When walking into Ramiken Crucible, a gallery in the Lower East Side, I thought the work felt unfamiliar. The entire front pane of glass was broken out, with shards on the ground, setting the tone: startling yet engaging.
*All photos courtesy of Fisk! (Thanks)*
A complex narration behind the work was immediately apparent. Ursuta's busts reference a multitude of different cultures. Easily speaking to old female fertility sculptures, the work creates a layer of femininity in conjunction with common currency of at least 3 different nations. The concrete sculptures look hard, yet the fabric nature of their construction makes an interesting dichotomy between industrial material and the comfort of fabric.
Then there was this alien craft that had crashed into the wall. It was impossible to figure out if it was created from tin foil, foam material painted silver, or metal. Either way, it felt as though this machine just crashed through the window and landed here, either from the future, or our naive perception thereof.
That these sculptures referencing artifacts fit so well aesthetically with various examples of contemporary and even futuristic life is near astounding. The necklaces and garments are creations that lend themselves to many primitive cultures within the world, yet are completely their own. Beings were raised high above us, somehow looking down upon us for something we may have done. The works carried a thick presence.
There is an incredible realism to this body of work. It relates to a real story. The statement on the gallery website reads,
"Ramiken Crucible presents Magical Terrorism, a body of new sculptures by Andra Ursuta that feed on meltdown mania, news reports, scams, and obscure Marxisms such as the allegation that the people of the Balkans are ethnic trash. Ursuta, a Romanian with inexhaustible enthusiasm for self-deprecation, has chosen to assume that this cultural cliche is accurate."
Recently, around the time of Occupy Wall Street, the BBC website featured the minor story of a group of Gypsy witches who cast a curse on the Romanian government to protest a law that recognized witchcraft as a legitimate and thus taxable profession. Mandrake, dog excrement, and a dead cat were tossed into the Danube. It is unclear whether the full spell recipe was withheld to protect the witches' trade or to prevent it from accidentally toppling some other, innocent bystander government. Magical Terrorism continues where the news article ends and outlines a latter-day personality cult of these unknown psychic soldiers."
I want to point your attention to the part where the BBC website featured a minor story of a group of gypsy witches who cast a curse on the Romanian government to protest a law that recognized witchcraft as a legitimate and thus taxable profession. This statement to me clarifies the use of a variety of different aesthetics from culture. Romanian, witches, government, protest, profession... these are all words that could easily have their own aesthetic surrounding meaning. Not to get too far from reality, the statement clears a bit up at the end,
"Part made-up cultural anthropology artifacts beholden to a decorative use of money and part sportswear tailored for permanent outdoors urban living, these objects are also crude investment schemes in the way all legitimate artworks are. Coin chokers also appear on a set of faux primitive female torsos cast in iron, aluminum, and aggregates of concrete and manure. Like ritualistic conversion tables, these wares depict obsolete exchange rates between the Euro, US Dollars, and Romanian currency."
I'm not sure I can explain anything more clearly. This show felt very much like an extensive anthropology project, a very smart one at that. In the end the statement asserts the ritualistic nature of aspects of contemporary life. Using a word like ritualistic renders contemporary life like primitive life, which based on the taxation of witches, doesn't feel far from the truth. It's wonderful to see an artist who asks a lot of their audience.