Marilena Murariu b.1954
After 1990, Marilena’s Murariu painting mainly evolved in two apparently divergent directions having clear recovering intentions. Her “Wings” from the 90s targeted, without consistently declaring so, the regaining of a spiritual universe through the affective probing of the self. Conversely, her Balcic paintings made after 2000 were intended as the expression of an inner journey undertaken in the rediscovering of the exotic landscapes of the Silver Coast with which the renowned interwar artistic colony familiarized the public.
The two perspectives proved to be in part illusory and the results contradicted temporary expectations to the point of opposing the estimates. Being developed from the start through excluding all Byzantine iconographic suggestions, but without associating expressive elements foreign to auteurial expression, the “Wings” confi gured themselves under the guise of a self-suffi cient geometry in which faint echos of a diamondlike poetry can be distinguished but which can hardly be pinpointed subsequent to a possible introspection. On the other hand the painter followed the inverted route, from the concrete towards the inner. Considering that the consecrated isolated and sunny image of the past Balcic has been irremediably compromised – the small town radically transformed itself under the pressures of urban development – the compensating resources of dreaming proved to be more suggestive.
Marilena exploited them with voluptuousness so as to imagine a “nocturnal and secret Balcic” populated by mysterious and playful beings – in extremis she reserved an entire exhibition to the cats of Balcic.
“About Elena in General” marks a new and fundamentally different stage in her creation. The withdrawn, meditating and escapist attitude is completely abandoned in favor of a engaged and activist expression.
The reason for this change of direction is quite concrete: the aberrant development of the Romanian society after the end of communism (noticeable especially in the case of political power) and the anxiety generated thereby on the background of powerlessness and alienation. This type of motivation is not new and has determined many similar positions in the last two decades, especially amongst young artists who have promptly recorded such social “commotions”. However, the artist’s perspective on the subject seems innovative – particularly incisive, ranging from playful irony to express vulgarity – alongside her view on the inspiring model.
The motif of the exhibition is Elena Ceausescu’s effiigy. However, as can be easily deduced, it did not showcase “the illustrious fi gure of the globally renowned scientist”, nor the “life companion of the Carpathians’ Genius” – although there are ironic allusions to such classical stances – but a harrowing character inspired by its post-communist demonization: the debauched Elena which, according to Ceausescu’s brothers, would offer sexual advances to German soldiers during the war (sic).
In fact, this episode of Elena’s unoffi cial biography inspired the content of the first painting which is entitled “Through Iron Bars” and which becomes relevant, by its defi ning data, to all the other works included in the series. It seems to be a parody of the well-known revolutionary song which inspired it but in the end it turn into a satire of present politics. The work shows Elena and a German offi cer in a modest interior. Sitting on an iron bed, she savors a cigarette, while the offi cer recomposes himself. Above the bed there is a photograph of Ceausescu as a young man, leaving the impression that he has assisted to the scene that has just ended. This image would remain a simple visual pun if the face of the German officer would not resemble a contemporary politician who, together with his child, paraded on a catwalk in a Nazi uniform.
Being linked with the present, the narrative gains a completely different signifi cance through revealing the current political debauchery. Beyond his precise identity, the character in uniform, associated to the phrase “in general” from the title, indicates another possible protagonist of the exhibition. According to certain details, the message of the work transcends naked perception. Suggesting Ceausescu’s voyeurism undoubtedly targets perversity as such, but also the perversity of the image, its capacity of bearing the most unexpected connections.
Relying on the persistence of collective memory, the author makes references to several notorious episodes of the 89 revolution period of Elena’s biography, in order to invert the circumstances with grotesque effects. In one of the canvases, a passionate dance takes place in a festive atmosphere and includes Elena and the general who is remembered in history for his crafty use of plaster. The presence of the political leader who accompanies them has the purpose of outlining the horrendous developing farce and, by extension, the endless political farce in which we all indulge. Another painting depicts Elena as a cheerful escort for gamblers.
