Issue #44, 2013

Beudean’s Log
Ciprian Mureșan

Dan Beudean, Magellan’s Cabin, Lateral ArtSpace,
Paintbrush Factory, Cluj, 7 February – 7 March 2014


The first thing that strikes the viewer at the exhibition Magellan’s Cabin hosted by Lateral ArtSpace is the lack of drawing, the usual medium of Dan Beudean and the genre that made him whom he is. There is only one drawing exhibited, and even this is to be taken rather as the piece of a puzzle in a complicated installation of objects. The latter has something of a surrealist painting, as in a dream in which one can see juxtapositions of elements from different categories, where one should leave her brain to make free associations and to build her “story“ alone. 

The title and a short text on the wall presenting fragments from Magellan’s log, continued by his first mate, are the only aid in providing a clue to the topic, in lack of any other hint about how to read the forms of this exhibition. As an unaware public, one could read it without any relationship to Beuys’ aesthetics, marked by objects full of symbols, or to the aesthetics retrieved at some point in the Romanian 1990s, characterized by a need to combine traditional media, such as paint or drawing, with new genres, such as installation and performance, in order to release artists from the burden of artistic artistry and to recuperate or repair this “desynchronisation“ with Western art. But we are in a space dedicated to art and this confuses us, therefore, we cannot start, from a formal point of view, from zero, because there are two moments here that normally do not live in the same area: drawing, which is the usual medium of the artist and installation, used rather rarely by Beudean and presented, this time, in a very clean, abstract, hermetic manner (in comparison to previous exhibitions, where we could see it as an atmospheric and contextual medium for drawings).

I do not know to what extent it was the intention of the artist to refer to these aesthetics of the installation, but after a conversation with him, he has given me some hints for deciphering the significance of the objects. A possible inventory of these hints would look as follows:

1. The table covered by salt and the barbell = the ocean;

2. ‑The drawing with the aquarium full of earth = the chorus, the crew of Magellan’s five vessels;

3. ‑The table with the circular saw, the glass with freshwater, the quince, the box with blue tiles = Magellan, the explorer.

Let us take a look at them.

The ocean, the scenery for the weightlifting competition, is a sort of podium covered in grinded salt on which there is a barbell with an undulated bar, while the inside of the two weights is covered with broken paper. The sport scene as an image of the ocean is a provocation for the explorer, a place where one pushes her limits to the maximum. The undulated line of the barbell is the commonplace representation of water and waves, which literally “break“ in the walls of the weights, imitated by the paper. By using the barbell, the measurement units are replaced. Thus, the immensity of the ocean is represented by weight. The salt (because the ocean is a “desert of salt“, says Beudean) receives a goal: totally aimless for the handful of people wandering offshore, the public can play with it, moving their fingers on the white surface.

The crew is captured in the drawing of a group of people who turn their backs to the viewer, wearing masks on the backs of their heads. Indian woodcutters use these masks in order to protect themselves from the tigers, as if they would have faces on the back, too (for they believe that felines attack only from behind). The masks look at us and, at the same time, at the captain, who keeps in his hand the shell of a turtle (as another tool for orientation?). A rib cage protecting the invertebrate organs of the body represents the sailing boat. Here one can also notice a game with the directions – looking ahead, towards the unknown, the crew has all the time an eye on what is behind, on something safe, the captain, the home or, in this case, on us, the public.

The bolt on the plaster board shows the North Star and a line is drawn to mark the North-South direction, on which our heroes have navigated in order to avoid South America and to head towards North again, towards the Philippines.

The sailing boat itself is the table on which the aquarium and the plaster board are placed, framed by wooden planks through which one can see some stones meant to keep the balance of the ship. Through the aquarium full of earth runs a tube. The void of the tube is an island made out of the desire for land.

For Beudean, the explorer, the leader of the expedition has the following features: courage, responsibility, risk, hope. As he has confessed, the blade of the circular saw has some reference to his own childhood, when in the workshop of his parents this tool was used often, and he was repeatedly told not to place his fingers in the cutting area and to be always aware of the great danger. There is some sort of a contradiction between the safety a home is supposed to give and the constant danger. This is the object that reminds him of authority and paternal figure.

A napkin is placed in such a way as to indicate the North–South direction.

The hope is the quince that saved the crew from scurvy, the glass of freshwater and the box with tiles. The oscillation in the color of the various tiles is meant to signify the weather (cloudy or clear).

By disclosing here the interpretation of the artist, we draw, of course, some clear limits to the directions in which this work must be read. But perhaps we need this, because the way in which he chooses his symbols is coded in a very personal fashion, along different schemata and logics. For instance, the undulation of the barbell, because it resembles the waves, represents water. This is clearly a representation. Just as it happens in the drawing with the crew, things are represented, they are not actually present. We could have had a version with real people and real masks, or a shell of a turtle or, on the contrary, drawings with the quince or the glass of freshwater. Another example: who – without any previous information – would interpret the box of tiles as Beudean does? This hermetic character can create confusion or can arouse the curiosity of the public, a risk Beudean is willing to take, similarly to the explorer he chooses as his theme. The exhibition is an experiment in which one of his drawings becomes a constellation of objects, a way of saying something, different from the usual one, the exploration of a new medium. This adds up to the other two sides of the exploration contained by this project: as a subject matter and as a process to which the public is invited when staying in front of this work.

One of the virtues of this exhibition is that it makes one revaluate the previous drawings of the artist, those that are missing here, precisely by creating a distance between the viewer and them. Beudean admits: “Now, after the exhibition, I think that perhaps I applied too many things that I am using in drawing, it is, in fact, a drawing transformed in what we see here, as a box of objects in which you can move freely, with lots of delicacies and a baroque atmosphere...“

As if illustrating vintage photos with a great attention to details, excelling in the locally established style of the graphics school at University of Art and Design from Cluj, his drawings do not stop at the level of the school, but have something to say. Through this new path for him, Beudean uncovers for us something that I have not easily identified in these drawings. Perhaps because in front of them you are overwhelmed by artistry, paradoxically artistry becomes a hindrance. One stops and does not search further, believing that there is nothing deeper behind, something that is beyond a personal hatching style, and this perhaps out of a prejudice, out of a possible tendency of the local public towards simplification: the consideration of the realistic, figurative drawing as a depleted traditional medium, therefore something negative. (A judgment, however, that at some point has helped the local avant-garde and rightfully so.) However, I keep my curiosity about how this drawing of Beudean would have looked like if it did not become an installation.

Translated by Alexandru Polgár