Galeria Plan B is pleased to announce the group exhibition Infinite Beings with works of Joseph Beuys, Horia Damian, Ana Lupaș, Mihai Olos, and Erika Verzutti.
For ancient cultures, art was more than a reflection of reality: it was knowledge about reality, and a means to create it. The material acted as a vehicle for the spiritual. The Mesopotamians were 'among the first to recognise that history is in things, that works of art and monuments mediate between the world of people and the world of the gods, between past, present and future, and that images, unlike people, are infinite beings.'1Ancient peoples shaped natural elements into artworks that fascinated modern artists centuries later–not only for their aesthetics, but also because they reflected the promise of an unspoiled world, in which humanity's relationship to nature and spirituality was not yet mediated by technology. Artworks developed by five artists from various generations and varying cultures over the past 70 years act as infinite beings, incorporating ancestral knowledge while remaining rooted in the particular contexts in which they were created.Primordial impulses, hopes, and dreams of a better future emerge in timeless zoomorphic sculptures, in abstract structures and objects from daily life imbued with spirituality.
In some of her earliest sculptures, Erika Verzutti modelled figures of swans and dinosaurs out of raw clay, in what she describes as 'the essential vertical move from the clay upward'. Nature as both material and creative source is one of the starting points for her recent works, made of bronze, clay, gemstones, or beeswax, which seem to be relics of unknown rituals, reflecting the artist's interest in the relationship between nature and society. Cat (2017) bears the marks of the artist's fingers, which give the bronze sculpture a tactile quality reminiscent of raw clay or plaster. The totemic apparition of Cat materialises out of a ground zero, leading back to the origins of sculpture–the pre-historic age, perhaps, or the time of the ancient Egyptians, who had tried to find the best representations for their treasured animal. Featureless and almost cartoonish in outline,Cat has a timeless aura. It becomes a being of its own, in a manner similar to that of the winged Mesopotamian lions–half human, half animal, and acting as symbolic guardians to extraordinary buildings.
Networks of dots, organised in galaxies and shapes reminiscent of ancient monuments, are infused with mysticism in the drawings and sculptures of Horia Damian. Damian's choice of these shapes was, however, not motivated merely by what he calls the 'nostalgia for the archaic', but also by deeper reasons: on his view, the essential forms developed by humanity over centuries have proven to be more effective than alternatives, therefore traversing history and remaining with us until the present day. Deeply inspired by Eastern philosophy and his travels to India on spiritual journeys in the 1960s, Damian's imagined structures, such as Construction (1968), The Hill (1976),and La Cité Mandala (1979), reflect a belief in the transformative power of art. These monuments were Damian's response to his inner search for an aesthetic ideal: the process of envisioning them sometimes took many years, and in many cases resulted only in unrealised projects documented in drawings.
During the night of Le Corbusier's death on 27 August 1965, Mihai Olos dreamt the Universal City–a utopian vision of modular structures that, by representing a tightly-knit social fabric and a close relationship to nature, evokes a pre-industrial world, and raises urgent questions about future forms of living. Based on the knot element found in traditional architecture from Maramureș, the region in Romania where Olos was born, the module represents a symbol of unity, allowing for thousands of combinations that result in an infinite, almost cosmic network of shapes that Oloscoherently developed throughout his oeuvre. The mythology surrounding this dream became partof his artistic legacy; Olos was, in fact, well-informed about various architectural projects of the time, among them the geodesic domes of Buckminster Fuller.2In the years marked by post-war reconstruction and the geopolitical competition for space exploration, Olos envisioned Universal City as a form of living in tune with the rhythm of nature, the module acting as metaphor for a community in which people support each other much like the elements of his wood sculptures support each other. This type of organic bond between people was often performed impromptu during his exhibition openings by inviting guests to join their fingers in the shape of the module, so creating a human chain.
