Power Play: Ciprian Muresan’s Take on Art and Indoctrination
By Genie Davis
Through January 21st
At the Nicodim Gallery through January 21st is a particularly potent exhibition given the upcoming presidential inauguration. Ciprian Muresan’s installation, sculptures, and drawings are a defiant inspiration to freedom, both artistic and otherwise. The Romanian artist’s work is symbolic and allegorical, serving up reflections about artistic freedom, creation, and life itself following the ouster of a Soviet regime.
Nicodem’s exhibition allows viewers to step inside the artist’s “church,” the gallery’s front room featuring rows of wooden school desks that represent a classroom but evoke church pews. Brass plates shine from the desks’ working surface, on which are religious images of cathedrals repeatedly inscribed. The multiple inscriptions make each image difficult to perceive; ghostly and haunting, the effect is that of a spiritual graffiti. There are 150 images layered upon the desks, altering and subverting the depictions, as students’ minds may be subverted. Smudged pencil and paper drawings of these iconic religious images are hung on the walls, frames slightly tilted. The drawings themselves form an overall wavering pattern. Many of the individual images are deeply intricate, requiring lengthy viewing to decipher. They are elegiac, reminiscent of gravestone rubbings or worn icons. But here, the very detail of these works diminishes their power and upends it.
The religious and educational symbolism combined in Muresan’s work creates a powerful fusion of the domination of religion in education and the ability of education to confine and influence rather than to illuminate. While the themes are universal and insightful, the impetus for the artist’s installation may come from the mandatory inclusion of religious classes in Romanian primary schools.
Leaving this initial immersive installation, Muersan’s exhibition continues to address the use of art as propaganda for repressive regimes, whether religious or purely political in nature. Using the work of Romanian sculptor Ion Irimescu as his starting point, Muresan recreates it as a plaster cast, and continues to recreate this image of a young worker activist’s body, until successive casting creates something artistically useless. Here the sculpture becomes an altered, and ultimately meaningless work, transforming what was once a powerful symbol into an unrecognizable object. Like shards of pottery from an archeological dig, the sculpture is strewn about the floor of the exhibition space, requiring interpretation yet defying it.
What is being unearthed here? The artist appears to reveal the dominance and power play of politics, religion, and education, intended not to enlighten but to obfuscate and control. However, there is something else at play, a kind of spiritual malaise, perhaps the most pernicious power play of all. If the spirit can be dominated by twisting art’s ability to offer insight and healing, if images can be destroyed by man’s own inability to see clearly, then all is lost.
By creating this encompassing exhibit, Muresan is opening our eyes to our own blindness, awakening us to our ability to see beyond that precipice on which we, sheep-like, waver. As we approach the cliff-edge of our presidential inauguration, seeing Muresan’s work, heeding his call to look, to learn, to see beyond that which we are expected to see – even if effort is required – is a challenge well worth taking.
Nicodem is located at 571 S. Anderson St., Ste. 2, Boyle Heights.