Raluca Popa / How to Disappear

18 September / 09 November, 2019

upper floor


As conveyed in Raluca Popa’s thoughts and writings, her work crosses a diversity of expressions, from image to moving image, from written text to personal archive, from drawing to performance. Nevertheless, since these formal classifications may seem very classical on first sight, it needs to be stressed that Raluca Popa's approach towards the medium always crosses its boundaries by reassembling the material in expressive forms to be sent anew into the public sphere. As much as she is concerned in the recognition and preservation of particular forms, Popa's focus in her research is what it has to be done, what it is acceptable or not to do, and whether one has to favour models and similarities, or instead one must exercise a certain freedom, must remain an obstinate foreigner. Thus, one can sense a tension that the artist establishes within the formal aspect of the work, and by “anchoring” these forms in their conceptual standing points the tension gets more and more intensified. It stretches between Popa’s daily preoccupation with social agency and the impossibility of creating a work that becomes one with the thought. On one hand, this tension is the artist's very direct “confession” about the potential that contemporary art might have in the real social and political space, while on the other hand, it can be seen as Popa’s tireless search for a reason to create.

Her first exhibition at Gaep can be read in two ways. In relation to the “specifics and demands” of the venue, How to Disappear defines the artist's main formal and conceptual interests and acts as an introduction to a long-term collaboration with the gallery and its public. But more importantly, this exhibition is further evidence for Popa’s goal to reexamine the works in relation to the space and its context. It somehow seems that within Popa's work it is not possible to avoid the given tension, either in the internal logic of the work or in the way this is presented when it becomes public. In this sense, the exhibition becomes a new form of her artistic expression which directly tackles the spatial specifics of the exhibition space and tries to avoid its usual narrative.

As a result of the artist’s urge to avoid exhibition rooms opening in various directions, her site-responsive intervention creates a passage that guides visitors in a single possible direction. Thus transformed, the main exhibition space on the upper floor juxtaposes two series of works on paper and a film, which might seem very distant at first glance, but a more careful reading reveals that they are connected by two actions: to (not) see and to (not) do. This is reflected most literally in the test papers from Popa’s personal archive that she chose specifically for the exhibition. The works entitled False Start are Popa's test papers from secondary school on subjects of human activity and anatomy of the eye, both from 1993, enlarged with a classical pantograph tool. Within her practice, Popa often deals with existing personal objects and documents, which are altered to the extent that their primary meaning is dissolved into a visual structure. In terms of method, this gives historical reminiscence to the development of visual poetry in which non-representational language and visual elements predominate over the meaning of language itself. Nevertheless, the two test papers on display have an echo in other works presented in the exhibition — for instance, in the series of works on paper entitled After Tuttle, which represent a particular type of human activity. The origins of the series are in a moment when the artist did not know what else to do, when she did not have new ideas for work, but thought she should do something anyway. Although in the beginning she saw this studio activity more as an act of contemplation than an artistic one, she later realised that the “accumulation” of drawings can also be considered an autonomous work of art. Formally, these works reflect Popa's interest in abstraction, not only in forms, but in scale as well. The artist brings various forms to a certain neutrality, which serves as a point of departure rather than as a result. In relation to Popa's previous engagement with drawing, which was very realistic, this particular series tries to distance itself from the materiality of form by rejecting a “signature” painterly gesture. The flattened colour spread over the pages of an agenda is not just a manifestation of the artist's relation to aspects of everyday life and usage of ordinary materials, but also implies Popa's need in tackling the surface, without any rational thinking. Both series of works, After Tuttle and False Start, define Popa's urge that the drawing process avoids becoming one with the artist's thought and as a consequence “only” reclines on the surface. The installation on the upper floor is concluded with the film Magician, that aims to portray the disappearance of artistic work. Conceptually, it brings tension in the exhibition — with this gesture, Popa not just “flirts” with historical predecessors on the issue of disappearance of artistic work, but also directly challenges the existence of her own artistic activity. As stated by Popa, she engages in the dialogue by handing to the magician her drawings in various sizes, one by one. The magician makes use of them as props in the magic performance, and ultimately the drawings vanish in front of spectators’ eyes. The drawings are transformed through magic, firstly because they get in contact and mix with the real magic props (coins, cards, etc.) Thus, new relations are formed, the drawings become objects themselves. The disappearance of objects and drawings that takes place inside this space and during this time is almost seen as a by-product of the interaction between the artist and the magician. So, the disappearance is central to the film, it is an intentional act, but it is not directly pointed at. Visually and conceptually, this could remind us of classical painting, in which the main narrative and protagonists are identified through objects - attributes. It is clear that the whole narrative of Magician is not the mystification of artistic processes. Instead, it highlights the idea that the work has its own freedom that exists beyond the pictorial representation.

How to Disappear continues in the chambers at the basement. In this moment we need to turn back to the beginning and refer to the exhibition as a form through which the artist directly tackles the spatial specifics of the space and tries to avoid its usual narrative. Popa's main intervention in the basement is the reconfiguration of the space as an “echo” to the main exhibition space on the upper floor. Thus, she spatially connects both exhibition spaces, but makes a clear conceptual distinction. Works “inhabiting” the basement relate to Popa's engagement with animation, which is an integral part of her artistic activity, while also representing what her real social, political and economic space is. The central work here is Popa’s newest animation Fig. 5, which can be seen as a continuation of the series that she started in 2012. The series is based on a collection of drawings from Popa’s family archive. To the original drawing used, she adds 48 pencil drawings, which, if assembled together, give the impression of a circular movement around the original drawing and thus make visible the hidden areas, not accessible from a frontal perspective. Drawing is in this way used as sort of a readymade that transforms its static nature into movement, its two dimensional form into three dimensional space. Juxtaposed are two light boxes — Background, movement #1 and Background, movement #2 — which were originally conceived of as painted backgrounds for an animated movie. The artist extracts them from the archive of painted backgrounds for animation and brings them into the space of art as autonomous forms. This gesture tries to unsettle their preconceived role as décor for dialogue and action, for animated events. At the same time, in relation to animation, it can be seen as an “inverted gesture” that transforms their three dimensional space into two dimensional form.

As mentioned above, How to Disappear showcases Popa's formal tackling of the mediums of expression and the way they are grounded in their conceptual basis. Although her thoughts are constantly evolving around agency towards particular socio-political condition, she is very clear and focused on the fact that her artistic expression remains on the surface of things. And it is exactly this very sincere apolitical position in the context of art that defines it as uncompromisingly political when one leaves the context of the exhibition. That’s why it is maybe most appropriate to conclude the writing by quoting her thoughts: I think of my work as a collection of sentences and short stories. Indeed, the exhibition is a profound collection of short stories that have their own freedom which goes beyond its visual existence.

With the support of