# 10 Questions | Vlad Basarab: “I went to Alaska out of cultural curiosity, but I trained as an artist”

“Vlad Basarab was perhaps the biggest surprise to us. He is an artist with very exciting technical abilities, and an artist with extraordinary intelligence. He has a bright future because what he conveys through his work is fundamental and universal, so he speaks to everyone,” said Maria Ross Boyan, curator of The Secret Pavilion, When asked by Europe Libero, “His works could be in any great museum in the world.”

Vlad Basarab left for Alaska at the age of seventeen with two friends, and trained in the United States as a ceramic artist. At the age of 44, he enjoys wide international recognition.

Work from the Folding Memory series at the National Museum of Art in Timisoara

1. Was it an adventure, a plea, what was this escape from home at the age of 17 specifically in Alaska?

Vlad Basarab: Yes, they could be called adventure and escape, but not quite. I was fascinated by the Native American civilization, and I studied it, and somehow the dream partly came true, to take a trip to Pan America and also search for pre-Columbian civilizations. It also reached South America, Central America, Mexico and Bolivia. I left out of cultural curiosity, but there I trained as an artist. It was also a life experience.

2. What does Alaska mean to today’s artist Vlad Basarab?

Vlad Basarab: There she studied porcelain in depth. Although it seems strange to say that I went to college in Alaska, I was fortunate enough to meet some good young professors from whom I learned a lot. I don’t think I could have learned such techniques and knowledge about ceramics in the country, an art you have to make, you learn by doing, it’s a lot of practice, you can’t just learn theory. I have noticed that artists in Romania do not have the ability to ignite ceramics in wood-burning or gas ovens. For porcelain, an electric furnace is used and this changes the appearance of the porcelain, which must be ignited in a reduction.

Sequence from Vlad Basarab's installation in the Secret Wing exhibition at the Museum of Art at the 2021 Art Encounters Biennale

Sequence from Vlad Basarab’s installation in the Secret Wing exhibition at the Museum of Art at the 2021 Art Encounters Biennale

3. However, there is a tradition of pottery in our country, is it lost or does it matter to the contemporary artist?

Vlad Basarab: I started working with clay since I was nine years old, I was in Victor Vicoriano’s workshop in Horezo and he was the first to put clay in my hands and encouraged me to do so. It was August 1986, I remember very well there was an earthquake at night, I was camping in Horizo. At the time I didn’t know if I wanted to be an artist or an archaeologist, I was passionate about archaeology. At about the age of 12-13, it became clear that I was going to go into art. Of course, it has some pottery. The painter Florin Ciobutaro also helped me with the art of ceramics, encouraged me to work in clay, and even brought me a foot-worked pottery wheel. I still have it, although it’s hard to use once I’m working on electric wheels. Archaeologist Victor Papo also contributed, by giving me a book on pottery techniques. In Romania, many pottery workshops as well as handicraft workshops have disappeared, but this gap can be filled by contemporary workshops. But in America, I had the opportunity to try a lot, including technologies from Asia that were developed in the United States.

4. What do you call “good teachers” when you talk about those from the outside?

Vlad Basarab: Among the best teachers was the Canadian Martin Tagheth, who in turn worked with the famous potter Robert Arcampo. I also met him and held a workshop in Alaska. They were influenced by Korean and Japanese ceramics.

I was interested in art inspired by Zen Buddhism, which viewed imperfection as a form of beauty. I’ve also worked in China, where I want everything to be perfect. That’s why their decorations are not what I want. I prefer getting to know Japanese ceramics, especially those that are burned in wood-fired ovens where imperfections and accidents are welcomed. It’s a new aesthetic that these mentors opened my eyes to.

5- America has been so important to your destiny as an artist, did you feel this was the right place to find your voice?

Vlad Basarab: I don’t think I’ve asked myself this question before. I simply moved forward and never gave up on the idea of ​​returning, never denied my origins and was always emotionally attached to Romania. It is difficult to live in another country, integrate, I did not know English well, I studied at the German high school in Bucharest. As a starting point, where I gathered my knowledge, and this is where I trained.

