Conceptual Decantation and Visual Purification



by Maria Orosan Telea

Horizont Magazine, N.4. April 2018

Liliana Mercioiu Popa made her debut as an artist in Timișoara in the late '90s. Her formation as a painter took place under the guidance of Constantin Flondor, developing in the direction of a type of art that provokes reflection, that goes far beyond the simple orientation towards improving one's technical skills. The themes that Constantin Flondor proposed to his students triggered the mechanisms of analytical and critical thinking, and Liliana Mercioiu Popa has kept his legacy to this day. Her work problematizes multiple aspects of the surrounding reality, based on a deep conceptual construct. Her questions also have a philosophical connotation regarding the way in which the various layers of the outer reality can be regarded and perceived. In addition, she is preoccupied by the subjectivity of points of view in relation to the essence of things. In order to transpose them into visual language, the artist has in recent years been using more and more mixed media, object- installations, site-specific installations - besides the classical forms of expression (painting, sculpture, drawing).

Although a graduate of the Painting specialization, in the first years the most important stages in her creation were marked by experimentalism. From the very beginning, she has worked with interventions in the public space (Reanimare pentru o zi [Reanimation for one day] and Pasaj [Passage], both in 2000), with photography (Dedesubturi [Undersides] in 2001) and has used the text in a purely conceptual manner. In 1998 she was already creating works (Eu-ritmie [I-rhythmia]) in which words or phrases were transposed in various visual forms, many times using the materiality of the support as an element meant to highlight the meanings of each piece of work. Starting with the early 2000s, such creations have been included in collective exhibitions such as Dedesubturi [Undersides] (2001, TentART Gallery Timișoara), The International Young Artists' Festival (2002, Vršac, curator Svetlana Mladenov), Transfigurări: Punct și de la capăt. Prospecțiuni asupra artei tinere din România (2004, The Art Museum from Timișoara, curator Ileana Pintilie) or 7 trasee deschise spre lume [7 routes open to the world] (2010, Sanas Building, Essen, curator Doina Tellman). Her orientation towards conceptualism was confirmed once more by her participation in the 2005 Utopia Festival, an artistic event initiated by Alexandra Titu, where art works were presented in the project stage.

The correlation of the meanings of words with their placement in space or with the material the artwork is made of has become a constant in the artist's creation. In the installation called Acțiuni [Actions] (2009), a series of verbs that include spatial directions in their semantics (vertical/horizontal, up/down) are depicted on canvases the disposition of which (on the wall or on the ground) corresponds to the type of action described by each particular word. The same principle can be found in Elipsa[Ellipsis] (2001) and Thin (2011). What About You? (2011) is a text-installation dedicated to the public space, in which certain parts of the letters placed on the pavement are bent upwards as an answer that the author gives to the question asked in the title. The construction of visual discourses starting from the dictionary definitions of some words appears in works such as Cultură recentă [Recent culture] (2015), where the focus is on the meanings that can be derived from splitting the Romanian word "cultură" in two other words (cult and ură). In Exist/Coexist (2016), the light indicators placed above the exit and inside the exhibition space respectively, change the initial roles of this type of signs, inviting the viewers to meditate on their own existence in relation to the others.

Liliana Mercioiu Popa's pursuits cover a much wider range of themes, most of which are nuanced by the way in which the self relates to the macro- and micro-historical context. The evolution of the self in relation to the world's evolution, the historical development of the social and cultural climate in which the artist lives her everyday life, the relations between the different forces that shape the identity of a community, a social group or an individual, all these are recurrent aspects in her body of work. However, they are approached through conceptual decantation and visual purification that lead to forms of expression which correspond to the need for moderation and for balance. In painting, the evolution from the In-formare [In-formation] series - presented in a personal exhibition at Calina Gallery in 2007 - to the last series from the period 2014-2015 - on which the exhibition Structuri în echilibru was based in 2016, at the "Palatele Brâncovenești" Cultural Centre in Mogoșoaia - meant the journey from free, informal abstraction to the rigor of compositions dominated by rhythms and geometrization. Before these, but also among them, other series or singular works proved just as significant for defining a coherent endeavour which establishes a gradual dialog with various aspects of nature that undergo transformations: Mineral-Vegetal-Organic (2003-2007), Despre fluiditate [About fluidity] (2008-2013), Structură internă [Internal structure] (2011), Structură incipientă [Incipient structure] (2011),Spațiu dinamic [Dynamic space] (2013), Alter structures (2013), etc. In addition, there are drawings and works created with mixed techniques (acrylic, collage) which revisit visual elements of large-scale paintings in a freer manner, looking like sketches or notations during the work process.

