Interview with Madalina Zaharia
Madalina Zaharia (b.1985, Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania) is a Romanian artist who lives and works in London. Combining design, fine art and storytelling, Madalina's work often stems from ordinary experiences and develops elaborate narratives around them. Her ideas translate into beautiful shapes characterised by unique minimal yet intricate aesthetics, highlighting Madalina's ability to work with different mediums such as digital printing, 3D objects, performance, film and sound.
I had the pleasure to chat with Madalina about art, life, her practice, and London.
I grew up in the South of Romania, in a small mining town called Tirgu Jiu that also happens to be the hometown of Constantin Brancusi, the so-called patriarch and enfant terrible of modern sculpture. A very amicable and mostly uneventful place, whose proletarian architecture and modernist sculptures have managed to forge a very mundane and civilized coexistence despite their resentful and highly reluctant past. In a way, I feel that this kind of sleek and unmindful type of conjunction has been a defining and galvanizing element for both my existence so far and art-related practice. Somehow, within my visual and discernable vocabulary, glistening abstract shapes have always found themselves entrusted with telling the most complicated and elaborate stories, creating some sort of a makeshift accord between an aestheticized approach and its historical discourse. In this sense, I guess it is hard for me to talk about my background in a quantitative way, weighing its authority and measuring its contribution, although, ever now and again, I could swear I can feel its contour and sharp delineation inside the exasperatingly tight pocket of my skinny acid-wash jeans.
Language is a big part of your practice. I think that your work is a complex vocabulary of signs that leaves the viewers puzzled (I was when I went to your show) – what might be a recognisable object embodies in fact another meaning or use. What system informs your practice?
It is true that speech holds a consequent and considerable position within what I’m trying to convey and ultimately release into the world; but it’s never the language we all know and are accustomed to that I am interested in…no…not the kind which tyrannically fixes meaning and understanding to our words, generating the sort of social consensus and interaction that most of us would call communication. On the contrary, I am particularly interested in what philosopher Merleau-Ponty calls ‘the language of silence’. That type of speech and expression which works against our desire of exchanging and delivering knowledge and information in a straightforward and efficient way, building itself up into an emotional and peculiar response to our very subjective way of interfering and engaging with the world. American poet of Romanian origin, Andrei Codrescu, states in his ‘The Posthuman Dada guide’ book that ‘all words are Dada if they are correctly misused’, implying that the corruption and misreading of language can be as creatively productive (and maybe even more so) as our conventional and habitual involvement with it. And in a way, I feel that this desire of ‘misusing’ and ‘misrepresenting’ the reality we unwillingly find ourselves in, definitely plays center-stage in the way I construct and patch up my artistic discourse, although…unlike Dada, the assassination of meaning and sense takes place in the very much calculated and aestheticized fashion of the 21st century.
There is no clear-cut beginning (nor ending) to my works. Ideas usually start from a prolonged and sustained interest in a story, an event, a surprising association of words, an unexpected definition, a historical account, an image (or maybe two), a song, a film, a stroll, an animated scenario, an unforeseen find in an urban dictionary, a memory, a grammatical error. Also, there is no outstanding order or hierarchy to how all these elements might come together and combine in order to generate a particular discourse; it is all but an extensive exercise in aimless walking. I put one foot in front of the other with no particular desire or purpose and at the end of this undecided and unsettled journey I somehow find myself exactly where I wanted to be.
My work is concerned with the telling and re-telling of ideas, with the continuous and unfaltering reiteration of accounts and associations. It focuses on translating an idea into a shape, on the shift between a concept and its embodiment. Within my practice, form and meaning come together in order to obscure and misarticulate, their alliance is an attempt of performing and recalling history. Each piece is an actor with a prescribed set of actions and representations, a character in my investigation, a thespian dressed with all my objects and desires.
