MAstars 2011: Raluca Popa, MA Fine Art

MAstars 2011: Raluca Popa, MA Fine Art Raluca Popa, After Susan Sontag, 2011. Black & white DV. 4 mins looped. Credit: Raluca Popa

Emma Dean selects Raluca Popa from the Byam Shaw School of Art for MAstars

Raluca Popa’s practice encompasses drawing, video, photography and performance. For her MA degree show at Byam Shaw School of Art, Popa presents four works, each installed in a different space. The first, 'After Susan Sontag' (2011), is an absorbing four minute long black and white film. The title references American writer Sontag who famously wrote On Photography (1977), a series of essays examining the role of photography in modern society, and points to Popa’s interest in the relationship between image, context and viewer. 

In Popa's film, a grey-haired woman is viewed from behind, sitting on a chair in a garden. She is facing away from the camera, we are unable to see her face. The enigmatic figure is in fact the photographer Sylvie Borel, who coincidentally resembles Sontag. Borel’s voice describes a photograph, a mother pushing a child on a swing, the setting an eastern European housing estate in winter. The detailed narrative of this tender urban scene (described almost as a painting: background, middle ground, foreground) invites us to visualise the picture in our minds.

In a room adjacent to the film, Popa presents a small black and white photograph from her personal archive. Titled 'Me with My Mother' (2011), the photograph is the subject of the narrative of the film 'After Susan Sontag'. It shows a mother with her child as described by Borel. The photograph punctures the imagined with the real, confronting the viewer with a tangible 'souvenir of daily life'. The two works presented in such close proximity create an intriguing web of connections between people, place, memory and identity.

'Untitled (The Sublime Trip)' (2011) comprises a sequence of simple line drawings in graphite and coloured pencil on a roll of paper twenty metres in length. The drawings illustrate a single chapter from German writer Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain (1924), where the central protagonist undertakes a journey to the top of a mountain. The work was first presented as a ten minute long performance during the exhibition preview. The large drawing was unfurled and revealed in full, with extracts from the novel read by a narrator, artist Sarah Lüdemann. Similarly to 'After Susan Sontag' the use of spoken narrative as a central part of the performance encourages the viewer to engage imaginatively. The drawings act almost as a storyboard, marking sections of the chapter as if stills from a film.

The final work, 'Wild Goose Chase' (2011), is a looped, five second pencil drawing animation projected onto tracing paper. A hat is blown along by the wind, a walking stick appears, catches the hat, and returns it to its original location. 'Wild Goose Chase' originated from Popa's research on Mann's The Magic Mountain, but was also inspired by a photograph of the young Franz Kafka, a contemporary of Mann. Both the character in the book and Kafka wear a similar hat and hold a walking stick. Popa uses these drawings of 'props' to connect the novel and performance to the animation, the image to text, but there is also a lightness of touch and humour which makes the film compelling beyond its literary roots.

Popa brings together drawing, photography, film, and performance within individual works, and explores the interplay between them. Her practice investigates the structural nature of these different art forms, as mechanisms or methods underpinning an idea, but also explores their ability to construct or generate meaning which resonates with the viewer on a much more intimate and personal level. Popa makes connections – from person to place, object to image, from the real to the imagined; her work draws on the imagination of the viewer, and as a result her presentation at Byam Shaw is considered, clever and captivating.

Selected by Emma Dean
Published December, 2011



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