Nicolae Comănescu’s controversial art installation. Looking back at its inspiration and its statement
It’s been nearly six months since the world is at war. We almost got used to hearing bad news. We almost got used to an unfair and cruel reality. As many have pointed out by now, the fight that Ukraine is fighting concerns, in fact, all nations that aim to be free. Freedom is a concept that has to be taken as a whole. It is a mistake to fraction it, like cutting a cake in slices and serving them accordingly to nations with different appetites. One cannot simply refuse to receive it or bite into another’s slice without ruining the party. Of course, history has proven that there have always been party poopers. Freedom has always been fractionated and split and there has always been someone to mess with the figures. One might think that we’ve learned something after the catastrophic events of the 20th century, or that the relative peacefulness of the last few decades in Europe and in the United States has proved that it is indeed best to live in peace. In spite of this, Russia has decided to destroy cities and kill innocent people in Ukraine. These shocking facts are happening, this time, under the whole world’s watch, literally. There are even tik-toks that showcase the atrocities that the Russian army has unleashed. Everyone can see the war now, not just hear about it. This reality that we seem to have accepted by now is what started one of the most controversial art installations in romanian contemporary art: Nicolae Comănescu’s „Worse than Death” in Reșița.
Artists have their own way of revolting against the war. Unlike the rest of us, they are capable of encapsulating emotions and pouring them into much more powerful artistic statements. This has been happening all over the world since the war has started. We’ve seen intelligent illustrations, outrageous street-art, haunting performances or lakes turned red like the blood that’s been shed. Romanian contemporary artist, Nicolae Comănescu, has joined this list of protesting artists and started working on a new project in March 2022. His idea consisted of a unique installation that mimics the very true reality of war. With the determined support of the local authorities of Reșița, a western romanian town, the artist wrapped a public monument in sandbags, just like it’s done when a country is at war and its public art is in danger of being destroyed by the bombing. Comănescu, a very active romanian contemporary painter, who was part of a revolutionary group of artists called “Rostopasca” in the late ’90 (a group that resuscitated the rather dull art scene), often takes inspiration from the events happening around him and transfers them into his art with irony and sharpness. Having seen the public statues wrapped in sandbags in Odessa and Kharkiv, cities at war, in an attempt to save them from the falling bombs, Comănescu wanted to draw attention to the horrors of the war by doing the exact same thing in a small town, in a country that is still at peace. He titled the large-scale installation “Worse than Death”, as he regards war, and the soul-stirring fear it provokes, to be indeed worse than death itself.
Nicolae Comănescu and the group of courageous people who supported his statement worked very hard to complete the installation, as the public monument chosen, a work by post-war artist Constantin Lucaci, measures over 10 meters high. All those engaged in the project were determined to complete the installation just like the artist evisioned it and the authorities of Reșița showed great support, as they are keen on reinventing the city through cultural activity, encouraging contemporary artists to come and work there.
After three whole months in which Comănescu’s installation has been on display in Reșița (and has sparked fierce controversies), the project is set to come to an end in June. His idea did not succeed in ending wars, as it was not meant for that, but rather triumphed in starting conversations. In Reșița and all the way to the capital, Bucharest, people talked about his installation and what it could possibly mean. Much more than that, Comănescu managed once again to stir the waters, to shake the local art scene and the social ignorance towards art’s mission to tell real stories, to open up narratives inspired by the present. Through his latest project, Comănescu gave us an example of a truly contemporary artwork: outrageous to some, inspiring to others, but completely and unapologetically engaged.
Scroll down for pictures of the installation after its completion and during the demolition. Photo credits: Florin Safer și Petre Dalea.