By KURT MCVEY, SEPT. 2017
On Friday, September 8th, at Slag Gallery in Brooklyn, artist Marius Ritui will unveil his latest exhibition, The Tale of a Found Dimension, which includes one of the more powerful and thematically challenging floor installations to occupy a Brooklyn gallery space since Ai Weiwei’s Straight (2008-12), which left a lasting critical and spiritual impression in the Brooklyn Museum’s special exhibition space in 2014. Weiwei’s overtly political work, featured in his amazing show, According to What?, was comprised of thousands of straightened steel reinforcement bars taken from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. As you can imagine, the controversial Chinese artist’s piece was radiating an overwhelming amount of potent and slightly tormented metaphysical energy.
Ritiu’s Global Citizen, (2016‐2017), however, screams optimism. The mereological piece silently advocates for the dissolution of the negative elements of tribalism in place of a mutual appreciation for “culture” as well as a universal recognition of our limitless evolutionary potential. The sculptural work is a trans-dimensional puzzle comprised of twelve hand carved wood and hammered Belgian copper plates, each a 38 x 38 x 2” pentagon riddled with occult imagery, dogmatic religious symbols, divine geometry, and various other cultural and archeological ephemera. Though constructed in a chaotic, asymmetrical manner for the exhibition, the work can be reconstructed to create a complete dodecahedron, a powerful sacred geometric symbol within the Kabbalah. This esoteric and ontological school of thought, founded in Judaism, claims the dodecahedron provides the structural architecture for the “Tree of Life” and “Metatron’s cube,” both of which provide the structural integrity of the Universe. Plato, in fact, described the shape as one that, “…god used for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven.” As even most Earth-bound laypeople know, the number “12” has vast spiritual, and artistic significance. The Platonic shape itself, much like Art in its purest definition, is an appeal to a higher personal and collective consciousness.
Clearly, there’s a treasure trove of Meta material to chew on in Ritiu’s The Tale of a Found Dimension. This is but a tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Thankfully, the artist was kind enough to answer a few questions and perhaps provide a few clues for curious viewers, whether seasoned psychonauts, casual art fans, or something in-between.
Kurt McVey: Tell me briefly about your journey from Romania to Belgium, looking back, how has this geographical move influenced your work?
Marius Ritiu: Cristian Bors, my friend and collaborator to-be for the next 7 years and I drove my dad’s car from Romania to Antwerp in 2010. We had just received our MA’s from Cluj, and our plan was to stay for four days, give or take. Such is life and I am still an Antwerp-based artist; Western Europe –Antwerp is located close to many major cities– its newness and opportunities got us to stay.
The first few projects I got involved in speak very literally about the move from East to West, from Romania to Belgium, from university to trying to make it into the art scene. Take the project and public space intervention “Behind the Fence (Uninvited Artists)," for instance. It witnesses us printing our names on posters around Antwerp detailing an upcoming exhibition. We were present in the exhibition, just outside the fence on our bicycles, looking in. This intervention got some attention and we were given the chance for an exhibition of our own: “How to Become Famous in One Month,” which we followed by “This one Goes out to the Ones we Loved," copying a handful of famous works and sculptures. Or take “Stressing State," for instance: during the very first few months in Antwerp we get stopped by the police, were handed a fine, and had our car detained for three weeks, essentially due to our Romanian plates. Our response was to make a replica of the car out of Styrofoam and cover it with photos of the car itself. We then filmed ourselves pushing it around Antwerp for a day from parking spot to parking spot, taking advantage of the fact that in Antwerp you can get a free parking ticket for a maximum time of ten minutes. “No Borders Equals Tolerance," a project for which we went back to Romania, living alongside a family of Romas, speaks to this notion as well.
You may be able to see a progression already from the rather literal and specific towards something more universally graspable. “Stressing State" speaks to everyone who has ever had to deal with bureaucracy, “How to Become Famous in One Month" to the struggle of integrating as an immigrant, “This one Goes out to the Ones we Loved," is about facing stereotypes as an immigrant. Even “Stressing State," speaks to this. We as Romanians, were seen as thieves, tax evaders, troublemakers and were confused as gypsies, etc.
The thoughts behind the perspective encompassed within “Aether", the predecessor of Global Citizen itself, of course, is in great part the result of my own development throughout the experience of migrating. I think the succession of my work does a good job articulating the dialectic of my move from Romania to Belgium and all that followed.
McVey: You mentioned the need for humans on Earth to think of or present themselves as planetary or global citizens; how can your art or other methods help facilitate this shift in context?
