I visited the new exhibition at the Victoria Art Center yesterday, and, while I liked all of the pieces, I was quite impressed with one of them in particular, Cătălin Burcea’s The First and The Last Step (Primul și ultimul pas, in Romanian).
The work consists of four segments of charred wood laid upon a narrow bed of sand. First things first: why four pieces and a single log? The parts may be a reference, perhaps, to the four nucleotide bases of a DNA strand, or, alternatively, to the idea of steps—considered separately from the first and the last step mentioned in the title. Moving on, it’s easy to see why these pieces of wood, passed through fire, a step before returning to the earth as ashes (and you can see in the detail below how chips of it are already coming loose and taking that road), is the last step. But how is it the first step? Maybe the fire that consumes us is a spiritual moment that allows us to be born. Maybe we’re already charred wood when we’re born (the old idea of birth as the first step towards death). I feel it’s this second idea, tied to birth, that gives this piece its oomph. The idea that with every breath we take we die a little—just as a light breeze will eat at this charred log.
Here’s a detail.