Critics’ Picks

View of “TristxtOTL.” Photo Cătălin Georgescu.

View of “TristxtOTL.” Photo Cătălin Georgescu.

Bucharest

Mădălina Zaharia

Ivan Gallery
Atelierele Malmaison, Calea Plevnei 137 C B side, 1st. fl
October 7–November 5, 2022

A dark, saturated blue fills Mădălina Zaharia’s solo exhibition. The neon tubes emitting this colored light play at diagramming, imitating line graphs that plot out the muscle contractions necessary to frown—except where usually one would find precise descriptions, instead there is but a single neon letter: A, D, or S. Only in the second room, where the artist’s latest film, TristxtOTL, 2022, is screened does the combination reveal itself to spell out S-A-D.

The strange title of Zaharia’s film already hints at “trist,” the Romanian word for “sorrow.” But with the attached acronym “OTL”—shorthand for the position of the body when down on all fours with the head hanging low—“tristxt” reads more like a social media hashtag. None of this feeds into the film, however. Over twenty minutes, two performers in a foggy postindustrial space rehearse a monologue of grief and despair. In between these scenes, the light changes to match the blue of the neon sculptures. One of the actresses, now in a baggy suit straight out of Dune, delivers the well-practiced monologue, its obscure quotations (“Reluctant to dream up a pattern that only values joy, we build our hard shells with polyethylene”) drawn from different texts reflecting on sadness.

Even though its individual parts remain arcane, Zaharia’s exhibition immerses us in a melancholic world with no way out. And yet the depressing sci-fi staging presents negative emotions with such objectivity that they beckon to be embraced as a potential escape.