Expozitia artistului Vlad Basarab “Arheologia Memoriei: Cartile Pamantului” are loc la Muzeul de Arta din Arad in perioada 12 februarie – 15 martie, iar vernisajul a avut loc vineri 12 februarie.
The Archaeology of Memory: Books of the Earth
Ioan Paul Colta
(The Romanian version of this review will appear in the magazine Arca in March 2016)
The Archaeology of Memory: Books of the Earth is the current exhibition by artist Vlad Basarab, with Ioan Paul Colta as project coordinator at The Museum of Art in Arad in the period February 12 – March 15, 2016.
Vlad Basarab is a Romanian-American artist, whose works are defined by ceramics, multi-media, performance and video. In 1995, Basarab graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in ceramics and in 2013, from West Virginia University in Morgantown with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in electronic media.
Obsessed with the past and influenced by the impact of the Communist period on Romanian intellectuals, Vlad Basarab initiated in 2013 the series of works/ artistic projects The Archaeology of Memory at West Virginia University and in 2015 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Romanian Cultural Institute in New York.
Upon his return to Romania as a Fulbright researcher, he continued his artistic endevor preparing for a series of exhibitions. The Archaeology of Memory: Books of Fire was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Brukenthal National Museum in Sibiu from November 2015 to January 2016, currently reconfigured at The Museum of Art in Arad. The exhibition will be on tour at the National Art Museum of Art in Chisinau and The Cultural Center of the Brancoveanu Palace in Mogosoaia.
The exhibitional project presented at The Museum of Art in Arad, entitled The Archaeology of Memory: Books of the Earth, is a much larger version of the exhibition at the Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu, now conceived as a large installation of ceramics and video, composed of 3 sets of works: Books of Fire (books made of low-fire and high-fire ceramics and clay), Books of Mold (books made out of unfired clay with mold, water finish and epoxy resin) and The Archaeology of Memory (video and installation).
Basarab’s choice of working primarily with clay in his projects is mostly due to the artist’s belief that “clay represents the element that, on a metaphorical level, embodies the most dynamic qualities of life and nature through the transformations it undergoes, similar to the spiritual evolution of human beings.”
The process of creating the books for the exhibition in Arad was in itself a titanic undertaking, from choosing the right clay and digging it from hard to reach locations, to mixing it with other materials such as recycled paper pulp made by the artist as well as nylon fibers, to making the numerous books, page by page. Vlad Basarab’s books are intentionally left unwritten, some sort of instruments of memory, emptied of information or maybe that await to be filled with information by the imagination of the visiting public.
Upon a lecture of the forms, one will be amazed by Books of Fire, the most extensive installation of the exhibition (actually an exhibition in itself), containing over 200 books made out of ceramics, laid side by side (forming some sort of pavement) on a layer of clay a few centimeters thick. The large dimensions (over 13 m long and 2.5 m wide) and the contrast sought by the artist between the terracotta books and the layer of clay, at first wet, and later throughout the show more and more cracked, give this installation a striking power and monumental aspect.
Vlad Basarab explains in his artist statement the concept that lies at the foundation of this exhibition: “My role as an artist is to dig through layers of history like an archaeologist in the attempt to recover the loss of collective memory. The past plays an important role in my creative process. (…) Memory is present in everything: in us, in matter, in the natural and in the man made environment. The process of forgetting is inevitable, especially in the contemporary times when people are concerned with the new. (…) The books from the Archaeology of Memory Series are symbolically left unwritten to suggest the absence, forgetting and to inspire the viewer to imagine what they may contain. Books are symbols, instruments of memory. From the beginning of history, there has been a strong connection between words and clay, as early forms of writing were on clay tablets. I have chosen to reference books because they are historic symbols of knowledge and collective memory.”
The making of this installation in the Ovidiu Maitec hall of the Museum of Art in Arad, represented, at all stages, a huge undertaking involving a lot of labor and a great teamwork. The physical effort was tremendous including carrying 3 tons of clay up the stairs all the way to the second floor to the exhibition hall, followed by the mixing and building of the clay foundation, upon which the terracotta works were carefully laid.
The art of ceramics tends to usually be associated with minor or decorative arts. It is the merit of Vlad Basarab to succeed by grouping together books of ceramics (objects/ sculptures with intrinsic aesthetic values) to create an oeuvre of great strength, a land-art type installation in a museum.
Watching the artist during his creative act (the making of the installation was like a performance in its own right), one can truly understand the words of Constantin Brancusi: “Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave.”
The second installation presented in the exhibition, Books of Mold, completes on a conceptual level the first one, while it aesthetically differentiates itself from it. It presents itself as a table in a laboratory on which 8 books modeled from unfired clay are laid upon. In this case, the artist wisely conserved a fungal attack, mold that involuntarily took over his books while they were drying in his studio. The aesthetic aspect given by the image of the books partially covered in mold, and later coated in epoxy resin (a synthetic, artificial and contemporary material) perfectly serves the artist in expressing his idea – the attempt to conserve the past and collective memory.
Both works, Books of Fire and Books of Mold were completed by the projection of two videos of the Archaeology of Memory Series. The videos (of 7:42 and 4:31 minutes) showed each a book of clay gradually breaking down by the action of dripping water upon them. One can access the links to the videos at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyuEdiqeFSk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-_m-bJly6M
The author maintains that the deconstructive aspect produced by the water eroding the clay, through the constant and repetitive rhythm of the dripping, makes reference to the idea of information and memory loss (personal, collective or of a culture). The wooden table holding the remainder of an eroded clay book of one of the videos was presented as physical proof, strengthening the message of the moving image.
Inge Gavăt reads Vlad Basarab very well affirming that he „is an artist who always finds a new form to vest the same idea, to make it more compelling, to instill it in us permanently, to help us understand why memory as remembrance of history is synonimous with safe keeping, with the advancement of the human condition.”
In other words, Vlad Basarab succeeds to succesfully explore the borders of contemporary ceramic art, arriving with his creation to the realm of conceptual art, with great strength and with a profound methaphisical message.