Ștefan Ungureanu was born in 1984, lives and works in Bucharest. He is a graduate of the National University of Arts Bucharest. He had personal exhibitions in Düsseldorf (Atelier Am Eck), Cluj-Napoca (Invitro), Brașov (M ...[read more]
At 20 years old, death is a bravado, a coquetry.
At 20 years old, death is a bravado, a coquetry. You are not truly mortal then, it’s more of a way to start a conversation than a familiar presence. You’ve heard of it from books, it’s glorious or a whim you can’t avoid. At 30 years old, you’ve witnessed several funerals, someone dear was put into the ground in 3 days, it’s mind-boggling, you had just spoken with him/her and now he/she is stiff like a statue, and tomorrow a bulldozer/bobcat will pour a furrow of soil over their coffin. Amen. “They have gone where there is no sadness or sigh/suffering, blah blah…”. Nonsense, it’s a time of sadness, not suffering, life is eternal. The shock is overcome with a few drinks, but around the age of 35, when you bend down, you let out a slight groan. Ouch… Oh… Maybe it’s from the kidney, you go to the doctor, there’s nothing wrong.
The groan remains, even if you’re active and wander around or engage in sports. Around the age of forty, a child arrives. It’s as if you’re starting all over again, but you’re actually drinking their milk. You learn to say “automobile,” “lori lori,” yes, au-to-mo-bile, car, yes, you speak with their mouth. Cos-mo-naut, yes, they go to the sky, yes… What’s that, dad? Candle. “Mu-mu-la-re”… haha, my dear, a candle… What does “mu-mulare” do? It burns, you respond, lost. Why? the child asks, and you quickly change the subject. But that’s a mistake, the subject shouldn’t be changed, the problem should be confronted directly. Why does the candle burn? Any explanation unfolds an image that only describes life from a cut log. Ștefan Ungureanu’s works speak about this with a quasi-heroic insistence. What happens when the candle has burned, when the ghost has left the house? Ștefan has an obsession with mapping the artifacts that animated human dreams. We know this from his earlier series, which you can see in the catalog “Mapping narratives – Time/Space from 2019, ed. Vellant. The catalog highlights the process that becomes his specific style: the transfer of three-dimensional life into the two-dimensional space of imagination. Everything seems to be a kind of mortification, projecting the living onto a plane is a crude vivisection that nullifies the combustion of animation. And yet, this mummification, a type of placing in an insect box, is the specific process of art. It must be said that recourse to the two-dimensional is rooted in the primordial instinct of man. If any epiphany gave us our initial spiritual goosebumps, it was this “fiction” of 2D space, which only exists within us, the space of imagination, the unalterable, the geometry. It’s our map to the absolute. From 2D, we’ve extracted everything – images, writing, the tools of builders, everything that made the struggle of culture possible and produced the superstructures of civilization. It’s the Luciferian knowledge with which we chew on the world and life. A good metaphor for this specific human (and artistic) tool is the character Edward Scissorhands from Tim Burton’s film of the same name.
