Two shows were opened at the Paintbrush Factory on April, the 27th, one at Lateral art space and the other one at Bazis gallery, and, while both young men exhibiting are MA graduates of the painting department of the University of Art and Design in Cluj, their interests, endeavors, and personalities are ever so different, thus making for two very different experiences during the course of one visit.

The Lateral art space is the “new kid on the block” when it comes to the Paintbrush Factory, the artist run space being an independent platform for contemporary art founded by Andreea Ciobica, Dragos Badita, Cristina Curcan, and Lucian Indrei as a place open to collaboration and experimentation. I personally find the initiative quite adventurous and yet necessary, taking into consideration the unfortunate demise of several of the Paintbrush Factory’s spaces. Not to mention that the practice behind an artist-run space always creates a slightly looser atmosphere than a generated by the actions of a gallery and that is a nice thing to see on the art scene.

The inauguration show was of one of its own founders, namely Dragos Badita. The young artist’s main focus is painting, but he used this exhibition to showcase some more experimental work alongside two self-portraits in this normally medium of choice for him. My Body Is Always Here is a show that features the artist’s body, the human body from both a self-referential and a more intimate point of view. It’s by no means just a series of self-portraits, as it also exploits the body as the object that is ever so close, something we can shake off or leave behind, it really is always there, whether we love it or hate it, so we might as well just try to get to know it better.

The show proposes the following: despite our body being our closest and most intimate companion, we seem to take it for granted and we don’t show terrible interest in its means. We drag it along and notice it when it brings us pain, or when it stops us from reaching certain goals. And so the artist tries different means through which to better get acquainted with his own body and its relationship to the world. In this respect, the show contains two self-portraits (head and naked torso) in oil on panel, in which the primary focus is placed upon the nuances of the flesh, skillfully rendered, and set against a brilliant and rather unnatural shade of blue that makes the twisted nudes pop out, vulnerable and alone. With the beautiful use of color these two works bear the mark of an artist who is comfortable and confident about his craftsmanship.

Another part of the exhibition is a series of 9 ink drawings on paper, one containing an explanation, presenting the left hand of the artist sketched during train rides, alongside comments on the environment, or whatever else caught his eye while drawing. These are meant to show us the ever present and available study material that is the left hand. Complex and substantial, always available for a quick sketch so that you can get your (right) hand to practice, anyplace, anytime. The whimsical handwritten comments on the surroundings add charm and give insight into a curious if only slightly bored mind – the fur that caresses a neck, the mole in the cleavage, kids playing outside the window… Random bits of nothingness, they describe a picture made out of probably unessential details that are though rendered important simply because they somehow stuck with you, which, after all, is all that matters.

A long series of bizarre and mysteriously looking prints were displayed on the opposite wall. On a closer inspection, you recognize them as images taken during a medical ultrasound examination of various parts of the body, from “head to toe”. Tens of them, black and white, abstract shapes that might as well be alien… except they are not, they are all too human. The exploration of the body and the invasion of the personal space are taken here to a whole new level.

The show also contained a video piece of roughly one minute long, which I personally found to be particularly good, Heartbeat. An explanatory photograph set up next to the projector shows the artist lying on his back with a camcorder attached to his bare chest. The camera is filming a white wall at full zoom, so that the motion provoked by the beating heart is even greater. The very abstract image, coupled with the movement reminded me for a moment of something you see through a microscope in the seconds you are setting up your lens… shifting in and out of focus. The steady thump and the rhythm fill the room, and you feel as if you are pressed against somebody’s chest for a while, but it’s the cathartic inhaling at the end that really makes the piece. It’s the first time you are fully hit by the previously existing tension that the rhythm was unconsciously imposing. An exercise in breathing, or rather holding one’s breathe in order not to interfere with the movement caused by the heart, I found this video to be both fascinating and endearing.

My Body Is Always Here made for and excellent first show for Lateral and I am sincerely looking forward to their next, wishing them the best of luck. And as for Dragos Badita, although proving to be an excellent painter once again, I found it refreshing that he maybe stepped out of his comfort zone with a nice combination of experiments that were set up in such a clever manner.

The show hosted by Bazis, Dan Maciuca’s Nothing to Hide, brings forth, like I already mentioned, another painter who also on this occasion decided to step away from his familiar medium and tackle his old interests in the form of collages, sculptures, and also video.

