Verba volant, scripta manent
Spoken words fly away, written words remain
The work from The Archaeology of Memory series, presented in time-lapse videos, individual sculptures and large installations, addresses the destruction of books, knowledge and culture. Tomecide became of interest to me in the light of Romania’s recent history, during the Communist dictatorship. The research I undertook on this subject led me to discover how cultural heritage and books have been destroyed for centuries. The century in which I was born took the lead with the destruction of books having been done on a much larger scale than ever before.
As a result, the purpose of my work is to bring to the attention of the 21st century public the human need to safeguard the past. Having lived in both the 20th and 21st century, I have witnessed the rewriting of history at a very fast pace. Censorship, propaganda, misinformation, brainwashing are some of the mass processes that have altered not only information, but entire cultures and belief systems. My work could act as a catalyst for the viewer to start a thought process about the accuracy of information regarding the present and the past. My work attempts to compel the audience to reflect upon the temporal and psychological implications of memory loss (whether collective or individual). Such loss is on one hand caused by the natural process of forgetting and the inability to preserve knowledge, and on the other hand, by the man-driven activity of altering information and history worldwide.
The process of forgetting is unavoidable, especially in the current times when people are concerned with the new and the ephemeral. Over flooded with information, people have difficulty in finding the necessary time to process its meaning. In our fast-moving society with plenty of distractions, it has become more difficult to remember. However, memory is the only link to our past, our identity and our heritage.
The meaning of the title The Archaeology of Memory signifies my personal attempt to dig through the layers of history in order to retrieve altered or hidden history and writings. The contexts that I create for the audience through videos and installations, part of this series, are intended to inspire one to start taking an archeological approach in the search for lost information.
I use the sculptural representations of books as instruments of transmitting knowledge. Clay has been the key element in this series. From the beginning of history, existed a strong connection between language and clay, as early forms of written language were found on clay tablets. Because clay contains information from the beginning of time, when I am making books out of clay, it is as though I am bringing back to life the ashes of the past, which are stored in the earth encasing all of the memories, knowledge and histories of people.
In my installations and videos, I have used raw and fired clay books. The unfired clay books reference the fragility of knowledge and of the human condition, while the fired books become a symbol of permanence, a vehicle for transmitting knowledge. The notion of historic time and permanence, present in the fired ceramic books, appears in contrast with the fragility of culture and knowledge. The juxtaposition between unfired and fired clay books makes reference to the state of knowledge and the struggle for its survival and perpetuation.
My choice to individually manufacture the books, as opposed to using molds for mass production slip casting, was to symbolize the huge diversity of knowledge and culture. This diversity alludes to the destruction of books and people who were engaged in intellectual activity and the shaping of culture. The process of making each book out of clay slabs, page by page, signifies my attempt to record ideas, the pages of the books seen as layers of knowledge in the strata of history. I am creating books to rebuild libraries. What seem to be blank books without stories could in fact contain the memories recovered from the earth.
The books are symbolically left unwritten to suggest absence and forgetting. The books seem empty, void of any history or stories, with erased or inaccessible information. These books are meant to make the audience pause and ponder as to why they are unwritten and to therefore inspire the viewer to imagine what they may contain.
Vlad Basarab (b. Bucharest, Romania, 1977) is a visual artist working with various mediums: ceramics, sculpture, installation, video and performance. Basarab has had over 20 solo shows in the US and Europe. He started working with clay in 1986 under the guidance of traditional Romanian potters from Horezu, Victor Vicșoreanu and Dumitru Mischiu, considered living human treasures by UNESCO.
In 2001, he received a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree in Ceramics from the University of Alaska Anchorage and in 2013, a Masters of Fine Arts Degree in Electronic Media from West Virginia University. Basarab is a PhD candidate at the University of Art in Bucharest with the working thesis Exercises of Recovering Collective Memory through Monumental Art and Multi-media Interventions in the Public Space. He received a Fulbright research grant in Romania with the theme Art as a Form of Remembering and Mourning the Victims of Cultural Censorship (2013-2014); 1st prize for the international competition for the Monument dedicated to the Romanian Language in Chișinău, Republic of Moldova (2014).
He is a member of NCECA (The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, USA) since 1998, the Union of Artists of Romania since 2006. In 2017, Basarab became a member of the International Academy of Ceramics of UNESCO (IAC), Geneva, Switzerland and the Galateea Contemporary Art Gallery Group, Bucharest, Romania. He is a founding member of two artistic groups: Pâlnia (The Funnel) since 1995 and NEURON since 2014.
In 2017, the artist received the Award of Excellence at the Cluj International Ceramics Biennale (7 member international jury), Romania as well as an honorary mention at the Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Republic of Korea. In 2017, he was also a guest of honour of the European Commission Representation to Romania, in the European Union Pavilion at the Gaudeamus Book Fair, Bucharest, Romania.
In 2018, he is representing Romania at the European Ceramics Context Curated Exhibition in Bornholm, Denmark.
Part of his activity as a curator, Basarab organized Together/Apart, (Pittsburgh Cultural Trust ) and ClayVoiceRomania (City of Asylum), both NCECA concurrent exhibitions, in 2018. His curatorial activity started in 2016 with Arts in Bucharest (Tipografia Gallery, Combinatul Fondului Plastic, Bucharest, Romania) and Coast to Coast, An invitational exhibition of North-American Ceramicists (The Brâncoveanu Palaces Cultural Center, Mogoșoaia/Bucharest, Romania, USA).
Basarab has lectured extensively in many countries around the world (USA, Romania, China and the Republic of Korea). Part of his interest as an educator, were the workshops he held, focusing on the influence of Asian traditions on contemporary ceramics practices. His lectures and teaching have been influenced by his abundant travels for research and residencies in China and the US, connecting him to the technological and conceptual advancements of the ceramic field.
His work is part of important international public and private collections in China (Taishuan Ceramics Factory Co Ltd, Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, Jingdezhen Asia Europe America Ceramics and Glass Center, Yixing Museum, Artron Art Group, Liling Ceramics Valley Museum), United States of America (West Virginia University, Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities), Republic of Korea (Toyaseum Museum, Korea Ceramics Foundation), Romania (Arad Art Museum, Museum of Art, Cluj-Napoca, Brâncoveanu Pallace Cultural Center, Mogoșoaia ), Hungary (King St. Stephen Museum), Republic of Moldova (Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Moldova).