Spicy borders

With his art show at Calina Gallery, Sorin Oncu sets out to tackle the problems that Central and Eastern Europe still face, starting with important events like the unraveling of Yugoslavia or Romania’s taking part in the EU and their main follow-up, the impossibility of an individual national identity.

The exhibition “Yu/ Ro 3” immediately refers to the multiple consequences of an unstable frontier. Yugoslavia / Romania, the areas which have personally affected Sorin Oncu as an individual following the nations’ divisions or accessions, as he is no longer part of Yugoslavia since it doesn’t exist anymore, nor Romania since he did not receive citizenship. Thus, the title becomes a form of addressing the country in which he lived since 1999: You, Romania!. On the other hand, the EU expansion is evident with the reading “Yu/Ro” as Europe and illustrating the EU using the metaphor of a glue tube with the union flag. The titles of the works also have an important role in understanding the exhibition, with each title revealing the intentions with which all elements were prepared, something that may seem a little too explicit for a visitor who wishes to identify for themselves the symmetry between the formal maps and the maps that were rebuilt.

This art show could have a dialogue with Fareed Armaly’s “From/ To” which talks about Palestine. Due to the similar conformation of the title we could attempt a translating of borders – taking into account their dual function, as separator and connector – to From Yu/ To Ro if we add Sorin Oncu’s title to Fareed Armaly’s. Their issues also point to the history and identity of countries that both artists are tied to via their roots.

With his previous work, Sorin Oncu wanted to criticize the European Union but his art show at Calina and his references, although well-done, extend the issue of borders to Central Europe. As a natural consequence to his preoccupations, “Yu/ Ro 3″ is a follow-up to the project Yu/ Ro 1” from 2013. The theme that was initially reduced to ethnicity – citizenship is visible by bringing to the table the issue of Eastern Europe frontiers. The fact that some states from the former Eastern bloc are part of EU while other carry on a long series of discussions remains an issue with its consequences of free vs restricted circulation.

Questioning the mutations of citizenships based on ethnicity in former Yugoslavia – and Slovenia as well – and reducing identity to a number, a Social Security Number, is not something very in the now – if we think about the NSK State in Time project. On the other hand, Sorin Oncu has been trying to obtain citizenship in the state where he has been living – Romania, in this case – for ten years with no avail. With his works “Identity is not a number” and “Official self portrait”, Sorin Oncu highlights the importance of certain papers and certain numbers by exhibiting documents or cutouts of serial numbers as representing identities. His attempts at receiving Romanian citizenship, even though he is a Romanian from Serbia, fail every time. Finding a national identity and a feeling of belonging becomes almost impossible. In the end, the identity of each country is presented in his work “European Clssics II” by simply impregnating the maps of Eastern European countries with a specific condiment. In Romania’s case, he chose the spice for the traditional sarmale.

So we’re actually taking part in a “History lesson”, but in a twist of fate, while the works for representing the dissolution of Yugoslavia were being elaborated – here we are talking about a cake – despite some actual human sacrifices, Sorin Oncu couldn’t manage to see the finalized art show and his collaborator Cosmin Haiaș had to finish the project. Even so, the final sketches for setting up the exhibition belonging to the two works that were not completed as well as the rest of the works were entirely made by Sorin Oncu.

Sorin Oncu, Yu/Ro 3 was at Calina Gallery in Timișoara between 21.08 – 21.09.2016. Collaborator: Cosmin Haiaș.


Nicoleta Papp

Nicoleta Papp (b. 1993) attends an M.A. program at the Art History and Theory, Heritage and Curating department of the Art and Design University in Timișoara. She holds a B.A. from the same departmen...

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