Geta Brătescu in five works

As an artist, Geta Brătescu confounds categorisation. Working in Romania since the 1960s, Brătescu’s vibrant practice has darted between performance, textiles, collage, print-making, photography, installation, drawing, film and more. Brătescu’s rich output is celebrated in her first London exhibition The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space at Camden Arts Centre. In the final week of the exhibition, we look at five key works.

  1. Towards White, 1975
Geta Brătescu, Towards White (Către alb), 1975, Collection of the National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest

The studio is central to Brătescu’s practice, both as a site and subject. Living and making art throughout Ceausescu’s repressive regime, she embraced the studio as a space devoid of social and political influences. Instead, it is a site for continual experimentation, imagination and performance.

For Brătescu, the studio is a stage where she performs to the camera. Several film and photographic works in the exhibition capture theatrical sequences in her studio space. Towards White comprises nine separate photographs charting the stages in which she masks both her body and the space around her in white paper and paint, gradually erasing herself from the image. Throughout her work, she questions the conventions of the self-portrait, experimenting with the concealment and fragmentation of her own image.

2. The Rule of the Circle, The Rule of the Game, 1985

Installation view Geta Brătescu: The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space, Camden Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: Damian Griffiths

Brătescu blurs the lines between art and daily life, repurposing everyday materials in her work. Recognising artistic potential in everything from burnt cigarette papers to wooden coffee stirrers, she gives new life to ephemera and discarded materials.

In the series The Rule of the Circle, The Rule of the Game, Brătescu creates seemingly endless compositions within the confines of the circle and grid format, choreographing different scraps of paper into notations on the page.

Brătescu’s collages, which she calls ‘drawings with scissors’, are an important aspect of her work: although she is now 91 years old, she continues to make a different collage each day from the materials brought into her studio from the outside world.

3. Vestiges, 1978–79

Geta Brătescu, Vestiges (Vestigii), 1978, Courtesy Luisa Malzon­­­i Strina Collection

Brătescu experiments with textiles, stitching and embroidery in her collages. The series Vestiges sees the artist carefully layer remnants of worn fabrics — floral, striped, plain and frayed — into arrangements on the page.

The materials Brătescu used for Vestiges were all inherited from her mother, bestowing an intimate and autobiographical quality to the works. As well as giving new life to used objects, the Vestiges evoke a sense of nostalgia for their past. Brătescu has noted that while her other textiles works are created with a sewing machine, all of the Vestiges are stitched by hand.

4. Medea’s 10 Hypostases, 1980

Geta Brătescu, Medea’s 10 Hypostases (Medeea — 10 ipostaze), 1980, Collection of Adam & Mariana Clayton, London. Photo: Stefan Sava

Mythology and literature are recurring themes within Brătescu’s work with references ranging from Samuel Beckett to Aesop. One of the most frequent and striking literary motifs she visits is the controversial Greek mythological figure Medea. The main character in Euripides’ tragedy of the same name, Medea is the anti-feminine character known for killing her own children to punish her husband for his betrayal. Even though her ‘portraits’ of Medea are non-representational, Brătescu’s distinct interpretation of Medea has become a sign repeated throughout her work, recognisable in various textile and lithographic depictions.

Although Brătescu resists aligning herself and her art with a social or political agenda, her interest in and portrayal of conflicted female characters such as Medea has prompted feminist readings of her work. Speaking about her fascination with the figure, Brătescu has stated: “Medea represents the extremes, love and hate. There is no middle way with Medea. She is a special kind of woman.”

5. Magnets in the City, 1974

Geta Bratescu, Magnets in the City, 1974 Courtesy Ivan Gallery, Bucharest

Industrial, geometric forms influenced by her state-sponsored residencies at the Artists’ Union appear in Brătescu’s work such as Magnets in the City.

In this photomontage, Brătescu imagines unexpected interventions by magnets within an urban space, considering how they would influence the experience and perception of people in the streets. Ranging in size and scattered through the city, the magnets would become a chaotic and disruptive presence, disturbing the environment by obstructing traffic, and causing metal objects to move. In a text written in 1990, she wrote: “Magnets can play tricks, they can stop or delay the time… once they enter the magnetic field, in people’s minds the common objects acquire a life of their own”.

Geta Brătescu’s exhibition The Studio: A Tireless, Ongoing Space continues at Camden Arts Centre until Sunday 18 June.