Dan Măciucă is well known for his wild, spontaneous canvases, on which thickly applied paint still gives proof of a well-thought chromatic arrangement and composition. The surfaces of his works are rough and textured, and already close to reliefs; his interest in all things having to do with matter: its structure, texture, and ultimately volume, inevitably brought him to outgrow the bi-dimensional plane of traditional painting. In the works shown at Bazis, the artist decided to go even further into translating his paintings to 3D objects, and the result is nothing short of spectacular.

In taking up his older themes and quests and rephrasing them in different media he (literally) adds a new dimension to them, thus they don’t seem to be dull or passé, instead they become more interesting and complex, posing new problems. This just goes to show that digging ever deeper into the same old questions isn’t necessarily something bad, as long as you manage to find surprising and intriguing new answers, this being precisely what is happening here!

The objects used in the collages / sculptures are mainly found and repurposed items such as (plastic) bottles, industrial scraps, pieces of glass and wood, different materials with as many different textures as possible. This offers a new life, meaning, and function to these objects after they have been cast off as useless. The jagged edges offer a raw finish and the colors, although quite similar to the artist’s usual pallet are no longer obtained through physical combination of pigments, but rather found such as they are and then juxtaposed. Another element is the use of commercial magazines, which are found in over abundance all around us and to which we don’t exactly pay attention; here they have taken on other shapes, they’ve become strange landscapes: peaks, valleys, and caves that capture the eye despite their apparent mess.

The show contains three pieces created more or less in this same manner, my favorite of which is the first one on the right-hand side. Its value comes from the fact that it is just perfectly clear in getting the artist’s message across to the viewer, and also I especially liked the uncluttered and very well balanced composition. The work next to it is much more three – dimensional, using bent pipes and wires, while the composition that used various plastic bottles was clear in its simplicity and chromatically exciting. What I found to be an excellent invention for the entire show was the way these three pieces were illuminated. The light-bulb at the end of a tube that is built in the work and hangs above it like some sort of fishing pole creates an amazing lighting for each piece and the entire atmosphere of the show becomes incredibly elegant because of this. Any other lights are turned off, except for the video projector, and the gray walls of the gallery really work to an advantage. The washing machine door, stuck to the wall, has the appearance of a round window that shows you what’s on the other side of the wall. The jumble of clothes inside make for a piece that initially makes you smile, but as you look at the clutter pressed against the glass you cannot help but reference Arman’s Le Plein, albeit a miniature version of it.

A piece that stands out in the show is the world created and contained in what used to be a wooden chest of drawers (by my best guess), now torn open, illuminated from the inside, which it is mainly an excuse to play with as many textures and materials as possible, the shards of glass, the clumps of wool, the leftovers, and so on. It’s a game of differences, but one who’s power I’m afraid was not fully developed, especially since I find it to be somewhat disconnected from the other displayed works.

The video on the other hand is spot on, a journey through a strange land with bizarre geography seen between the flashes of the strobe light. The messy artist studio that is actually presented, the glimpse into what looks like a hoarder’s collection, all rendered much more serious and even slightly disturbing by the addition of the unsettling background noise and the aforementioned usage of the strobe light. This experiment had a really great outcome, with the particular textures, the trickling water aspect, the constant feeling of apprehension you get, as if you are exploring something you should not be seeing. The artist has nothing to hide, even if it’s not the prettiest sight to behold.

With these well constructed experiments, Dan Maciuca proves that he can very well rise above what is expected of him, all the while sticking closely to the path set up by his obsessions. His paradoxically elegant show, along with  Badita’s were two of the best shows I have seen at the Paintbrush Factory for what seemed to be quite a long time. Hopefully their frequency will once again pick up.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Text by Voica Puscasiu

Kicsiny Balazs is one the most prominent Hungarian artists today. He is mainly renowned for his Venice Biennale pavilion from 2005, when he was chosen to representHungary, a pavilion that was truly on of the best of that edition. But his career and oeuvre are far too complex to be reduced to this single, albeit quite spectacular endeavour, spanning more that twenty – five years of significant presence both on the Hungarian and on the international art scene.

At a first glance, the best term to describe Kicsiny’s artistic production might appear to be “installation art”. But, with him, just as an anthropomorphic shape is never simply a sculpture, in the classical meaning of the word (namely, a three – dimensional art object that is to be admired), an installation is never simply an ensemble of shapes that come together to produce meaning. Thus, his installations address the viewer in a very engaging manner, sometimes looking like frozen performances, other times like uncanny props from a theatre show of a director passionate about surrealism. In a way, most of his major works, from Winterreise to Migrating Interpretation, from Permanent Landing to Exact Time, relate to the notion of performative utterance, in the very direct meaning of the concept. Thus, they are present and they act by their presence itself, they do something in the world, rather then saying something about it to the viewer. In other words, they tend to generate experience, rather than meaning.

