29 January – 8 March, 2014
The work of Andra Ursuta, deeply influenced by the culture and history of her country of origin, reworks Balkan identity in a complex way, combining references to traditional folklore with research on feminine identity. Through the use of a vast range of materials – from organic substances like eggs to artificial things like resin, or other more traditional materials like marble and stone – the artist explores a wide variety of techniques, with a leaning towards sculpture based on its immediate relationship with the body, an element that recurs almost obsessively in her output. Even when the human figure is not present, there is an echo of the body in Ursuta’s work that translates into provocative and at times violent sculptures, charged with dark symbolism and black humor.
The project created for Peep-Hole consists in reflection on power and the symbols that embody its image, through a series of works that reinterpret and transfigure historic works of architecture of three opposing political ideologies in an ironic, irreverent way. The exhibition space is dominated by two large sculptures, Soft Power 1 and 2 (2013), which at first glance seem like crumpled heaps of colored fabric, but then turn out to be two fists on a monumental scale that gradually take form under the gaze of the viewer through a slow process of inflation. The enlargement of the fist is contrasted by the reduced scale of a building constructed for war, another symbol of ideology. A Worm’s Dream Home 2, 3, and 4 (2013) are miniature replicas of a German war bunker located on the coast of Normandy.
Ursuta uses cement, the same material employed to make such buildings, but pours it into a soft mould that completely alters its original appearance: the walls sag and become deformed, the structures seems to be collapsing. To complete this sarcastic transfiguration of the symbols of power, Broken Obelisk (2013) offers a grotesque parody of one of the most ancient commemorative monuments. The particular monolithic form of this architectural element is inevitably compromised by the fact that it has been split to adapt to the form of a chair, on which the obelisk is seated as if it were a person. Each work in the show is a vaguely melancholy caricature that re-examines the gutted power of various monuments of the past. The fist, a symbol of resistance and unity, portrayed in the angular and brutal style of the art of Communist propaganda, is rendered ridiculous by a patchwork of knitted comforters that evoke a dimension of the home and crafts.
It seems more like a giant oven mitt than a public monument, and the fact that there are two fists further undermines their monumentality. The three little bunkers, bearing witness to the Nazi invasion of France, are crumpled and deflated like old beach balls discarded on the sand. The seated obelisk, finally, takes on anthropomorphic features, transforming the ancient Egyptian monument that has become an American symbol by now into a senile, bent figure that might suggest the fossilized remains of a Ku Klux Klan costume, or a bizarre snowman. As the title hints, the grotesque is the key of interpretation and the red thread linking the works in the exhibition, which all share the literal and metaphorical reference to “air” ironically expelled, as indicated by the term “fartchitectures.”
Each work, in a different way, is in fact linked to the dual meaning of the term “windbag,” literally a “bag of wind” but more commonly used to define a pretentious person who holds forth in empty ranting. The fists are containers of air that seem to breathe, but when completely inflated they resemble fat, distorted balloons; the bunkers seem limp and saggy, but unlike the fists, they are stony and immobile; the obelisk also looks “deflated,” but in a geometric way, while also simulating the figure of an elderly man, often called in English an “old fart.” While the obelisk is the only work on a human scale, the reference to the body is predominant throughout the show, to the extent that all the works suggest an intimidating relationship with respect to the human body, from the oversized broken limbs that loom over the viewer to the shrunken bunkers that seem like tombs.
Andra Ursuta (Salonta, Romania, 1979. Lives and works in New York) took a BA (Bachelor of Arts) in 2002 at Columbia University in New York. Recent solo shows include: Solitary Fitness, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, 2013; Mothers, Let Your Daughters Out into the Streets, François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, 2012; Magical Terrorism, RAMIKEN CRUCIBLE, New York, 2012; Storage Space, 3 Delancey Street, New York, 2012; Vandal Lust, RAMIKEN CRUCIBLE, New York, 2011; The Management of Barbarism, RAMIKEN CRUCIBLE, New York, 2010. Andra Ursuta participated at the 55th Venice Biennale, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, Venice, Italy. Next spring she will have a solo show at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.