A Spaceful of Meanings – The Sequel


Twenty years ago now, I was writing a material about Mihai Topescu presented during a symposium on glass that took place in Vilnius(Lithuania), where we had been invited – later published in Krantai, the art  magazine – A Spaceful of Meanings.

At that time, Mihai Topescu was fascinated by optical glass, justly so, which he was using to create very sculptural forms. He used to be in a combat with the great masters, making a point of proving that certain boundaries, mostly didactic in character, had become very fluid. Due to the qualities and characteristics specific to optical glass, that he would harness tempering them, Mihai Topescu was trespassing beyond the outside form coming to a point where he was also very much interested in what was happening beyond the object’s skin of reality. Today, more than ever, we would say that he used to have a holistic view. He would always pay attention to the environment where his works were to be placed – room, backdrop, neighborliness, light, etc. An absolutely necessary act since the works would be absorbing everything that was around them. Then, he used to have but an outside control over the meanings incorporated, captured randomly, fleetingly. For a person of formal rigor, the play was interesting; the fleeting effects were not enough.

By chance, or maybe not, it so happened that we met again after more than ten years and write again about him, when artistically he is fully mature; mature yet not prisoner of a method, not rigidly fixed within the limits of a mannerist formalism, because Mihai topescu, beyond being a homo ludens, in Johan Huizinga’s words: striving to ascertain how far culture itself bears the character of play.

Maybe the most obvious and manifestly declarative sign of his combat with the great masters is his Anatomy of Glass, a video material, an allusion to The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrand van Rijn, in the first half of the 17th century. As a playfully cultural act it is not groundless in the least. By this happening, performance, action theatre, or “as you like it” as spoke Will the Great, Mihai Topescu manages to produce, on the Romanian wee glens, a mockumentary – a mock documentary – a false documentary, a playful prank, an ironic imitation, a witty mirroring of his artistic act. If doctor Tulp uncovers to show his buffs “what anatomy means”, starting from the outside to the inside, shedding light on layer after layer and on component under component hidden from sight, “doctor” Topescu, we notice a seemingly haphazard similitude (or not) as to the capital letters, covers a layer after another, component over component, starting from the inside – outside, paradoxically, shedding light. Glass is the art of light, either as an affirmation (transparencies), or negation (by sandblasting glass, or other forms of obliteration).

Yet beyond the playful aspect of the video, Mihai Topescu introduces his spectator to a very original technique, not essentially to establish a priority, but to share with him his joy of coming up with something new, technically, aesthetically, even didactically. It might be necessary to mention the fact that even if apparently a prank, this play tales place at a very high temperature. The glass Mihai Topescu is working on (in the movie) is incandescent, but for a person of his experience by the glass furnace everything seems a play. Which reminds me of Einstein  who used to tell his students that, in his youth, he had not been a genius in mathematics, only to encourage them to dare take a road into a rewarding field, yet actually so hard.

When I was told to write about this exhibition, I wondered why he wanted me to write about the video as well. It is so true that this is how we could see the way these works had been created, produced; of course, we have seen above that it is a documentary, even if different, had it not been different, we would not have been talking about Mihai, but we noticed a link going across the physical side.

Both the film and the works are time capsules. Like any documentary worthy of respect, and this is one, despite its Meliesque details, the video will remain an evidence of what and how a glass master of the early 21st century, a real lord of the fire, would be creating. These works integrate not only exquisite graphics, but also, besides the artist’s signature, the date when they were created. Time is blocked in the incorporated meanings. This time, Mihai Topescu goes beyond what is random, transitory, the fleeting artistic act remained captive in the burning glass, and this fleeting moment is a Now fixed in the translucent body of matter as a record of the artist’s passing by Here.

 Gigi Mihaita