When Richard Serra jotted down the series of active verbs as a list of instructions to re-enact in his work process – thus preceding the actual gesture and generating the action – he most probably did not imagine it would become an iconic episode in the history of art. A guide for many other tri-dimensional artists. To roll, to crease, to bend, to fold, to twist, etc. – the linguistic epitome describing the work gestures of such creators. Cristian Răduță – an artist situated at the ever difusing border of sculpture and installation – rolls, creases, bends, folds, twists, etc. every day.
A first incursion into the studio of Cristian Răduță can be the visual equivalent of an audio immersion into an atonal symphony. The space, just like the avantgarde composition, seems to lack a central-key, a nucleum – populated with constructed structures, installations, daily objects, semi-assembled pieces, rolls, tool kits, metal, plastic, all sorts of bits and ends, each demanding impatiently their own right to be seen, used, dealt with in the first place. On the walls, lined up like music scores, there are crafted, insect-looking things caught into nets reminiscent of space satellites or asteroid-catchers, side by side with various suspended animal-shaped objects by or on rockets to be launched in a space left to the viewer’s imagination. An apparent chaos, almost a riot. A controlled chaos, nonetheless. A closer look reveals how everything already connects or is about to cohere – pieces of wire about to complete the whiskers of a cat, coloured straws to add fuller shapes to small branches attached to a planet or a rocket. And the presence of a short cabinet with many labelled drawers: nails, screws, copper, sillicon, presses, files. The apparent disorder becomes impeccable order.
Răduță’s sculpture-installations – figurative, with slightly abstract undertones– can be decoded as subjective representations of a possible, maleable universe pendulating between the terrestrial and cosmic realms. The Archive series (2015) displays groups of various size planets stripped bare of their cosmic attributes once placed in a box frame on wheels. The rockets of the Golden Records series (2016) are ready for a mission to inform possible other civilisations about our life on Earth – animals, post-it notes, other objects attached to them await the launch. At a first glance, these images can cause an anxiety that is quickly annihilated by the realisation that it is simply the artist’s means to cast an ironical look at the restless and strenous endeavours of mankind to reach deeper into the Universe. In Failed Missions (2017), back to Earth, broken pieces of rockets – defeated by gravitation or technical flaws – rest on tree branches, symbolically assuming the comforting and supporting role of buffering their fall. On the other hand, the animals are returned intact to terrestrial ground. A humorous approach coupled with a sense of optimistic compassion. It is important to mix seriousness and humour in art, as Jean Dubuffet said: Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it does not bore.
Autobiographical is not a term that could define Răduță’s art. Still, a timid emotional presence of his past resurges in the works that recall the way in which kids assemble different separate elements to form objects that copy the reality. As a child, he participated in such creative activities, especially as a member of the arts and crafts club for children he would attend daily after school hours. He started with the painting class, but he was equally drawn to other courses in the club – notably the airplane modelling. Long summer holidays spent in the countryside at his grandparents also meant helping his grandfather do various repair jobs around the household. Inventivity and improvisation had to compensate for the scarcity of resources back then. Anything handy would be put to good use. A piece of fence could become a hen coop door. Wire, nails, etc. formed the essentials. They could do, undo, and redo. This mix of ludic and serious acts was a good way for a kid to develop imagination, while being helpful. Now, as a practising artist, he still relates to the objects in the same manner.
When I work, I improvise a lot, because it allows things to be created more naturally and brings life into the process. No pre-set plans, either. I like to experiment. I often come to the studio and I have no idea what will be shaped up by the end of the day. All artists should have this craziness – it is a type of navigation. In the absence of a plan, you can discover things, take note of them and use them as starting points. You may let go of some, because you see no use for them at the time – you are still left with a vast array of leads to follow.
The years of art studies at the dedicated high-school in his hometown of Ploiești helped him form a clearer, more insightful and structured fashion to approach the subject in all its various techniques and mediums. Following one teacher’s advice, he regularly visited the public library to leaf through art albums and make drawings of the reproductions, which captivated him. It was like a journey through the history of art – a way to discover new things. The sculpture and modelling classes made him aware of a certain power of expression of the tri-dimensional that other mediums seemed to lack. The ethereality and physicality of space were more challenging and generous than the more restrictive means of photography or painting.
Painting comes from an area of image that offers too little for what I want to do. I need to construct, too. I need a space to enter. When I do an exhibition, I have in mind the space I intend to recreate through the objects I make – I mean, I don’t want the visitors to see only an image. It has to be more than an image. My relation with the space is vital for my art.
At the same time, he does not exclude the possibility of inserting such mediums in his artwork, if they can serve as instruments to complete its creation.
I have in mind possible projects where I can insert photography, for instance – but only as an accent contributing to the creation of another image. Photography is a lot about an image that’s already gone. Photography carries a load of nostalgia. It is like a trace left behind …
He continued his art studies at the University of Bucharest. Switching to a big city with everything it entails – a more dynamic living pace and broader access to information – influenced his thinking and mentality. The cultural life was vibrant – he constantly visited exhibitions at museums and galleries and perused book antiquaries for art books. Art books were still rather rare commodities in the early 2000. And the National Museum of Contemporary Art was still to be founded. Social life did not interest him much. He preferred to spend more time in his studio, where he worked diligently and discovered things on his own. He never had a mentor, since he never intended to. During long hours of self-study and attempts he imagined all types of bizarre animals shaped to suggest the ones in real life without mimicking them minutely.
