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Elena Urucatu – Sobremesa, an Exploration of Memory and Community

Elena Urucatu‘s artistic journey is as dynamic as the cities that shaped her. Born in Bucharest, she moved to Madrid two decades ago, transitioning from a physical education teacher to industrial design and Fine Arts. Now based in Berlin, she continues to explore her journey through the world of art : this October 2024, she will be participating in the final Magic Carpets exhibition that will take place in Tartu, Estonia, as part of the European Capital of Culture program.

Her impressive work primarily revolves around installation and performances, with each project deeply rooted in conceptual exploration. Her art delves into the human experience, examining our connections with nature, culture, and social systems in general. This approach is very well shown in her Sobremesa” performance, which she first realized during the 2022 Mahalla Festival “Palimpsest”, in Istanbul.

META Culture Foundation‘s Curator Raluca Dorotfei proposed the artist to Diyalog Derneği associations Curator Ilayda Tunca. Elena Urucatu developed the idea of a metaphorical dinner-event as it will take part in the final Magic Carpets exhibition Superorganism“. 

Magic Carpets is a “Creative Europe” platform, uniting 21 European cultural organizations with the goal of creating opportunities for emerging artists to explore new territories, collaborate with local artists and communities to produce works that highlight local specificities and create new narratives.

The European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024, which joined the network in 2022, spans a wide array of visual, performance, and research-based art forms. It offers platforms for artist residencies across Europe, providing emerging artists like Elena with significant opportunities.

 

Talking with Elena Urucatu – interview by Léa Cordani

Can you give us some insights into the Sobremesa performance you did in Istanbul ?

Sobremesa is an installation composed of several interconnected elements: a table, tablecloth, tableware, and food served during a performance. The performance’s central aspect is the conversation that unfolds around the table. The name “Sobremesa” actually derives from a Spanish term referring to the time spent conversing after a meal. And that is totally what the performance was about, the conversation became the central element of this work. For the performance, participants were asked to bring a plate for dinner, which was then randomly shared among everyone. The only thing I asked the participants was to answer the question “Why did you bring that plate?”, somehow to make people think about what is so special about that plate, to share personal stories. So many stories came up, and that was so special. The action of sharing your own special plate is actually something very extraordinary. You share that plate, or you add something to it, or you use it for something special, maybe with your family or who knows, right? This act of sharing created a unique and really intimate exchange.

The table in itself also serves as a metaphorical canvas, accumulating layers of stories and marks from use, which are often passed down through generations. Each tablecloth, marked with its own history and imperfections, contributes to this narrative. Additionally, the tableware was donated by a Greek school, adding another layer of cultural significance! The food, sourced from across Istanbul’s diverse culinary landscape, further enriched the performance.

Do you already know what you are going to showcase in Tartu? Is the performance going to change?

Not totally, it will be a continuation of the first performance, the idea is to add another layer to it. So in Tartu, we will use the same tablecloths from Istanbul, which I painted black to preserve the shadows of the dinner: the outlines of plates, cutlery, and other items left on the table. We will also incorporate the sounds recorded during the Istanbul dinner. Another group of 20–25 participants will join the Sobremesa installation, adding their stories and experiences to the existing layers, thus continuing the narrative.

How do you relate to the idea of the Superorganism exhibition ?

When I read the curatorial text, what I had in my mind was a big octopus.  The first element that I have in common with SuperOrganism is precisely the unity that is created between the various elements of the Sobremesa installation. Each element, the table, the tablecloth and the conversation, is worked to improve the piece, but the conversation is what gives life to the installation.

It is spontaneous, open, and leaves room also for the imagination. Not only for the imagination and memory of the people that are experiencing the performance, but also for the people that are coming to visit the installation afterwards. Each visitor has the opportunity to fly with his own experience, because the sound is there. They can listen to the conversation, and it can take them to different places at the same time. 

And this is also very rich for the creation by itself because it’s another layer that I totally lost control upon. But it’s another layer that they put on the installation somehow. Super organism at the end.

I think that definitely Sobremesa is born precisely thanks to the collectivity and unites the different elements in order to bring the light persistently on the collaborative power. But also in its capacity to tell stories that can’t be told because just thinking on the table clothes, the people that were swinging or waving the table clothes. You can imagine that story, but you don’t know exactly. So there is your imagination that is playing a special role.

Why is collaboration with the community important to you?

In my performances, I’m always looking for people that are not used to the art scene : participants from diverse fields, such as lawyers or doctors, and others not originally involved in art. This approach keeps the performances fresh, relatable, and easier to understand. In order to transmit the ideas, I want to transmit and to make them more digestive, I think it is good  to work with people that are not related to the art scene. Engaging with non-artists brings new ideas and energies, often changing the direction of the project during its development. This collaborative spirit makes the work more dynamic and inclusive.

Have you worked with people from different backgrounds and countries before?

Yes, and it’s both challenging and rewarding to help people see through an artist’s eyes. Diverse backgrounds offer unique perspectives, enriching the overall experience and understanding of the art. Everybody has a different way to see the world, depending on how they were socialized. And if they see the world in your eyes, then, they see much more different things. They can experience your own memory, your own experience, your community too! This exchange allows participants to explore different cultural viewpoints and personal memories, enhancing the depth of the performance.

What lessons have you learned from your experience in Istanbul?

In every project, I’m working with different techniques. So from a technical point of view, I’m always learning. But from a personal point of view, in Istanbul, I learned that everybody can give you something, and you’ll learn for all your life. Everybody is so different from one another, and I think that we have to listen a lot and learn from that. I believe that people can bring you new ideas, new energy, new views that you can’t imagine.

From your perspective, how does Magic Carpets contribute to a wider understanding of contemporary art?

What magic carpets does is magic, really, because it approaches people and audiences that are very specific. In Istanbul, we were directly related to the neighbourhood. The people there weren’t used to the art scene at all. And art is definitely the best way to communicate between different cultural and political points of views. 

I think art is the easiest way to make people see the political and historical situation, and also the most digestible way to see life, right? And I think that people need to be close to art, but they usually don’t have the opportunity to do so. I was working with the people from the markets that I invited to the exhibition, and they were impressed about what was happening there, how they never had the opportunity to see and visit the school before, which was significant to me.

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