Everything you touch, you hurt, but in order to know something, you have to put the scalpels into action. The result will be the lifeless skin that will outlive you as a wall exhibit. In the exhibition ‘The Recapitulation Theory,’ Stefan takes further the path opened by the work ‘Vanitas’ from 2015 (page 45 of the catalog ‘Mapping narratives – Times/Space’). It is practically a platform staging for still life, where the stands and a whole array of photographic instruments orchestrate the presence of a Neanderthal skull. The feeling is of a space in which something is being investigated, a place of sharp gaze where every aspect is examined, presented in the best light. There are no shadows, no ambiguities; the subject – the skull – is the composition’s focal point, and we assume it will be ‘known’ through a cascade of flashes. We must note that the strategy does not differ from classic vanitas. In still lifes, animals (hunted and therefore dead) or once-living plants (flowers in still lifes are mostly cut and put in a vase) were painted. The theme is moralizing, ‘memento mori’ is the intoned music. In ‘The Recapitulation Theory,’ which presents the new series derived from the 2015 Vanitas, Stefan Ungureanu continues the procedure and speaks more about how the distanced, scientific-anthropological gaze kills through staging. The scientific explanation is a directed light that tries to reanimate the grotesque life. Yet, it is an absurd situation, as if placed in a future that has forgotten the grace of the natural. Stefan’s works are projections of this gaze/tableau. It is like a puppet theater that plays a play about how theater is made. A pictorial Pirandello. This double distancing also has humor. The artwork on the poster is the reconstitution of a human skeleton model seemingly portrayed by a paleontologist of the future, perhaps an extraterrestrial, perhaps a robotic descendant of ours who tries to rediscover the truth of their suspicious origin. Almost nothing is natural in the presented collage. The head is Neanderthal, and the rest of the silhouette is composed of artifacts. The right hand is the only human one; it shows the motion direction of the motionless runner. It seems to be male, perhaps due to the pseudo-bionic accessories that remind us of Megatron or Robocop. The theme of the running man (from the previous exhibition – Garden of Eden) is resumed here in a SF-dystopian key. Humor is subtly established; practically, the artwork is a literal representation of the definition of humor by Bergson: ‘the sudden appearance of the mechanic in the living world.’ You expect the grace of an animal in full sprint, and from afar, the illusion lasts a few seconds. But there, this fleshless Forrest Gump is composed of props and objects, a kind of ominous Archimboldo of the future. Fleeing or dancing skeletons have always had the power to trigger bursts of laughter both in animated drawings and in medieval macabre dances. Inside the chest, serving as the engine, Laughter has an oversized molecule of serotonin. The pleasure-seeking man’s flight gains meaning: fear is the natural consequence of the pursuit of happiness. Stefan Ungureanu’s artworks require this type of cultural detective work; one of them decomposes the famous image of the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel wall. The divine hand with the more ‘active’ finger is interpreted by a cosmonaut’s glove, while Adam is represented by a human hand severed at the elbow. Both the glove and the hand are supported by photographic tripods, like in a natural sciences museum. It must be said that only now, through this strange juxtaposition of the two gestures, do I observe the epic iconographic achievement of Michelangelo. They are almost identical, but… a slight inclination of the wrist and a slightly more erect index finger make the difference between creator and creature. Stefan’s entire tableau is inspired by a play of deoxyribonucleic acid ribbons. It is a plastic solution that energizes the whole composition, although things there are inert or held up by all kinds of props, the ribbons of life flutter, the wind blows, there might be some movement there… A third artwork is a reconstruction of the goddess Kali, which is a collage of historical human artifacts. The head is the Naram-Sin stele from the Louvre, the story of a war from four thousand and more years ago. The sword is a Dacian falx, and the defeated enemy is a Soviet cosmonaut suit. In addition to the topicality of the subject (when has it ever not been topical?), there is also a premonitory clash; Kali looks like a victorious robot from a Black Mirror-type series. The rest of the artworks await the eyes and minds of the viewers. The final point is a reinterpretation of the famous skull and crossbones, the iconic image of death and pirates, which clearly has a millennia-old tradition, not just a secular one. The bowl and the two bones refer to the Jolly Roger (the pirate flag) but also to Golgotha, the hill of Jesus’ crucifixion (‘trampling death by death’ gains additional echoes).”
After another Easter when death was annually abolished through songs, lit candles, and cracked eggs, I also felt the need to break the solemnity of the celebration. Instead of discussing the lamb, I tried to propose an idea for a phone application. Let’s call it “Mortua est.” No, that’s too Romanian and in the feminine form. How about “Memento Mori”? It would have a better global impact.
It will be an application where you can record live, and the algorithm’s filter detects areas of reality where death is present. The visual result would resemble the thermal display of Predator through Vader’s Rastafarian helmet, in which life would nourish and coexist with death, creating a single circular reality. With analog means, this is what Stefan Ungureanu does. He emphasizes the omnipresence of death and how the detached gaze suspends both death and life, making them two aspects of the same conscious reality. Revitalizing a minor genre like still life with a major history is an accomplishment in itself, a dystopian update that Stefan carefully and effortlessly produces.Read Complete Description ...