The final generation to have been partially brought up under Eastern European ‘really existing socialism’ has now reached adulthood, and young painters from the former Soviet bloc and non-aligned communist states alike have begun to reflect on their formative experiences in an attempt to excavate that which has vanished irretrievably. Not just one, but two ways of life – childhood and communism – are the site of this excavation, which can only rely on the resources of distant memory, complemented by fragments from the period such as family photographs and newspaper clippings. Although Nicolae Ceausescu’s vile US-backed regime always was unlikely to inspire anything like the much-noted wave of nostalgia – or ‘Ostalgie’ – that followed the demise of the GDR, for the Cluj-based painter Marius Bercea the period from his birth in 1979 to the fall of the regime a decade later, holds a peculiar fascination.
This may partially stem from a feeling no doubt shared by people from all places and periods, namely, the knowledge gained in hindsight that one spent one’s childhood in the midst of a specific political situation, that this must have left its trace – however diffuse – on one’s own development, and the intimations of mortality that emerge from one’s awareness of the singularity of that historical moment. In Bercea’s case, it surely also derives from his having amassed an extensive and ‘intensely personal’ archive from which to draw inspiration for his delicate and beautiful paintings.
Though the details of the events depicted in Bercea’s paintings generally remain undisclosed, and the loose handling of the paint suggests the gradual fading of memory, many of the scenes depicted are familiar enough to kindle similar recollections from the viewer’s own life. For instance, two new works – to be shown in Bercea’s debut London solo show at Eleven Fine Art – appear to show school photographs, while the inclusion of bathers in another two paintings suggest idyllic holiday scenes. Besides these rites of passage, there are also subtly disconcerting and incongruous moments. As the curator of the upcoming London show, Jane Neal, puts it: ‘Some of the images are unique to the Romania of this period – such as the painting derived from strange photographs of smiling young men (barely more than boys) in uniforms, posing next to taxidermied bears at country fairs. Yet aside from these bizarre depictions we can find touch points of recognition in many of the works – shared experiences of childhood that transcend boundaries of nationality and politics.’
Marius Bercea, who belongs to an exciting generation of young artists from Cluj, Transylvania, has recently shown at the Küppersmühle Museum for Modern Art (MKM), Duisburg, Germany, in the survey +Zwei: Contemporary Art from Bulgaria and Romania.
Marius Bercea: The Games We Played
Curated by Jane Neal
17 October to 17 November 2007
Eleven Fine Art
11 Eccleston Street
London, SW1W 9LX
T: +44 (0)20 7823 5540