DE RERUM NATURA – Daniela Fainis

“De Rerum Natura – On the Nature of Things” is the title of the ceramics exhibition which Daniela Făiniș, a contemporary artist who has been awarded prestigious national and international prizes, opened at Senso Gallery in December 2018 – finis coronat opus – making reference to the philosophical poem written by Titus Lucretius Carus, who lived in the first century BC (99 – 55 BC, the dates are approximate, as are the recurrent madness episodes or the suicide often mentioned in his biography); the 7,400 standard, unrhymed verses, written in hexameters, are grouped into six untitled books, circumscribing the teachings of the mentor Epicurus, as well as his thoughts on the world and on life, on religion and death, on the make-up of the universe, on pleasure and ascesis (a matter upon which he takes a strong stance in favour of the joy of living), as he “tinge[s] the cup with Sweet” (Book 4, verse 16). The only work that has remained from the creation of the sublime Lucretius – as his fellow Publius Ovidius Naso named him (if anything else was written, both the work, and its memory have perished) – was elaborated at a “unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius” `just when the gods had ceased to be and the Christ had not yet come”, and “man stood alone” (Marguerite Yourcenar believes that this time in history can be restricted to the rule of the emperor Hadrian and his successor), a period which was appropriate for troubling existential interrogations, for hypotheses (the universe is made up of invisible and indestructible particles named atoms, according to the above-mentioned Greek philosopher and his contemporary and posthumous adepts), notes, research, discoveries, and syntheses. In order to discern the nature of things, in the lineage of Lucretius, Daniela Făiniș starts by making reference to the minute inventory involved in the imaginary garden project, the only one capable of hosting the Heliotropic Efflorescence (II and III, handcrafted Limoges porcelain, with partially applied transparent glaze and burnt at 1260 degrees Celsius), the Flower of Life (I and II, handcrafted Limoges Porcelain, incised, with the same burning temperature), ethereal, translucid, somewhat resembling a palimpsest, protected by the firmly marked sides of a regular hexagon, which suggests the idea of hortus conclusus, the White and Pure Bouquet, the Rich Cherry Flower. Lucretius would describe such vegetal compositions as “fresh Flow’rs […] new and Rare Inventions of my own (Book I, verse 935-936). In Rebirth Fragment (I and II), the vitality of the corollas and of the protuberantly-veined leaves invites one to decipher growth codes; the title references the same stately time of culture, when the works of Lucretius were not only commented (Lorenzo Valla), or studied (Leonardo da Vinci), edited (using the mobile printing press invented by Johan Gutenberg in 1430), but they could even lead to masterpieces (Botticelli’s Primavera, inspired by Book V, v. 737-740). Other flowers may be transformed into objects – the Teapot, for instance – adapted to a ceremony intended for the initiates; they are the only ones who can accept the biunivocal relationship, apparently impossible to understand, between the leaf covered in dew and the almost weightless porcelain, between the flower and tea, between the stems and the container they become. The great Dantean cycle, represented in this exhibition only through a few sculptural porcelain pieces (handcrafted, incised, partially covered in transparent glaze and burnt at 1340 degrees Celsius), is populated with troubling portraits – sober, dramatic, redeemed,  pained, detached, involved, defying, bearing marks, endowed with insignia; sometimes the features are only concealed by masks, slightly detached from the face they are trying to hide: “Therefore, to know Men’s Souls, and what they are,
View them beset with Dangers and with Care.  For then their Words will with their Thoughts agree,
And, all the Mask pul’d off, show what they be” (Book III, verses 55-58). These faces are mere pathetic, spectral expression parts of characters who doubt or have even forgotten that “we all from seed celestial rise” (Book IV, verse 957). The coif and the head vestment lead us to the Hellenistic period representations, which Dante and his contemporaries discovered with surprise and delight. The final cycle of portraits, which is seamless in terms of style and iconography, is achieved in various stages of the abstracting process; the characters wear hats or head dresses suggested especially by finical details; pompous scarves, collars or collarettes are added, speaking of their character and of their options. Outstanding warriors in Greek mythology, the Lapiths lived in Thessaly, on the banks of the river Peneus, being closely related to mythical characters endowed with human torsos and with the upper limbs and legs of a horse, whose existence was not even believable to Lucretius in his century: “The Image of Centaur never flew
From living Centaurs; never Nature knew,
Nor bred such Animals” (Book IV, verses 738-740). However, at the wedding of Piritous the Lapith, Eurytion the centaur has an unbecoming behaviour towards Hippodamea the bride. A general squabble follows – the Centauromachia – which will be represented by Alcamenes, among others, on the Western pediment of the great temple of Olympia, in the immediate vicinity of the chryselephantine statue (made of gold and ivory, with a wooden core, having a height of 15 metres) of Zeus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), represented by Phidias in the majestic position, seated; other reputed representations of the mythical fight decorate part of the Parthenon metopes – the work of Phidias, assisted by the architects Ictinos, Callicrates, and by the sculptors Agoracritos and Alcamenes. And, as a great portion of the heads has been lost, Daniela Făiniș is trying to imagine what the face of the ancient hero looked like, as he emerged victorious from the terrible battle. His features, painted, drawn and incised with a high-temperature pigment (burning is achieved at 1340 degrees Celsius), accented by transparent glaze, are prisoners of the supporting form (just like in the ancient statuary, where high reliefs or rondbos shapes were adjusted to the allotted area) and of the layers of colour (now gone) which covered them. Melancholy harlequins are veiled in lustrous raiment – Eminescu cherished Lucretius and translated some fragments of his didactic poem – which can metamorphose into a vegetal or stony attire. With the precise shapes and contours on her retina, conveyed by space probes in fantastic images, Daniela Făiniș proceeds to the elaboration of her cycle of monumental works “Dreaming on Mars”, where sandy ochres, golden browns, silver whites and smoky greys are predominant. Two millennia ago, Lucretius warned his contemporaries: “For how, Good Gods! Can those who live in Peace,
In undisturb’d and everlasting Ease,
Rule this vast all? Their lab’ring Thoughts divide
‘Twixt Heav’n and Earth, and all their Motions guide?” (Book II, v. 1049-1052)
In the meantime, planets have become accessible to thought, to dreams, to space robots and science fiction literature. Daniela Făiniș has discovered a scripture, mysteriously lit depths, crevices where flowers grow, vines and ears of wheat, shapes veiled in a voracious vegetation, which is as yet unknows, the frozen water under the layers of rock, the music of the spheres, the silence of immaculate expanses, and she works up her memories into the kaolin she has found and prepared on earth. Doina Păuleanu