In correlation with the bi-dimensional artwork, Liliana Mercioiu Popa has always had an interest in the three-dimensional object, which she assumed either as a spatial extension of the structures with flat representations, or as a free-standing presence. The project Geometrii variabile [Variable geometries] is the most relevant in this respect; it was exhibited at the Jecza Gallery in Timișoara in 2014. The groups of objects displayed, Complex dynamic [Dynamic complex] (2013) and ReCONfigurare [ReCONfiguration] (2014-2015), although conceived in a geometrizing and reductionist visual language, went beyond the spirit of minimalist art due to the load of meanings the artist attached to them.

This type of endeavour was taken much farther in the exhibition Nu sunt acolo unde exist și nici acolo unde gândesc [I am neither where I exist, nor where I think] which took place at Galateca Gallery in Bucharest, in 2016. Here, the site-specific installation created by Liliana Mercioiu Popa of aluminium pipes covered the entire central space of the gallery. The refined structure consisted of a network of rectangles suspended from the ceiling in an arrangement that made reference to the theory of the multidimensional universe.

In 2015, Liliana Mercioiu Popa joined the Avantpost group, with which she exhibited within vast exhibition projects in Timișoara (Dincolo de liniște [Beyond Silence] in 2015, curator Maria Orosan-Telea; Conexiunea cu prezentul [Connection with the present] - at the 2015 edition of the Art Encounters Biennale, curators Nathalie Hoyos and Rainald Schumacher; Hidden Agenda II in 2016, curator Cosmin Haiaș; Universallowed in 2017, curator Maria Orosan-Telea) and in Bucharest (Hidden Agenda I -at the 2016 edition of The Nights of the Galleries). In a few of these events, the artist did more than just exhibit: she was part of the organizing team or even the initiator. In all these exhibitions, Liliana Mercioiu Popa's works were installations, providing the artist with the occasion of discovering new forms of expression. Thus, Doar zgomot? [Noise only?] (2015) is an interactive installation with sound, in which the public can manipulate domino boxes to trigger the fall of the pieces to the ground.

Another characteristic of the artist's endeavour, which has become ever more significant in the works exhibited together with Avantpost, is the creation of site-specific installations - works conceived in close relation to what is found at the site, integrating elements found there. No Mirage? (2017) used a debris ramp found in the Tower of the Battery Factory in Timișoara, which hosted the Universallowed exhibition - and a window outlooking the Fabric neighbourhood. To these two elements, the artist added a transparent platform that supported a network of small spheres which were also transparent. Suspended at window level, the platform was only accessible to the public via the ramp. The intervention on the ramp consisted only in a slightly elongated image of the map of the world, in white paint. The entire installation transmitted a message about the process of migration, about the micro- and macro- courses that we as individuals have to follow if we are to find our own place and purpose in the world.

Over the course of her 20-year artistic career, Liliana Mercioiu Popa has alternated periods of exhibition activity with periods of intense studio work. Besides the artistic activity, she has been involved in her teaching career at the Faculty of Arts and Design from Timișoara. Initially, starting with 1999, she was Professor Constantin Flondor's assistant at the painting department. Later, she became a lecturer. Trying to offer her students what she herself felt she had missed at certain times, Liliana Mercioiu Popa has always involved them in the organization of exhibitions that could make them more visible. In recent years, some of the most daring of Timișoara students' exhibitions have been exactly those organized by Liliana Mercioiu Popa. In 2014, exhibition took place in a room from the former Elba Factory: entitled Ce pieritor e omul, gândea albatrosul! [How transient the man is, thought the albatross!], it included video, photography and installations. Then, in 2015, other two exhibitions, one in Timișoara, and the other in Bucharest, displayed paintings and objects by the new graduates. In addition to this, the students participated in the Art Festival Timișoara 2015, 2016, 2017, and in two more exhibitions with works by graduates of the painting specialization. Some of the students who worked with Liliana Mercioiu Popa in these projects are Andreea Medar, Andrei Părăușanu, Silvia Moldovan, Bogdan Tomșa, Nicolae Velciov, Cătălin Bătrânu, Raluca Rișco etc.