by the reputed Cluj based artist were displayed, their subjects being somewhat classical for the medium: (sub)urban landscapes and portraits. Good photo exhibitions have been, in my opinion, rare events in Cluj during the last decade, therefore seeing good quality photographs, especially in a solo show, was a rewarding experience.
At a first glance, the photos may seem rather formalist exercises: the camera surveys, in an artistically coherent, compositionally attentive manner, the borderline between the urban, modern space and the evanescing remnants of the rural picturesque. They could function as metaphors of progress and melancholy. But when one remembers that the pictures were taken between 1975 and 1984 and that they all refer to one of the peripheral (at that time) areas of Cluj, known by its Hungarian denomination as Hóstát, the meaning significantly changes. The works artistically document the destruction of the traditionally agricultural area as result of Ceausescu’s aggressive policy of forced urbanization. Thus, Feleki’s works reveal themselves as being not innocent, charming depictions of the presumably universal picturesque, but politically, yet also aesthetically, charged recordings of a historical drama.
I will not go here into the topic of the opportunity of aesthetic approaches in an art that proposes itself as politically focused. I will remark however a visual flaw of the display: far too many pictures for the available space, albeit generous. The negative result of this broad selection was the difficulty to perceive each work in itself and to assess or enjoy its intrinsic quality as, I believe, the artist fully intended them to be acknowledged.


Zmart gallery invited London based artist and Central Saint Martins student Alexandra “Lou” Plesner to show a video work and the accompanying photographs in a show titled There Is No Somewhere Else In This Room. The combination of an YBA – type focus on issues of identity and an existentialist mindset is what defined Plesner’s project, who overtly, yet a bit pathetically and redundantly, speaks mainly of loneliness, of the alleged impossibility of profound communication. Visually, the exhibition revolves around the figure of the person “wearing” a bird cage on his or her head, several photos of various people with such bird cages being displayed in the gallery space. Also, a blog was launched at the opening of the show at Zmart, which is supposed to offer the viewer the opportunity of interactively contributing to the artist’s project (http://www.thereis nosomewhereelseinthisroom.blogspot.com), though, when accessing the blog, I didn’t quite understand how.
Finally, Roberto Bosisio was present at Laika art space with Light Always Falls from Above. The Italian is a refined and mature painter, who assumes the medium in a painstakingly laborious and technically masterful manner. Just days after the opening at Laika, a larger yet equally jaw dropping solo show of Bosisio opened at the Art Museum of Cluj – Napoca, and the two exhibitions fully deserve a distinct discussion, which I’ll propose another time.

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