Stefania Crişan and the “beauty of the underworld”

Stefania Crişan and the "beauty of the underworld"

With her project on the ecological disaster of Geamăna in Romania, Stefania Crişan won the LEAP 2022 prize. Portrait of a young artist who rhymes ecology with poetry.

She walks with a bounding schoolboy step, joyful and teasing, although she admits that she does not really “know where to go”. What does it matter! The future of her career, still in the bud, she puts it aside for a while to savor her LEAP (Luxembourg Encouragement for Artists Prize), obtained last Thursday at the Rotondes and supposed to install her “sustainably in art contemporary”, as the organization specifies.

Others have taken advantage of it before her (Hisae Ikenaga, Laurianne Bixhain and Sophie Jung, first winner in 2016). A sort of “icing on the cake” for Stefania Crişan who, for once, seems to have been heard by the spirits she sometimes invokes in her performances: “I’m not good at strategies. I’m surprised it worked out there!”

The (very) Greater Region reaches out to him

His story is the one regularly heard from young artists: struggles to find funding or places to exhibit. Added to this, at home, are difficulties in finding a foothold, because in Romania, her homeland (she was born in Timişoara in 1993), making a living from creation is not an easy task: “ We have the impression that the Ministry of Culture does not exist!”, she says. From now on, it is on the side of Metz that she seeks to draw a horizon, in particular after studies (at the École supérieure of art of Lorraine) accomplished and happy. “It’s like a big family: from the director to the housekeeper, everyone is attentive.” His “existential crisis” and his “heartache”, just before a planned departure for Germany, are now far away. The (very) Greater Region is reaching out to him, as evidenced by his place among the finalists for the Robert-Schuman prize or his success at the Heidenkirche Landscape festival (in Alsace).

“I was before the beauty of hell”

A not so anecdotal gratification: if it confirms her artistic link with nature, it marks a milestone year for Stefania Crişan. Either 2017 and the start of his project, already presented in five countries, all conquered. She explains: “As regards ecology, I have always had a civic attitude: I participated in the cleaning of forests in Romania and demonstrated against the gold mining project in the mountains of Roșia Montană. . It’s a subject that touches me, even if I never thought of integrating it into my art.” One day, while with the family, his father slips him his phone. Above, images of the village of Geamăna, at least what remains of it: deliberately flooded, it becomes a settling basin in order to extract copper. “It moved me to tears. I didn’t think it could exist.”

My work is not moral or political activism, but poetic!

Neither one nor two, she takes leave of her school in October and goes on the spot, where a “precious” friend is waiting for her who has a car, a driver’s license and a camera. In the artificial lake, with blurred colors, only the bell tower of the church protrudes from the sewage. There are also signs advising you to go on your way… “We didn’t know it was forbidden, but we were certainly not going to turn around when we had driven for five hours on roads where we risked dying at every turn!” She who, from an early age, apprehends things with the painter’s eye, cannot take her eyes off the scene, both captivated and bruised. “I was in front of the beauty of hell, a canvas of the end of the world. At the same time, I felt guilty for finding it pretty.”

“I was worried that I would be taken for a madwoman”

Even today, she portrays the experience as “sacred”, “mystical”. She remembers the dead silence, thinks of her hands shaking as she films. Remember the many symbols that accompanied this journey: the funeral procession on the way to Geamăna or this gigantic white owl which lands just in front of them, before their departure. “Some signs don’t lie,” she says with hindsight. But this is not enough, according to her, to make it a project worthy of the name: “Making photographs with a drone is easy, but the subject must be deeper.” He becomes so after two other visits (in 2019 and 2020) which will allow him to go into the “details”. Like imagining a performance based on a religious refrain that runs through his head or thinking of an installation that would talk about all those dead bees found around the lake.

“Talking about this disaster with heart, humanity and emotion”

Without forgetting to mention his “touching” encounters: this old man who makes him cross a makeshift bridge overhanging the cyanide – “I was afraid of falling and dying” – and these two women who still live there and greet him without flinching. One of them will die before her second trip. “She was a symbol of benevolence and resistance, even if society didn’t care about her!” This will result in an installation entitled Ophelia and the Anthropocenea “sensitive” tribute, even if, according to her, the chosen title sounds “like a group name!” (she laughs). A trifle that in no way contradicts his initial idea: “I wanted to talk about this disaster with heart, humanity and emotion. This is not moral or political activism, but poetic!”

An artistic orientation, at the crossroads of ecology, folklore and the spiritual, which, apparently, pays off, although it took her a while to convince herself of it. “I never had too much confidence in myself.” Her friends thus act as an audience with whom she tests her ideas. All the more necessary before a first exhibition in 2020 at home. “I took some time before presenting my work in Romania. I was worried that people would take me for a slightly weird madwoman. But the reunion goes well, like the following appointments. Stefania Crişan holds in her hands a concrete project which, she hopes, will allow her to seduce other international juries, such as that of LEAP: “When I made my presentation for thirty minutes, I clearly saw that there was a good feeling. At the same time, I was proud of my installation.

“You should never force inspiration”

Today, she feels lighter with 12,500 euros in her pocket – “I’ve never had so much money in my account!”, she says with a big laugh. She already imagines making a trip to South America to meet, who knows, “shamans”, in order to continue her practice of the drum, as we saw this year during a performance in Metz, after her residency at the Elastic Expression Laboratory where she strove “to chase away evil spirits”. It’s said, luck is on his side, but not enough to think that it’s thanks to his work that the ARTE channel recently released a documentary on Geamăna. “That would have made me happy!” (She laughs)

His only certainty is therefore obvious: “I know that I must continue, not to fall asleep on my laurels. But at the same time, you should never force inspiration”, because “strong things are built slowly, over time!”, she philosophizes. There will already be, after the Rotondes, an exhibition in Berlin next summer (Saarland Gallery), then surely other reflections, without “calculation”, around the notions of feminism and ecology of course. Even if it means further enriching your project? “If I had to follow up, it would be about the biological transformation of the place, its microcosm. Or go and do a performance on site and document it.” In the meantime, she takes height and consults on Google Map other polluted lakes, like that of Berkeley Pit (in Montana) “where people pay five dollars to visit it”. In a breath, she lets go: “The world has gone mad!”. So much for documenting it, and sublimating it.

The works of Stefania Crişan can be discovered at the Rotondes as part of the collective exhibition which also includes the work of the three other LEAP finalists (Paul Heintz, Lynn Klemmer and Mary-Audrey Ramirez). It is accessible free of charge from Thursday to Sunday, until December 4.


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