Laurențiu Ruță: Fluidity of Bodies

Opening: 23.05.2019, 6 pm

Exhibition: 24.05. - 13.07.2019

The ability of photograms to record physical phenomena in real time and frequently without authorial intervention is something that Laurențiu Ruță has been exploring in depth throughout his career, starting with the years when he was studying at the School of Fine Arts in Timișoara, followed by a period of intense creativity in the 1980s, and to which he has returned from 2015 until the present day.

The aim of the current exhibition is to give a full presentation of the role of photographic experimentation in Ruță’s work by combining a historical approach to his oeuvre with an experimental one, thus echoing his own attitude and giving the show a performative and participatory twist.

Ruță’s interest in photograms dates back to 1972-1974, when he was a pupil at the School of Fine Arts in Timișoara. His teachers – Constantin Flondor, Ștefan Bertalan and Doru Tulcan, the members of the avant-garde Sigma group – whetted his appetite for the study of form and processes, so that even in his high school years he developed an experimental relationship to creative work. This principle of putting study before artistic expression, something with deep roots in the Bauhaus tradition, became a tacit and extremely important part of his programme.

The earliest photograms displayed in the exhibition date from the years when Ruță, studying design in Cluj, was affected by the atmosphere of effervescent creativity of Atelier 35, an area devoted to young artists and directed by the artist Ana Lupaș. Here there was a concentration on expression, with process art, conceptual art and performance art among the principal emphases. The small photograms Ruță produced around 1983 to capture, on photosensitive paper, the behaviour of water were exhibited on a panel on a chair in Atelier  35, where they caught the eye of Ana Lupaș, who from then on supported his practice of this form of art.

 Even these earliest photograms allow us to observe a fundamental characteristic of Ruță‘s approach: his interest in the phenomenon being studied is guided by curiosity and intuition, so that he never falls into the trap of “prettifying” the image or of imposing messages on to the phenomenon from outside. Despite this, his photograms do possess beauty, the intrinsic quality of the natural processes they capture. In these photograms the flowing of water and the way it is caused to vibrate either by mechanical means or with the help of sound are the mini-actions that give birth to the image. In a fraction of a second, the light of the flash fixes on paper the movement of these forms, sometimes the compression of the vibrated water into geometrical shapes and the “strange behaviours” of light and shadow that pass through transparent material. In this way these phenomena, normally imperceptible to the human eye, become visible. 

Ana Lupaș, with her commitment to encouraging performance art in Romania, warmed to the action potential of Ruță’s photograms and as a consequence invited him to take part in the 1986 Sibiu Colloquium of Youth Criticism and Art that she and the art critic Liviana Dan co-organised.

It was on this occasion that the artist staged his large-scale “Performance”, in which he lined an entire room in the cellar of the Museum of Pharmacy with photosensitive paper and expanded his experimental work to a whole-room scale as he operated on the walls with a water jet, flash and torches, aided by his colleague Radu Igazság. Those taking part in the event watched in semi-darkness what was happening (only the green laboratory light allowing the artist to be seen as he writhed and twisted around in the vaulted chamber) – a substantially serious piece of performance art, but one whose meaning was left hanging. The image was to appear only at the end of “Performance”, after the application of developer to the walls. In this way both the public and the artist himself were present at a mystic birth of an image.  “Performance” was one of the purest and most powerful examples of actionism in Romania; it was a reflection on the coming-to-be of art while at the same time expressing the harsh and dramatic atmosphere of those years.

It is our intention to evoke this performance in the exhibition, while being conscious of the impossibility of reconstructing it; the very fact that it was photographic in nature made it impossible for “Performance” to be photographed or filmed. Thus all that has remained is the images and documents that preceded and followed the hour that the action lasted, including the “husk of the action”, the long strips of photograms that were left when it was over. However, the essence of the action is not to be found in these pieces of evidence.

In the months that followed this event, which was of a magnitude never previously or subsequently attained in the artist’s work, the energy that flowed from the action was channelled by Ruță into finalising his earlier “exercises” on a larger scale. Despite the fact that here he is once more an observer of the action rather than its agent, one can sense the self-assurance and also the need for self-expression of one who has experienced the mystical birth of the image.

For almost three decades, up until 2015, Ruță was to give up his photographic experiments entirely, concentrating instead on the study of form and continuing with the constructivist experiments that have been a constant feature of his career.

In November 2015 he started again with what we may term a long-term workshop performance: an extensive series of micro-experiments that focused on the study of the fluidity of bodies. In these experiments the artist is frequently a participant and not merely an observer, generating forms and images rather than simply capturing them.

Ruță is fascinated by waves, by flowing and transformation – by life perceived as movement. Eloquent testimony to this is provided by some recent experiments in which he uses a small torch to touch the edges of ponds: the light instantly makes an impression on the whole perimeter of the body of water, even though he has only touched it at a single point. Sometimes he uses light to follow the propagation of waves on paper by repeatedly touching the edge of the water as it moves.  Through Ruță’s photograms, energy-propagating (light, sound) waves that are most often imperceptible to the eye not only become visible but are captured as if they were solid bodies.

The artist has long known that the old conventions of artistic representation, geometrical perspective for example, can lead us into error. It is for this reason that he seeks for readings of images that come closer to the phenomena that generate them. We may view the photograms as an “anatomy lesson”, with the flash as the scalpel. The lesson Ruță teaches us is the diametrical opposite of that of the famous Dr Tulp. By removing the skin from the body, Dr Tulp revealed the mechanical workings of the body, which reassured the intellectual who wanted to imagine himself as living in a calm universe that obeyed the dictates of reason. Ruță’s fluid bodies suggest a different way of understanding the world. The intuition and contagious pleasure in discovery that characterise his approach show us a law of movement, of constant flux. This may be likened to the law of the ocean, which invites us to participate in movement.

In the spirit of the artist’s creative flux, the exhibition is an example of the kind of performance that is brought to the gallery and before the public straight from the studio, without any final form in view. – Sebestyén Székely