The “UNDERground” composition can be read as a visual comment on the Mineriade (the miners’ attacks), a phenomenon that marked our post-communist history in 1990 and 1991 (also later on, in 1999).
“UNDERground” is made out of a series of nine female nudes modelated using paper pulp technique and partially covered in textile fabric simulating animal print and partly glossy, shiny fabric. The nudes are pictured sitting, mining helmets on top of their heads; in contrast with the fine modelling of their bodies, their faces are undifferentiated and very superficially treated.
Behind this statuary group, a video is projected on a screen in which a group of young girls are trying on mining helmets in a casual, relaxed, even funny way, almost as during a fashion session. Situated in semi-darkness, the statuary group in the foreground is somehow eclipsed, dematerialised. However, the colored lighting in the background highlights the objectual reality.
References are made to the female nude tradition in sculpture, on the one hand, and to moving portrait technique in the film that is being screened, on the other hand.
The stillness of the figures in the foreground is in contrast with the moving images projected on the background screen. The space in which the nude statuary group is situated “does not behave as a void, but as a body”, whereas the background screen functions as a classic trompe-l’œil.
The technique in which the female nudes are made (paper pulp) is the technique used for making mannequins and dolls.
There is also a denial to natural light, a semi-darkness atmosphere pierced by the dim light of mining helmets lamps in the foreground and the colored, moving light in the background.
Events that have deeply marked the beginning of the post-totalitarian era, the Mineriade – a complex phenomenon including violent incidents between the miners in the Jiu Valley and the people of Bucharest – have been a major trauma, one that is still haunting us, right when history aimed at a new start and not a perpetuation of destruction, violence, domination, the will for power of obscure forces. From this point of view, the Mineriade can be associated to “death wishes”, invested with primary, regressive energy, with the inclination of ruling through destruction and violence that deeply affected the entire Romanian post-revolutionary society.
The miners’ attacks took place in 1990 and 1991, as people were barely walking out of the communist age against the backdrop of a much too frail, incipient democracy, an uncertain universe fearing that “tomorrow is, in fact, yesterday”, a world harboring an uneasy feeling of panic induced by chaos (as opposed to the communist discipline and order, firmly controlled from the headquarters), a total absence of institutional hierarcy. Within this context, the miners’ attacks are attributed a regressive energy, fully contributing to a rise in the disorderliness and panic and trying to install a strength, violence, destruction-based authority.
The miners’ attacks, an instrument of organized violence in an attempt to maintain domination, can be interpreted as “death wishes”.
The hopes for a new beginning, the starting point for the reinvesting and redefining of social order were, on the contrary, invested with life wishes and rebirth (Eros), behaviorally opposed to destruction and death wishes.
Our piece “UNDERground” has operated a switch, a shift in values from an actual, existing representation to a desired one, from a feared representation to a loved one, from a death wish-invested representation to one invested with life wishes. It was about transforming a drive into its opposite, from everything that was negative and destructive to Eros and anything that was positive.
Hence the group of young girls, full of grace and tranquility in the background film.
As a matter of fact, female imagery and miners stand together under the “Novalis complex” sign, that regards the miner’s descending into the underground as a union; there is a “euphemistic phenomenology of holes”.
For Novalis, “the miner is a reversed astrologist” (Bachelard). As he himself puts it, “the miner is the hero of depth, ready to receive divine gifts and be exhalted beyond the world and its trivialities”. “The miner feels the same desire for earth as he does for a lover” and listens to the underground call “at the brink of obscure depths”.
The cavity, the hole, the underground cave are associated to the mine and female sex organs. There is a “cave of fear”, a “cave of wonders” (a refuge, the original paradise). The connection between the characteristics of the cave, the mine, “dark and wet” and the attributes of feminity are obvious: “any canvity is sexually determined.”
Funerary intimacy is the other, polar attribute of feminity and mine, establishing a relationship between the tomb and a mother’s womb. “Life is no more than emerging from the depths of the earth.”
The funerary symbols are related to fearsome fertility, and the female godess is KALI or VENUS LIBIDINA.
“UNDERground” can be seen as a visual fiction with elements of intertextuality. Even the moving images in the background picturing a peaceful atmosphere in which the young women trying on the mining helmets can be interpreted as a visual comment to what is going on in the foreground, to the feminine statuary group that lacks fine modelling, as a subversion of images.
As levels of the same image, the visual fiction comes with a visual comment within the very same artwork, just like the piece itself is a visual comment on recent history events. The META stance is being shaped by all these visual comments, visual metafictions.
By means of shifting and transferring, a devaluation of the miners’ aggresivity came out as a result, along with bestowing a new start to post-revolutionary history.
The sublimation, the transmutation of values had the role of bringing back to the surface, in broad daylight, out from “the depths of the mine”, of everything that had stayed hidden and had been looked upon as fearsome and destructive. In a visual imaginary, history as a reintegration of a fresh start, meant to unite and not to put asunder, was finally possible.
2META, Bucharest, 2002