I saw the exhibition “Derail” of Catalin Badarau at Funnel Contemporary Art in Bucharest, organized by Predrag Popara with the support of H.H. Prince Șerban Dimitrie Sturdza. The works of art immediately attracted my attention because of the strong and clear visual language Catalin Badarau uses to express his ideas. The works show deformed parts of the human body which are resting or hanging on iron constructions. Most of the human shapes are made out of silicon to resemble the fleshiness of a skin. The iron construction is there to support the silicon objects, and to create a powerful contrast between the softness of the silicon and harmfulness of the iron. The work ”Registered”, 2015, (sculpture, mixed media, 300x40x40 cm) shows an arm hanging on a spear like a piece of meat. The big rough hand is touching a big pile of salt. “Salt is a universal symbol for hospitality” Badarau explains. The hand that was expecting hospitality, but instead he was being used. This work shows how a person can be misled by his expectations and reality. It is part of a universal story the exhibition tells about the individual that is forced to act with his physical body against his mental will. This leaves the human as an empty shell, detached from his mental person.
“I am the silicon”. Badarau explains he is emotionally connected to the artworks. The artworks had to be made because they are an extension of his life experience. The material gives him the squeezed human shapes that show no resistance and are hanging or lying without any human life present. The material is easy to handle, and it gives Badarau the possibility to play with the artwork and to adapt to it confirming the exhibition space. Badarau loves this flexibility, which clarifies the name of the exhibition. “Derail” which means “having the luck to control the situation and accepting when control is lost.” For Badarau the artwork should live its own life once it is shown to the public, because then it stands on itself. A good example of this is Badarau’s Derail. This works shows hundreds of small arms floating in one direction in a big iron construction.
This artwork is moved by a stream of water, and was not functioning correct during our interview. Badarau wanted to change the unexpected situation to make it better again, but realized in the same moment the work started to live its own life. The foam arms have been in the water for more or less two months, and asthe water made the foam objects heavier, they started to sink. The sinking of the objects makes them behave differently, which is a very interesting effect. New behavior gives the artwork new properties, and for Badarau a new range of ideas to create for coming artworks.
Catalin Badarau works closely together with his teacher Aurel Vlad who inspired him greatly. “Aurel Vlad is like my father”: Badarau explains. He helped Badarau to discover himself as an artist, showed him the world of sculpting and supported him creatively. “He taught us how to love the effect of crowds”: Badarau explains. In the work of Aural Vlad dynamic crowds with a lot of gestures are used, but Badarau uses crowds to form a block of human bodies. Both transmit the legacy of communism through their artistic work, in which the individual is non-existent and the mass is everything. “During communism the individual had to fight against an oppressive system that was pushing the individual not to express himself, but to be melted into the crowd of people without identity”. Catalin Badarau reacts to this notion in his work. Badarau is working as an invited professor sculpture at the National University of Arts in Bucharest where he attended his PhD in sculpture. To work with students is very important for Badarau’s process because it keeps his mind in the field of art. He feels like he has the possibility to live several lives, because he has the possibility to place himself in a large range of artistic situations. This makes him more certain about the decisions he makes in his own style.
Badarau is part of the last generation of Romanians that suffered under communism. The last era of Romanian communism, was shaped by a totalitarian regime focused on the personal cult of Ceausescu. Although the artworks in themselves speak a powerful language, the reason for the existence of these works comes from a personal story of Badarau’s life. During and after communism, the condition of living was so low, that many (young) Romanians decided to leave the country in search of a better life. “It is not a pleasant period for Romania, in which Romanians had to go and work abroad and place themselves into a lower level of society. We went abroad to feel more human, and we arrived there to feel ourselves more like animals. This is not a pleasant thing to talk about.” Through hard work they could end up with a new and better life in another country. For some of them, the hope for a better life turned out to be hell. These individuals ended up in places where people took advantage of their vulnerability. Badarau has experienced such a situation in which he was forced to do things against his will. He had to use his body in ways he did not want. And he had to find a method of survival in which his soul stayed untouched. The boundaries of his inner soul were stretched until the boundary is broken and the person found a way to separate his physical boundary with his mental boundaries. Ending up as a human puppet detached from a mental state of being. For a long time Badarau was ashamed of the things he had done in the past. He felt that the poor condition he was in as a human being, would give him a bad name and therefore he did not spoke about it. To make these artworks, was to confront his past and get even with this time. This tells his story of the true need to make these works of art. The sculpture “The Rest” shows us a magnified arm, which shape is deformed and the hand is big and rough. It is resting uncomfortably on a cold iron construction. Hands are executers of the ideas of the human mind. The actions of the human body can poison a mind, when it does things he does not want to do. The hand becomes as ugly as his actions, big, rude, but without resistance.
Badarau’s works of art are small monuments of human suffering that remember us the absurdness of the human condition. Badarau’s story must be told, while it is part of the Romanian consciousness. Within the Romanian consciousness lies a big taboo on the aftermath of communism. People are afraid to trust each other, or to remember and study their communist past. It can help people realize the human suffering that has happened before Romania reached democracy. I think his works of art would function perfectly in another space where more and different people are confronted with the artworks. When asking Badarau if he would like to show his work in a public space, he responded enthusiastically. To show a work in another context, for example in a public library would be great, because people will have to deal with the artworks. There is no way of ignoring them, because of the strong language the artworks transmit. Maybe it will shock the audience, or start to make them think differently. His works should be shown to help people of Romania to accept the past, and to stimulate and enjoy the great talent that Catalin Badarau shows through his sculptures.
Hanna Grobbe has joined PostModernism Museum Bucharest as a curatorial researcher for the projects: From Political Propaganda to Baby Boom, Before & After the Cultural Revolution in Romania: Ion Bitzan, Ilie Pavel, Paul Neagu, 10 International Curators interested in Romanian Art and 10 Collectors Programme