Ritiu: I don’t think that I have a particular novel answer to this question. I do believe that there is a need for humans to think of themselves as global citizens, and moreover as citizens of the Universe, to embrace the Astronaut perspective, often called the “overview effect," which irreversibly changes the perspective on the mundane. Through my work I attempt to speak to the audience, to remind them, to wake them to a truth that is there, hoping that the normative consequences simply follow from the realization I am aiming to spark.
If I were to get into the particulars of how I am hoping the show or Global Citizen in particular does this, I would say that I am aiming for the aesthetic value of it to draw attention, for the superposition of different elements to insight curiosity and for the text or the title perhaps to offer a hint and eventually start the dialogue. As for other methods, I am not sure, perhaps sending 7 billion people to space for a sneak-peek?
McVey: There are so many potential permutations to the work, Global Citizen. Tell us a little bit about your hopes for this 12-part piece and how this puzzle could be broken up and potentially brought back together in the future in an almost archeological manner.
Ritiu: I would be delighted if a single party were interested in the grand sum of the twelve pieces. Although I was inspired by the dodecahedron –the Platonic solid standing for the quintessence of the Universe – I did wish this mereology upon Global Citizen.
The truth is fragmented. We each hold part of it and each locality instantiates the universal.
Global Citizen’s history, including the foreseeable future-the division of it-encompasses the puzzle: all pieces started off together, united and not exhibited as a dodecahedron perhaps, but that’s only to exhibit the puzzle-to-be within The Tale of a Found Dimension, then they grew apart. But they all are and always have been there, and it’s up to us, the beholders of each truth (each truth that is the whole truth) to put the pieces together, to see the larger picture. In the words of [Steven] Hawking, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet." Exhibiting Global Citizen on the floor creates yet another oxymoron.
McVey: Do you see the larger, increasingly mainstream embrace of “divine geometry” as a subtle rejection of more dogmatic symbols as a means of illustrating our inherent universality as oppose to our tribal differences?
Ritiu: Yes, I do. I very strongly feel the need to abstract. I also believe the world needs it too-to abstract away from divisive ideologies, from everyday trivialities, and to live within another dimension. But I do not wish to refute, or reduce, or trivialize. And that is why “abstracting" fits the bill so well, because to abstract it is only to grasp reality but through a different description of reality. Geometry is emblematic of such thought, both a predecessor and a contemporary take on disciplines dealing with the universal, be it the physical sciences, philosophy or art.
McVey: As we know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and experiencing art is, for the most part, a subjective experience, but how would you contextualize the aesthetic nature of the work “Dark Matter" (2017), for instance, which doesn’t necessarily conform to traditional standards of beauty or pleasantness.
Ritiu: Global Citizen, the centerpiece of the exhibition, is intricate, expansive, and aesthetically valuable in a more traditional sense. The aesthetics of it reflect both our projected phenomenology and the epistemological status of our understanding of its subject matter; it’s about the here and now-the world that we know. It’s about zooming in on the human experience and its status in the Universe.
Matter, as we understand it, comprises a minute percent of the Universe; the rest is dark energy, dark matter. Our grasp on this notion is not solid, confused perhaps; and what we have difficulty grasping we project on. The aesthetics of “Dark Matter” encompasses this: I have heard from people that they see wars, bodies, feces, orgies, and copper vaginas. Even this short list testifies to the fact that its aesthetics confuses. Perhaps even its "ugliness" speaks to the fact that we need to “understand” in order to value, aesthetically or otherwise.
McVey: Have you, without going into specifics, engaged with “dark matter" in a metaphysical sense; dreams, scientifically, medicinal psychedelics, etc. Are you comfortable sharing?
Ritiu: All of the above. Once you get the bug it’s nearly impossible to be rid of it in any context whatsoever that encourages outward introspection.
McVey: How can artists better reconcile the urgency to address contemporary socio-political issues, while simultaneously speaking to larger, more universal or existential themes? You seem to do this well.
Ritiu: There is a lot to say on this. I could refer you back to the first question. I have in the past spoken more literally and directly about socio-political issues, but I will try to add one more thing. Especially in this era when Art is not museum-bound and elitist, but can flood your Instagram feed if you so choose. There is a real danger of devaluing socio-political criticism by turning it into a parallel status quo. A possible solution I thought of is to try and voice the larger concerns; grasping the larger picture is often a solution to the actual concerns, but, to take an example, if my work were to speak to the terror of climate change it would be anti-Trump by definition. When you try to raise certain things to salience or to remind or draw attention to forgotten values, you at once speak against all the current contingencies-plagues even-that oppose them. WM