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“Few Were Happy with Their Condition”
Gallery 400, Chicago, Illinois
Recommendation by Robin Dluzen

Stefan Constantinescu, "On the Other Side," 2015, still from video, 9 minutes

Continuing through March 12, 2016

In “Few Were Happy with Their Condition,” curator Olga Stefan brings together 17 Romanian artists born before the 1989 Romanian Revolution. In the wake of such an upheaval, the artists in this exhibition all look to everyday life for the moments and scenes that embody the transition of one way of life into another. There is an aura of documentary throughout this exhibition, as it is comprised of only video works, films and photography; however, these artists share a propensity for channeling the clarity of those mediums towards poetic, rather than didactic, ends.

Standouts among this overall very strong group include Razvan Botis’ video “Impulse,” featuring a pair of young graffiti artists "spray painting" invisible tags onto a wall with cans of aerosol deodorant; Alex Mirutziu’s “Self-portrait at 32,” depicting a pair of shrubs growing from the tops of two neighboring buildings, which the artist explains are metaphors for gay life within Romania’s homophobic society; and Ștefan Constantinescu’s “On the Other Side,” a life-size projection of a man behind a frosted glass door, calling to an unseen, unheard woman on the other side.

While running videos on a loop is typically the standard for exhibiting the medium, in this show that particular presentation contributes to the works’ contents. The endless looping not only enhances our awareness of duration without a real beginning or end, but underscores the futility within the narratives: written messages that immediately disappear, flora sprouting against all odds but still forever grounded to its site, never making contact with the one you desperately seek. The works in “Few Were Happy with Their Condition” don’t merely tell a before-and-after story, but put us squarely in the uneasy present of being stuck in a purgatory between where you were and where you are going.

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