He is an artist with great technical abilities.” Maria Ross Pouyanne, curator

In Romania, I drew, sketched, and trained with Florin Ciobutaro, a kind of master teacher, whose art is original and ever-changing. Together with Florin and Andre Ciobutaro, she also made films and founded the group Pâlnia with them and other friends, which disappeared. In fact, I was in Alaska with graphic artist Andre Ciobutaro and Stefan Tyron, who both studied art history and is today the curator. She studied at the University of Anchorage in Alaska. Then I went to California for my master’s degree, where everything was very convenient, but then I had the opportunity to apply to West Virginia University for a master’s degree in sculpture. I was invited by two friends, teachers there, Shoji Satake and Jennifer Allen, a well-known ceramics writer. But when they saw my performance and video file, they sent me to Electronic Media.

Action from memory folding series

Action from memory folding series

6. In 2014, I won the competition of the Academy of the Republic of Moldova to create a monument to the Romanian language in Chisinau.. What brings your works back to topics that don’t seem very American: the memory of communism, the fragility of books and knowledge, the beauty of the Romanian language?

Vlad Basarab: Unfortunately, this project did not materialize, and I hope that political change will make it possible. Yes, my subjects from here, I am interested in the inner turmoil of the people, but especially those left over from the communist period. The past was somehow stolen from them and used for propaganda purposes. I am concerned with this clamor, this anxiety which hitherto pervasive, in democracy, in all its contradictions. In fact, my topics have a universal message.

7. Many young artists have a similar fate to you: they started in Romania, went to the world, asserted themselves and were called to their homeland as well-known artists. How do you analyze this path?

Vlad Basarab: It is a new wave, just like the interwar wave – Iliad, Cioran and others. They have been a huge inspiration to me, with their local strength carried to the global. That’s why I left. Coming home is complementary, it’s a natural thing for me. I have used Romania as a base for my artistic research and creative travels, have visited China seven times, created many works there, and had a large exhibition at the Jingdezhen China Ceramics Museum.

Overlays of ceramic pieces suggest temporary pieces were captured in clay

Overlays of ceramic pieces suggest temporary pieces were captured in clay

8. What social group do you know in Romania?

Vlad Basarab: I participated in the revolution at the age of 13 when it was fired, then I was in the university yard, and I saw when the IMGB workers came and beat the protesters, I was also present when the miners arrived and then it was awful. She participated in many protests and demonstrations for Roșia Montană, for justice with #Resist. I thought it was important to express yourself, even naively at times, not to give up. I’m kind of unhappy with the way things have changed in the country.

9. How is the memory of the recent past protected in front of the younger generation? Do young people know what it was like?

Vlad Basarab: I am very skeptical. History was written by the victors, that is, the communists who used it as they wanted. The loser had no voice. Today it is important to rewrite history, I fear new distortions. For the younger generation, it is important to ask questions, compare and see from several sources and points of view. But I’m still skeptical about rewriting the past.

10. How can the artist contribute to the healing of society?

Vlad Basarab: The artist can help people with questions, he is the philosopher of the new society. Experiments at the Art Encounters Biennale, and artists in the Biennial exhibitions, have contributed to this thinking. The pieces you see in my installation at the Museum of Art in Timisoara are an exercise in recreating memory. They belonged in both fragmentary and alluding to fragility and chance, but could be rethought as a whole, just as memory disintegrates and reconfigures itself. I repeat what I have written about my artwork in relation to memory: the clay contains the key information, and modeling it makes me feel like I am reviving the ashes of the past, stored in the earth and encasing the entire database of memories, knowledge and human events.

Art Encounters Biennale 2021 hosted an exhibition by Vlad Basarab at the Art Museum

Art Encounters Biennale 2021 hosted an exhibition by Vlad Basarab at the Art Museum

Born in Bucharest in 1977, Vlad Basarab began working with clay under the guidance of traditional Romanian potters from Horezo, Victor Vicorano and Dumitru Michio. He studied art at the University of Anchorage, Alaska and West Virginia University.

He is a member of the NCECA and the UNESCO International Academy of Ceramics (IAC) of Switzerland and the Union of Artists of Romania. It is also part of the Galateea Collection of Contemporary Art from Bucharest. He is a founding member of two art groups: Pâlnia (The Funnel) from 1995 and NEURON from 2014. He collaborated extensively with other artists, dancers, actors and filmmakers from USA and Romania.

His works are part of 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), USA (West Virginia University , Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities), Republic of Korea (Toyasium Museum, Korea Ceramic Foundation), Romania (Arad Art Museum, Art Museum, Cluj-Napoca, Brinkovino Cultural Center, Mogogoya), Hungary (King Museum in Saint Stephen) and Republic of Moldova (Academy of Science in the Republic of Moldova).

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