July 12-25, 2002
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Research goals on track, despite roadblocks
Medical Center realigning work force
Iliescu’s art is metaphor for democracy
Great-granddaughter helps uncover mystery

Q&A -- Zelikow relishes Miller Center’s role

‘Ceiled’ up: Old photos found at Miller Center
Greece and Denmark are the destinations for the Human Resources’ annual employee travel programs
Drug combination knocks out colds
In Memoriam
Hot Links -- A&S Online
U.Va. Bookstore bringing Ethan Hawke to Grounds
Grainger’s year as Faculty Senate chair yields fruit in research, other key areas

Iliescu’s art is metaphor for democracy

By Jane Ford

Walk into Sanda Iliescu’s office-studio, and it is immediately evident that words play an important role in her work. On the walls hang a number of text-based paintings that she describes as fields of writing.

“It is not about making figures and objects,” she said, “but making a field — little figures linking together to make a tapestry.”

One piece, based on the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, has been in progress for about a year. In this work, “no one thing is more important than another,” said Iliescu, assistant professor of architecture and art. “It’s a metaphor for democracy.”

Democracy plays a pivotal role in Iliescu’s life. Born in Romania, she fled with her mother, first to West Germany, then to the United States seeking political asylum from the communist regime. Only 17 years old, she was eager to speak English proficiently. She used flash cards, which fill boxes in her studio, to help her lose any trace of an accent. “Democracy means a lot to me,” she said. “It is not an easy thing. It is also associated with a lot of pain, loneliness and alienation.”

In the “Lincoln at Gettysburg” piece, Iliescu brings together these two compelling aspects of her life — words and democracy. But it’s the process of the piece that most interests her. Educated as an engineer and architect, she likes designing systems. For the work, Iliescu created a 2-by-3-foot drawing that includes two sheets of paper. The one on top has small, flip-up windows masking the sheet behind, much like an Advent calendar. On each window is written a word of the text Lincoln spoke on Nov. 19, 1863, when he not only dedicated the field of battle as a final resting place for those who gave their lives in battle, but also rededicated the nation to democracy.

Traveling with the piece to a picnic at Carr’s Hill, to offices of staff and faculty, stopping students walking on Grounds and people on the street, Iliescu asks individuals to fold back a window and write the next successive word of Lincoln’s speech on the bottom sheet, in their own handwriting and with a different writing implement.

After each person’s contribution, Iliescu sews shut the window with red thread that symbolizes the red wax used to seal documents. The piece will remain a surprise until it is completed and the threads are cut to reveal the tapestry created by the words. The top and bottom sheets will be displayed side-by-side — as a representation of the process of its making.

“Each person contributes. No one is more important than another,” she said. For her, it’s about reaching out and talking to people, making connections. “Everybody knows of the address, some even quote the opening lines to me by heart,” she said. This was a major reason for choosing the text. Iliescu also wanted to create a piece that makes modern art, which is sometimes viewed as elitist, more accessible. “I try to find things that we all share, that we all have in common,” she said.

Two architecture students, Emily Farnham, a recent graduate, and Gus Lynch, a second-year student, are helping with the project. They have been taking the drawing to different academic departments and summer classes and will play an integral role in the next phase of the project.

Iliescu plans to develop the piece into a mural. By scanning the artwork and blowing up the words, they will then use a laser cutter to make stencils that will be used to paint a public wall.

“In some respects, turning the piece into a public ‘wall drawing’ fits Lincoln’s text — his audience at Gettysburg was close to 20,000 [people],” said Iliescu. “Most wall writing employs highly controlled and uniform styling, such as the classical lettering found on the stone friezes of buildings and graffiti writing. In the Gettysburg mural, each word will show a different hand.”


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