By Julia Margaret Cameron

 

 

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One could be forgiven for approaching Mirela Ungureanu’s new exhibition at Galeriile Carol with a bit of apprehension and confusion. Indeed, “Apres nous, le deluge?” throws a bit of ambiguity from the start, through the question mark that may seem superfluous to some and maybe a bit too shy to others. This reviewer was struck from the very beginning by the absence of any catalogue of the works or titles for the paintings and graphic works.

However, an immersion in the aesthetic dimension proposed by the painter makes it quite clear that this is neither a slip-up, nor a direct invitation to the viewer to make its own titles. Instead, it is a deliberate prolongation into life of the determined ambiguity of the erotic that is the fundamental mark of Ungureanu’s best works in this exhibit. This section of the gallery starts with a major painting which to this reviewer looked like the painter’s response to Millais’s Ophelia – a blurred naked woman figure, clutching a bouquet of summer flowers or perhaps sporting just a flower-model bra while floating in a pond bearing resemblance to Monet’s lakes.

 

This is a strong prelude to the two best rooms of the exhibit, where the artist’s intentions become clearer in all their enforced ambiguity. Take, for instance, this stunning depiction in shades of ochre of what could be taken to be, at face value, a sublimation of Sapphic oral sex. But something is off about this interpretation. It may, or it may not be what it looks. Indeed, the blonde figure could be a woman; a breast protruding through its flowing golden locks giving credence to this hypothesis. But her gaze and in particular the position of the legs, as well as the left hand of the brunette, seeming to be grabbing something like a phallus can lead credence to the idea that it might be either a man in drag, either a transsexual person. Further, there is nothing that can definitely pinpoint the brunette as a woman, so this whole painting can be interpreted from virtually any gender/sex perspective a couple can be found in.

 

An apparently more unambiguous portrayal of heterosexual intercourse is offered in another large-scale painting of a copulation of another ochre-pair on what appears to be a piano. The male figure might have a beard, the female character has long hair and the situation seems more straightforward. But the interpretation of this reviewer is that in this case the ambiguity is to be found not in the act per se, but in the position of the couple in relation to the musical instrument on the left side of the painting. Is the couple leaning on it, in an uncomfortable position? Is the couple towering over it, in a symbolic reiteration of the supremacy of the erotic over the orphic? Or is the sexual act a consequence of a score that us, the viewers, will never hear?

Two other smaller pieces drew the attention of this reviewer in his particular reading of Ungureanu’s aesthetic themes. In the first, one might see a lesbian couple (the painter using again the blonde/brunette dichotomy) frolicking on a couch. The reversion of roles, with the blonde on top seems to give credence to the idea that this is indeed the same couple as in the previous, large-scale painting. Yet there is nothing certain in this painting, except for a genuineness of feeling between the two subjects.

In the other painting, a naked brunette woman, legs wide spread, seems to be brushing her hair while enjoying something that might or might not be a caramel. The implication, or at least the initial sensation that the painter (or the curator) induces, especially through the placement of this painting in succession of those previously discussed, is that we might be witnessing an act of self-pleasuring. Yet can one take this for granted? In this mysterious, ambiguous universe of carnal love, the subject may simply yawn or wave her arms. For all we know, she might not even be naked.

 

In this, as well as in the other works, Mirela Ungureanu is challenging viewers in their perceptions, interpretations and rationalization of the erotic, with plenty of playfulness and panache.

By Guest Reviewer

 

 

 

 

“My interest in the complexity of social structures and constellations leads me to the scenes depicted in my slide shows. Rather than representing individual acts, the photographs show collective modes of action that have, amid seemingly chaotic circumstances, established autonomously functioning systems. I am interested in interrogating ways of depicting “reality”, and their limitations, using precisely the ostensibly most objective of media – documentary photography. It seems to me that in seeking to establish the ideal documentary perspective I ought to become “visible” in the photographs as the agent behind the camera – that is to say, I consider the photographer a part of the action, since his simple presence has a palpable effect on it. I think that the notion of an objective, and hence invisible, documentarist is an illusion. I consciously invite personal feelings such as anxiety, sympathy, admiration, and timidity when taking photographs so that they become visible in the reactions to my presence of those I portray. This method transports the viewer into a sense of personal experience. The slide show, technically an inversion of the act of inversion of the act of photographing, a sequence in time of ephemeral and intangible images, reinforces this experience.”

By Markus Krottendorfer