The ambiguity is heightened by the insertion of Ceausescu in the “executioners” group, as a sign of shared mentality. From ambiguous situations to ambiguous language, the artist uses the means of “confusion” for making irony clear. In a work showing our protagonist browsing with delight through the oeuvre of the Marquis de Sade, the author’s discourse seemingly concentrated on debauchery in itself, but a more experienced eye will also identify references to the present. The connection with the current times is deductible through the presence of individuals with tangential roles in Elena’s life. One of these is the Oracle of Damaroaia who is known to have played a fundamental role in the death of the Ceausescu spouses. The former Stalinist hardliner who suddenly converted to capitalism, is represented as narcissist painter, delighted by his own work. The conspiring glances exchanged with the viewer by the two characters disclose the debauchery of the forecast model. Although not as a rule, the works with remembrance undertones oscillate between a geometric style – slightly fragmented surfaces with expressionist infl uences – and burlesque realism, visible in the construction of the bodies, such as the unappealing physicality of Elena.
As she increasingly focuses on the present, Marilena tends to stylistically incline towards provocative realism with the risk of occasionally repressing desired pictorial effects. The displeasing corporeality, the excessive nakedness in some canvases (with deliberately irreverent titles) are weapons of exasperation and overt exposure. As it is the case with folk culture, physical ugliness and vulgarity disclose the moral faults of the characters, namely imposture and carelessness as forms of political prostitution. Without being taken out of the general stylistic context, three particular scenes, through the importance granted to the cinematic screen-like backgrounds, reveal connections with the contemporary media as useful mass manipulation means. In “We Won!” an unusual remake of the well-known episode of December 89, the image is built on two levels: although in the (“virtual”) background the action centers. around the enthusiastic faces of the Poet and of the Actor, the (“real”) foreground is fully dominated by the fi gure of our protagonist whose explosive vivacity casts no doubt on the actual winners. Perhaps the most well-known of these are featured in cheerful stances in the “broadcast dimension” of the painting, once more representing the idea of ideological manipulation, subversively embodied by Elena.
The liaison which transcends party guidelines and the sheer defi ance exhibited by our leaders are disavowed in group scenes in which the amusement of the chorus leaders reaches a climax. One of these scenes which is projected like a panorama on an achromatic surface, features a an important political theme that is downgraded by its placement in the worldly atmosphere of the debate and by the bantering of the original significance of the invoked ritual. Another delicious pamphlet was inspired to the painter by the provocative personality of Marilyn Monroe. The work the subject of which is traced to the lyrics of a song from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, reunites with admiration the three presidents who took offi ce after December 89, around the glamorous blonde transformed in Elena. The connection with another hit song dedicated on radio by Marilyn to J.F.K. is transparent and indicates in the Romanian context a new ridicule of the identifi cation with a perverted model. The shabby media show and the political histrionism can be equally suggested by the glamorous pose of the actors. Of course, the signifi cance of these hilarious scenes is open to interpretation and the paradoxical treatment thereof aims at going beyond the simple contradiction of the antinomy between laughter and weeping. The latter comes immediately to mind when we look at the painting.
The title of the exhibit itself, due to its ambiguity, suggests that the exhibit might allude to someone else, perhaps to any of us. A possible answer could be provided by the anonymous portraits in uniform which complete the striking models on the large surfaces. Leaving aside other possible interpretations, I believe that the artist’s decision to tackle taboo subjects remains important. Such taboos do not refer to deviating from the usual rules of art – overcoming the inertia of one’s art at the most – but to infringing on social conventions and deeprooted beliefs of the public who is thus invited to an unconventional debate on individual awareness. Oscillating between explicit representation and ambivalent expression, the current painting of Marilena Murariu hopes to contradict, if only in part, the old saying: “Auqun art politique n’est convaincant, sauf l’art totalitaire” – Marian Constantin