Critics’ Picks

Decebal Scriba, Water-Apa, 1972, gelatin silver print, 17 1/2 x 23 1/2".


Decebal Scriba

Anca Poterasu Gallery
56 Plantelor Street Sector 2
May 9–June 30

The works in “Memory Clouds,” a survey of photographs from the 1970s and 1980s by the Romanian artist Decebal Scriba, incorporate semiotics, structuralism, and the philosophy of language to reveal what Deleuze called “lines of flight” and “reterritorializations” in Romania under Communist rule. Contrary to common belief, ’70s Romania was marked by a certain cultural openness, as artists began to immerse themselves in both international art magazines and theory. Inspired, perhaps, by his reading, Scriba returned again and again to the deconstruction of words and signs. He also dipped a toe into Land art, often through seemingly private conceptual gestures documented in black-and-white photographs. For instance, in the sly Mirror series #2, 1983, Scriba deployed a long strip of mirror both to interrupt natural landscapes—a sea horizon, clouds, a patch of sand—and to open up discussions about repression.

But can these artworks truly be interpreted as direct criticisms of the regime? Scriba and other Conceptualists of his generation managed to carve out autonomy by making mentally provocative art. His documented public performances and his tautologies—such as the photograph Water-Apa, 1972, which depicts the word “APA” (“water” in Romanian) written with water—risk feeling redundant in a political system rife with emptied words and fake scenarios. Yet ultimately, Scriba’s avant-garde works question the possibilities of expression itself in a Communist country where human contact is perennially and forcibly reconfigured and reduced to signs and codes, where affections are ritualized until they become one with the body. Perhaps most powerful about Scriba’s bewildering approach is how, in his milieu, it begins to feel almost logical.