View of “Ciprian Mureşan,” 2016. From left: Plague Column #1, 2016; Plague Column #2, 2016. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

View of “Ciprian Mureşan,” 2016. From left: Plague Column #1, 2016; Plague Column #2, 2016. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Ciprian Mureşan

View of “Ciprian Mureşan,” 2016. From left: Plague Column #1, 2016; Plague Column #2, 2016. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Understanding “Plague Column” required knowing something about the sculptures stored in the warehouse of the National Museum of Art in Cluj (the Romanian city where Ciprian Mureşan studied and still lives), particularly the ones acquired at the height of socialist realism. There, in a place of both conservation and hiding, one can detect the oscillations of the country’s taste and cultural politics. In 2012, the artist used twenty-five sculptures, each resting on two plywood bases, as weights for drying and flattening his own prints; for later iterations of the project, he substituted plaster casts of the originals, and now, composite sculptures made from fragments of leftover negatives of the casts. Like empty chrysalises, these lay resting in a corner of the artist’s studio until he decided to recycle them to create the resin sculptures Plague Column #1 and #2 (all works 2016).

In their magma of abstract forms, anatomical fragments and even human faces emerge in the way that an anthropomorphic profile might appear on some tree bark. While both columns are hollow, one is displayed horizontally, its interior exposed, bringing to mind the numerous bodies the artist has drawn lying on the ground: sleeping figures, or perhaps corpses. The opacity of the resin transfigures these degraded monuments, exhumed from storage, into a “sickly” skin. The title suggests as much, although the Plague Column, a Baroque memorial at the center of Vienna, might also suggest the mysterious finds evoked by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (which inspired the artist in the past) in Roadside Picnic (1972), a science-fiction novel long censored in the Soviet Union, and the source for Andrei Tarkovsky’s celebrated Stalker (1979).

With this work, Mureşan transposed into sculpture a technique he had already employed with drawing, in which he uses reproductions, what he has called a “low-resolution education, rather than first-hand experiences of artworks,” as a stimulus to reinvention. In his drawings, he appropriates the work of other artists, duplicating the layouts of magazines or art catalogues, focusing his attention on the dialogue between word and image, and superimposing the pages one over another on a single large panel. The result is a palimpsest in which the individual elements are hard to decipher.

Copying is not only the foundation of traditional art education, still in practice in Romania, but it is also an analogical process charged with historicity. The copy is not the duplicate of the original or a digital file ready to be printed, ideally without altering the image’s quality, but rather a medium that degrades the original, as in an engraving. With this step, the object risks disappearing: “Copying obsessively,” the artist suggests, “or conversely, destroying copies in a shredding machine, these operations stem from the two tempos of our experience of art history.” Through copying, Mureşan is able to reactivate the artistic past, in opposition to the way in which works of art are preserved in museum warehouses. He is moreover able to mimic the process of history and to reflect on the fate of Romania—its delicate negotiation between a premodern and a post-Communist identity (as described, for example, by Marius Babias), and its abrupt passage from Communist regime to Capitalist economy.

The dialogue between drawing and sculpture becomes more intricate in The Sculpture Storage, for which Mureşan has reproduced sculptures from the museum in Cluj, first in pencil on paper, then in etching and, finally, in a bronze bas-relief carved onto the surface of a table. The show concluded with a video, Untitled, discreetly projected near the floor; here, the focus is on the artist’s hands as he fabricates a Dadaist poem, following the Romanian poet Tristan Tzara’s formula, by cutting up a Bible. Mureşan skillfully manipulates the slivers of text as if they were sculptural elements, aware of both the fragility of the poetic word and the rhetorical force of our language.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.