In this sense, abstraction becomes a tool for recording and punctuating the process of telling, a way of exposing and proclaiming the mechanics behind the thoughts. If narratives and encounters are the ones that inform and prop my practice, it is their contraction and abbreviation that actually shape it.
Within my process of making, discourse can take many forms and directions but always finds itself overshadowed by materiality, with objects and images invariably having their last say over a long and convoluted progression of actions and ideas.
You often work with flat surfaces, like a table or a screen, that contrast with other three-dimensional objects and shapes. How does your practice relate to the spaces where you make and exhibit your work?
Flatness in art has a very particular type of discourse and historical agency, spanning across a variety of surfaces and approaches. For me, it is best described by Takashi Murakami, who urges us ‘to think of the moment when, in creating a desktop graphic for your computer, you merge a number of distinct layers into one.’ ‘Though it is not a terribly clear example’, he says, ‘the feeling I get is a sense of reality that is very nearly a physical sensation.’ This idea of involuntarily flattening a myriad of symbols and cultural references into one, locking them all together inside the smooth surface of the artwork (whether this is real or virtual is a frivolous concern) gives me a peculiar and indescribable kind of pleasure that can only be associated with the gratifying sensation of biting into the distinct and palatable layers of a deeply filled sandwich. Whether the chewing occurs during the making or the viewing of the work is almost irrelevant, as the disparate flavors and aromas of our compound will in the end inevitably melt into one gustatory sensation.
I will start my answer with an acknowledgement: there is a relationship! And this relationship goes beyond the use of the digital realm as a medium and arena for producing and presenting work. Slowly, the gap between the analogue (or the ‘physical’ and tangible body if you like) and the digital is narrowing down, leaving space for a cybernated and programmed reality in which the palpable and the virtual are constantly replaced and substituted by each other. What is the difference between a painting and a screen, between a sculpture and the 3D model of a non-existing reality, and more importantly, do we actually care? Whether they manifest themselves in a material form or simply in a computerized and automated way, our gestures and physical manifestations are still informed and designed by the social knowledge and technology of our time. My practice makes no exception, I assure you.
Since then I have also exhibited in Flat i, another privately inhabited apartment in London. From both experiences I have learned two great things: a) art always looks better when surrounded by cats and b) the presence of furniture is an absolute necessity. Sometime ago, someone mentioned to me an exhibition (or maybe a series of events) which took place in someone else’s pocket. That certainly got me going…and so, If I am to completely and irreversibly adopt the idea of art as an intimate and inconspicuous experience, than I must certainly
make sure to swap the confident brightness of the white cube with the murky lining of a generous pocket. Any offers going?
London is a city of marvels and excitement; a place where a harmonious and bold mixture between high and low cultures creates an environment of diversity and composure. But, it is also a city where any creative practices that fall outside of an established or commercial path struggle to survive, buckling under the pressure of exorbitantly high rents and unaffordable living. It is a spectacle we all enjoy watching despite the uncertain and unforeseeable outcome of its plot.
It’s hard to lay down a bunch of names and examples in order to establish and delineate some kind of formulated preference. ‘Taste’, as a selection and appreciation criteria, was never my preferred tool for interacting and engaging with art and therefore evades my ability of structuring and composing a certain hierarchy within my choices. More than often, I find myself intrigued by a particular discourse or a distant proposal rather than a very specific and finite piece of work, but this is not to say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate the abundance of voices and approaches operating inside (or outside) the artistic field. For example, at the moment, I’m really preoccupied by: Hito Steyrl and Trevor Panglen’s proposal for a post-representational model, in which images loose their descriptive and pictorial power in order to inhabit an operational and serviceable position; contemporary Thai cinema (with directors such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit) and their unconventional narratives and structures, where credits and titles appear unexpectedly right in the middle of the film and challenge the very idea of format and continuity; collectives like Assemble who work across the fields of art, architecture and design, and introduce us to a more engaging and collaborative approach to making and inhabiting the public space.
Follow Madalina Zaharia on Instagram here.