In 1977, Joseph Beuys invited Olos to present his wooden modules during documenta 6, in Kassel, in the context of the Free International University founded by Beuys. Olos' vision of the Universal City fascinated the audience and Beuys alike, with the latter exclaiming 'Endlich, ein Künstler!' ('Finally, an artist!'). This spontaneous proclamation by Beuys reflects a deeper truth: Olos was a total artist, with a demiurgic power of creation, to which his oeuvre–spanning sculpture, painting, drawing, poetry, land art, and happenings–bears witness. To a certain extent, Beuys and Olos were kindred spirits, drawing energy from nature and ancestral rituals, and united by a shared belief in the power of art to heal. This led to a decade-long friendship, which culminated in the joint action The Gordian Knot. In June 1980, Olos visited Beuys in his Düsseldorf studio and challenged Beuys to intervene in one of Olos' most complex wooden sculptures by cutting into the modular structure, so as to prove its resistance. Beuys did not want to alter the intricate sculpture, so he just cut a small module, as a token that the smallest of elements contains infinite potential.3
Beuys' expanded notion of sculpture included the utopian concept of EURASIA, which stemmed from his nomadic attitude and his fascination with the territory described by Caroline Tisdall, an art critic and friend of Beuys, as '[...] the Celtic fringes, the periphery of Europe, where he [Beuys] believed the old magic was strong.'4 Beuys saw nomadism as an essential experience, a spiritual journey that could subvert the socio-political establishment by encouraging the exchange of knowledge between people of various cultures. As Victoria Walters noted, Beuys symbolically connected the vast landmass of Europe and Asia without the impetus of the Western coloniser in both his sculptures and happenings, so displaying a sincere attempt to stimulate creativity and both political and spiritual reforms, despite being criticised for perpetuating stereotypes about the EastWest divide.5 Nomadism becomes especially significant in the context of Beuys' notion of movement as a sculptural material, which allows for the possibility of radical social improvements in the future. An ancestral means of transport with a direct connection with nature, the sled exhibited as Schlitten (1969) represents the essence of a rescue vehicle, loaded with basic materials (felt, cloth, and wax) that gain healing qualities suggestive of Beuys' personal mythology–especially the legendary episode of his plane crash in Crimea during World War II, followed by his rescue by the Tatars. Animals with symbolic meanings, such as the swan and the stag, appear in drawings from the 1950s and '60s, sometimes juxtaposed with rural landscapes or architectural structures (e.g., the miller's house), as in Sternbild des Bären / junger Elch rechts über dem Hausdes alten Müllers (1961–1963). For Beuys, peasants' tools were important instruments for performing rituals and building communities that maintain a close relationship with nature: life in the village was a source of primordial knowledge that cities could not offer.
For Ana Lupaș, the detailed scenario of her actions is a way to position herself beyond time: the yearly repetition of a set of actions she devised, which involve a well-defined rural community (see Humid Installation ), enables Lupaș to develop her fertile anonymity. The parents will pass the annual ritual on to their children, who will transmit it to future generations, until the identity of the artist, who staged the ritual, will melt into the perennial culture. Since time immemorial, shirts have been sewn by family members to be offered to one another at special occasions in life, thus fulfilling the double role of both garments and markers of the passing of time. Just like rocks impressed with fossils, the textiles of the Identity Shirts (a generation of works from 1969),incorporating gaps, tears, and patches, are embedded with traces of a convoluted personal history shaped over the years. For the Seraphim Shirt and Cherubim Shirt, both from 1970, the front elements of old shirts were stitched by the artist with drawing-like lines, the decaying cloth being a reminder that, just as textile needs constant, careful mending, so too do the principles of humanity.Metaphoric vessels for winged heavenly creatures, these works enable the functional use of 'the shirt' to transcend the terrestrial realm, as written in the Old Testament
Although grounded in the tactile qualities of the materials, the exhibited works achieve permanence beyond materiality, the artists' gesture being inscribed in a century-old art-historical lineage that goes further back in time than the modern, Western-focused concept of 'art history', and that embraces a global perspective one that has little to do with the contemporary globalisation, but is rather connected to Olos' idea that ancient and folklore art are not only an inspiration, but also a foundation, for modern culture. Each new image marks a symbolic development by incorporating prior knowledge, filtering hidden remnants of meaning and adding personal ones, and projecting itself endlessly into the future.
1 Zainab Bahrani, The Infinite Image. Art, Time and The Aesthetic Dimension in Antiquity, London: Reaktion Books, 2014,p. 238.
2 Patterns of modularity became of particular interest for Olos after reading the book Module, proportion, symmetry,rhythm edited by Gyorgy Kepes. In one of the essays included in the publication, professor of quantum physics PhilipMorrison analyses the modularity of knowledge: '(...) So for artifact, machine and wall, cloth and picture, book anddrawing, all the expression of human hand and mind, the modular idea proves itself both as the ground plan of much ofour product–of everything expressed graphically–and as an irresistible analytic scheme, capable of measuringknowledge itself as the sum of simpler choices.' Excerpt from Philip Morrison, The Modularity of Knowing in GyorgyKepes, Module, proportion, symmetry, rhythm, New York: Braziller, 1966, p. 12.
3 Mihai Olos offered the sculpture to Joseph Beuys, who gave him back the small module he had cut and two 500 DMbanknotes signed by the German artist. The sculpture is currently in the collection of the Museum Schloss Moylandhosting the Joseph Beuys Archive and the van der Grinten Collection.
4 Sean O'Hagen, A Man of Mystery, Observer, 30 January 2005,https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/jan/30/art2, accessed 8 June 2020.5Victoria Walters, 'Joseph Beuys and EURASIA', Tate Papers, no. 31, Spring 2019,https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/31/joseph-beuys-eurasia, accessed 25 May 2020.
5 Victoria Walters, Joseph Beuys and EURASIA, Tate Papers, no. 31, Spring 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/31/joseph-beuys-eurasia, accessed 25 May 2020.
Press release courtesy Galeria Plan B. Text: Sorana Șerban-Chiorean.
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