For his first solo show in Romania, Kicsiny Balazs proposes, at Bazis gallery from the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj, a project that reveals precisely the above mentioned characteristics of his art. Titled The Art of Self – justification, the show at Bazis touches on topics such as the relationship between signs and interdictions, the conventional character of communication and the oppressive nature of power, manifested in standardization. An immersive installation, Kicsiny’s project represents, at the same time, an open invitation to reflection on such issues and a challenge addressed to the spectator to go beyond visual pleasure or fascination, in order to take a glimpse at the menaces it alludes to.

The installation comprises five anthropomorphic figures rather dimly lit by a light bulb placed just above the centre of the quite regular composition of the work. Four human silhouettes, wearing fluorescent vests and strange, bucket – like or hive – like helmets over their heads, each perform somewhat mysterious, yet eerily banal gestures using the two small flags with black and white squares they hold in their hands. The four surround a downed character, faceless and entirely covered in black and white squares, as two buckets presumably recently emptied of paint are lying on the floor, just next to this strange body. One is white and has the word fekete (Hungarian for black) written on it in black letters, the other one is, yes, black and has the word feher (Hungarian for white) written on it in white letters. The dim light engulfs the whole scene and provides the ensemble with an eerie quality, making it appear somewhat ritualistic and at the same time intriguingly menacing.

The most characteristic features of Kicsiny’s art are displayed by the immersive installation at Bazis. Among them, it is truly striking the carefully planned, one rightfully suspects, semantic ambiguity they rely upon. In this respect, the conscious choice of visual elements that embed a particularly broad symbolic content, which makes the artwork susceptible to various hermeneutic approaches, can be probably considered to be one of the most prominent strength of the Hungarian’s art. Take into consideration the black and the white, for example. In a certain context, in a certain socio – political environment, the viewer might be immediately tempted to read their use as a reference to racial issues. Change the context and allusions to colliding social ideologies or historical theories might appear to be the main signified in the mind of many (it suffices to think about “white Hungarians” and “black Hungarians” and to the potential for generating controversy such notions possess). But, equally justifiable, in almost any context, more or less corny, more or less existentialist reflections on the fundamental duality of human nature and of the complementary condition of opposites can be encouraged by the same visual items, as there is a perpetually ambiguous interplay between the realm of the political and that of the metaphysical that occurs in Kicsiny’s works.

The same goes for the use of the other elements composing the installation at Bazis, like, for example, the strangely hooded human figures. Are they to be viewed as metaphorical figures signifying communicational conventions that, on one hand, make civilization possible and on the other hand narrow the possibility of unconventional, emotionally charged communication? Or are they rather epitomizing the oppressive character of conventions, stemming from the very abstractness and arbitrariness of power, in a Foucauldian perspective? Are their flags, with their uncanny stillness, semantically alluding to interdictions, to guidance or the somewhat morbid meaninglessness of parades? All these interpretations are equally at hand for the spectator, but it is precisely their equal degree of availability that kind of makes the hermeneutical choice either impossible or futile. The semantic richness, as well as the semantic fuzziness, is emphasized by the discrete lighting of the frozen scene. There is no melancholia caused by the shabby light, but rather we are confronted with an almost irritating, unreservedly staged atmosphere of film noire.

Summing up, one could say they Kicsiny Balasz’s work incites the viewer to a tantalizing search for meaning and for metaphor, while at the same time engulfing him or her in the ambiguous atmosphere of the installation itself, one that rather provokes a feeling of unease than gets one’s mind to reflect upon conceptual issues. Thus, for this and all the above reasons, his art displays perversity as its core feature. It is not a malevolent type of perversity and certainly not a sensorially based or related one. Rather, we are faced with a sort of almost purely intellectual perversity, as his works manipulate the viewer without even possessing a specific target of the manipulation they operate. What his installations, The Art of Self – Justification included, perform is a highly paradoxical open ended manipulation, in the case of which one is eerily left to “freely” opt for the particular direction towards which he or she prefers to be manipulated. In a way, all the leads provided by the artwork are equally rewarding paths and dead ends. Nevertheless, this is probably the kind of perversity embedded, more or less obviously, in any artistic endeavour that is truly problematic, without screaming its problematic status out loud. And I suspect that the playful, intellectually sparkling and calmly confident Kicsiny I’ve met in Cluj is quite pleased with this outcome.

 

For video of the installation, go to http://www.bazis.ro/GALLERY%20BAZIS/Kicsiny%20Balazs%202011/KicsinyBalazs2011.html