I started making some kind of rhinoceros. It was something new and extravagant for me – a manner of inventing shapes that were strange to the world and unknown in the history of art. I chose to do something with no particular history. Other artists, like Dürer, had explored this area a little, but never too seriously. It was like a discovery for me. Basically, that was the starting point for what I’ve been doing so far.”
After graduation he got a position as assistant professor at the Department of Sculpture, which reduced drastically the time for his own artistic practice. One year later, though, he left for Rome on a two-year grant that also provided access a beautiful individual studio. He could work again in all liberty. In that Roman studio with a splendid glass ceiling, he rediscovered the total freedom to create and put his inventions into practice.
It was extraordinary to have a studio like that in Rome. The studio is vital for me. I cannot work from home. The studio should be like a laboratory – you enter, isolate yourself, create and do your work. You leave the daily life at the door.
That’s where he began experimenting more with space. He would take works out of the studio and place them in relation to the outside fence. He was turning towards situational sculpture, inventing arrangements of objects, not necessarily forms, but sequences of situations that he would include in his projects. The problem of space recurred obsessively. Space beyond physical field, territory, mere background for objects; space that could withstand him or had to be negociated with to participate in his artworks.
Space can influence your decisions. You see it either as a sheet of paper, or as a part of what you place there, meaning that its contribution to the final image can even exceed 50% – but this is a responsibility to be assumed from the start. Like in a final image – the artwork itself does not exist anymore – only the photo of it. In absence of that particular space, the artwork enters another context and becomes a different work that has nothing to do with the previous one.
The splendid Italian capital, abounding in baroque and classical art and architecture, museums, buildings, gardens – a paradise of aesthetics – did not prove to be the right milieu for his artistic practice in the long run, nevertheless. He found it rather difficult to envision himself as an artist in Rome. In a place where you were constantly expected to show and demonstrate, the insecurities caused by his young age and unsubstantial artistic vision certainly did not help. The ideas were there, but not coagulated enough to be presented to a curator, for instance. On the good side, the contact with other foreign artists educated him on how the system works – he learned about the art market and galleries. Some of them were already consecrated artists, such as Matthias Weischer and Carsten Nicolai, who were in Rome on merit-based grants for their careers. And, last but not least, he also learned Italian.
Back in Bucharest, he continued experimenting with the visual representations of animals until he reached a dead-end. It was all just repetition. He needed a more substantial and coherent discourse. A thread that would lead somewhere else. Dots to connect. The old notebook with ideas had to be closed and put aside momentarily for a later time. He started a quest for unexplored, fertile territories. Revisiting some articles on Russian astronauts and their space missions published in the old Soviet magazines he would read as a kid opened up the a new subject area to explore. Cosmos-related themes appear in the work of other artists, certainly, but it still remains an under-exploited area – and its relation with the history of art is quite fragile. Space exploration is still in its prime and new things always leave room for other creations.
I started from the beginning, methodically – I put the planets, I added some new elements, then I deconstructed and recomposed them again. And no one can object to or correct them really, since they are relatively recent – and I like this idea. I’ve always searched for newer things, with no strong bond with the past, with no long history behind. I liked the theme as it is also about the human sentiment of precariousness before the limitless outer space. The Universe versus a tiny dot, the Earth – and the arduous efforts we make to reach as far as possible in the infinite cosmic space.
Once consolidated, the new theme could now be connected to the previous one relating to animal representations – for better continuity. The contours of what started almost a decade ago get more and more visible. The film is very present in the artist’s mind – harder to verbalise, but it is there. The Archive series is born – following no plan, letting things happen, experimenting and playing with images. And with a lot of humour, which is always good in art. And irony generated by the fortuituous side of the process.
He never says no, he pushes things a bit further, even to the extreme, out of curiosity to see how far he can go, even in banality. Then how much he can get rid of – again, stripping things almost completely. He notices what happens, just like during an experiment. In the end, he keeps certain fragments that can function in a framework that defines him as an artist. He sometimes takes old works and transforms them. A palm tree was turned into a planet with eyes that is now becoming a stag attached to a rocket. Undoing, transforming, documenting an object can become part of the artwork itself. An artwork can have 10 variants. There is a continuous movement around it and all this striving makes it very alive.
Răduță’s imaginative associations between trivial and intangible bear new entities. He recontextualises the banal to invent new stories. A cone on top of a broom handle becomes a flying object. The trivial acquires new attributes and relocates into different semantic fields. It becomes metaphor. Simple as it seems, there is a difficult side to it.
It gets complicated when it comes to the right dosage – how much can you push things into ridicule? How much do you let the idea to be visible, how much do you camouflage it? There are stages: visible vs. less visible, subtle vs. less subtle. That’s where the struggle is – the dosage! The risk of making an illustrative story much too explanatory, at which point it loses its illustrative side.
In Răduță’s studio, most of the animals and insects share a common feature: physical lightness – a boxing kangaroo, slender cats and dogs, dolphins, dragonflies. Yet one stays in visual discord with the others – the partially built rhinoceros. A heavy, terrestrial mammal devoid of its strength, vulnerable – literally empty, its carcass awkwardly put together. A new series of animals looking like they were reconstructed out of fragments based on memories of them – imitations of the real-life ones, evidence of the impossibility to recreate things as they once were. Like a destroyed museum of natural science that needs to be reconstructed in a matter of minutes. The dramatic aspect of a possible future? What solution will the artist find? It remains to be seen.
To be continued …
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Text ✒ ADINA SHOLLENBARGER
Photo © Daniela Pălimariu / Dan Vezentan