The Only Thing I Am Sure about in This Life Lies above My Head
|Galeria Plan B
Potsdamer Strasse 77 – 87, 10785 Berlin
|6 March – 30 May, 2020||Open by appointment only|
In his landmark essay, “The Sublime Is Now” (1948), the American painter Barnett Newman proposed an updated reading of the image of the sublime as a self-evident revelation “that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history.” This image articulates the need to free oneself of the burden of memory, nostalgia, myths, and so on, and to create something out of “our own feelings.” The artist argues that modern art has failed to create a new sublime image and to move away from the devices of Western European painting, connected to the “desire to exist inside the reality of sensation (the objective world, whether distorted or pure) and to build an art within the framework of pure plasticity (the Greek ideal of beauty, whether that plasticity be a romantic active surface or a classic stable one).” The new possibilities of the sublime, as coined by Newman, are brought to light through a different question, setting aside the problem of beauty: “…how, if we are living in a time without a legend or mythos that can be called sublime, if we refuse any exaltation in pure relations, if we refuse to live in the abstract, how can we be creating a sublime art?”
Cristian Rusu is dedicated to finding the sublime through his artistic proposals, engaging with a given landscape and redefining the site as a dialectical medium between geometry and nature. Applying a set of interventions pertaining to the specific abstract vocabulary of land art, the artist reflects on the site as an integral part of his work, or, as Walter De Maria stated, “the land is not the setting of the work, but part of the work.” Isolated in the village of Cojocna near Cluj in Romania, his most recent project, The Only Thing I Am Sure about in This Life Lies above My Head, can be viewed as a meditation on geometry, nature, architecture, and the sublime, all while focusing on the human desire to escape the material memory embedded in a space and its ideological structures. Under the recurrent theme of anti-monuments, Rusu projects ghostly images and opportunities for meditation on an impressive scale, commenting on how history and fictional stories can both define a certain time and place.
The story of this particular site, an isolated tomb in the village of Cojocna, concerns the changes to the border between Romania and Hungary imposed by the Second Vienna Diktat, when Northern Transylvania was assigned to Hungary. In 1940, this new border separated the village cemetery from the rest of the village overnight. The family of the deceased man consequently decided to lay him to rest on Romanian land, which meant situating the tomb outside the existing cemetery, in an isolated position atop a hill. While history created a horizontal division of the site, the artist now proposes a vertical one, creating a new space underneath the grave. Dug into the hill, this meditation room functions as a transitional station, a necessary passage extracted from the overwhelming beauty of the landscape. Situated inside the landscape, in the deepest layers of the hill, the room can also be considered as a “third space” (Edward W. Soja), “an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectics of spatiality-historicality-sociality.” The central focus point, the black square referencing Kazimir Malevich and his “zero degree” of painting, serves as a reminder of a cosmic liberating force, a breathtaking “totality” after the death and revival of the image. Presented here as a fragment of that experience, which can only take place in complete isolation (“Isolation is the essence of land art”—Walter De Maria), the exhibition expands the land art project imagined by Cristian Rusu into other mediums, rendering visible all the components of his artistic laboratory: scale models, photographs, drawings, and a fragment of the installation as a real experience, simulated according to the dimensions of the gallery.
This space can only be truly experienced when everything comes together, following Soja’s reflections on the intersection between real and imaginary spaces, through a combination of forces from the codes of wild nature and the order of a pure abstract cultural structure. The site-specific project in Cojocna, which is yet to be concluded, is also dedicated to nature itself, an artwork in dialogue with the silent landscape and human sensibilities toward death in equal measure. Just as JeanFrançois Lyotard rephrased the title of Newman’s manifesto from “The sublime is now” to “Now the sublime is like this,” the artist’s answer to the question of the sublime takes into account our individual revelation when confronted with the “absolute emotions” that emerge “out of ourselves,”
— Diana Marincu