MONA VATAMANU AND FLORIN TUDOR at Koffler Gallery (4588 Bathurst, 416-636-1880 ext 268), to February 24; and at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar, 416-536-1519), to February 16. Rating: NNN
Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor view cities through a unique prism. The young Romanians grew up under a Communist regime that destroyed historic and religious buildings to construct massive government palaces and swaths of cheap concrete apartments resembling North American public housing. Though the Ceausescu era’s monumental government edifices are now in ruins, people still have to cope with living in decaying apartment blocks as capitalism rebuilds Bucharest once again.
Living Units, at Mercer Union, is the stronger of the two exhibits. One wall holds photos of Bucharest: abandoned office buildings fronted by bizarre, out-of-scale plazas, creaky apartment complexes that people try to make livable by glassing in balconies and building backyard sheds.
Echoing the shed forms, two 2-metre-tall white house sculptures receive video projections of apartment facades, with a soundtrack of street noise.
The peaked-roof houses, iconic symbols of “home,” stand in contrast to the images of sad and inadequate dwellings that play over them.
The Koffler Gallery screens the video Il Mondo Novo.
Inspired by a Tiepolo painting, the artists film a dozen figures, backs to the camera, looking into a construction site. We can’t see what they’re looking at, but rows of apartments and cranes are visible on either side.
At first it seems to be a photo, but then we notice the figures adjusting their positions to get a better view. We’re led to ponder what they’re awaiting and whether new powers-that-be will just foist another series of senseless changes on the patient watchers.
Vatamanu and Tudor’s take on urban realities in the Eastern Bloc is a fascinating topic, one they’re just beginning to explore.
These works only hint at the depths of Romania’s national trauma, but they have a message for all modern cities in transition.