Any exhibition entitled ‘The Need for Uncertainty’ may prompt fears of artistic pretensions and pomposity. However, Mircea Cantor’s new sculptural installation at Modern Art Oxford is both enchanting and profound. The exhibition is the first in a new series of commissions produced by pioneering international artists. Hidden away in the Upper Gallery, Cantor’s installation literally brings fairy tale and metaphor to life.
The focus of the exhibition is a series of enormous golden cages, constructed like a succession of giant Russian dolls, one inside the next. Two peacocks inhabit this labyrinthine space, moving freely in front of the viewer. The cages create an optical illusion; from certain angles it seems that the birds are free and we are imprisoned.
It is a simple, lyrical touch which makes no pretensions other than to absorb the viewer into Cantor’s fairy-tale world, only to return them to modern reality with a sudden jolt.
Close by, a flying carpet hovers high above the peacocks’ cage. Created by Romanian weavers, it entwines traditional geometric motifs with angels, butterflies and airplanes. Arguably a more perplexing and eccentric idea, the carpet is less iconic than Cantor’s gargantuan bird cage but still manages to perpetuate the theme of improbability and the possibilities of creative force.
A large photographic work is also hung alongside the two installations: a Transylvanian tree which has blossomed into a miraculous flower sculpture at its trunk. The design is commonly used to decorate weaving spindles but certainly provokes uncertainty when returned to its natural woodland setting.
According to Cantor, ‘there is an inflation in the value of certainty; we need the opposite’. His exhibition certainly provides an alternative, questioning the limitations of freedom and the exploring the creative possibilities of uncertainty.
4 stars out of 5
In essence, Cantor’s ideas are captivating and inspired, but his flying-carpet and photographic work lose some of their impact when placed side-by-side with the main feature of the exhibition. Yet the three elements work well, seemingly rooted in traditional European fairy tales while keeping a sharp eye on 21st century reality.