There is this tiny art gallery on Essex Road you can’t miss after dark, because it is bathed in white milky light. These days they show ‘Kltz. Pmz. Aaaaaa!’, a 6 piece exhibition by Madalina Zaharia, Romanian artist living and working in London.
First, the title. “Kltz. Pmz. Aaaaaa!” is the phonetic representation of a popular onomatopoeic catchphrase from one of the first adverts to be aired on still pre-capitalist Romanian television in the early 90s. The ad became a national hit, even though today no one can quite remember what the commercial was for. The works revolve around the peculiar relationship between sound and nonsense, between onomatopoeia and the realm of history. Five of the six works in the show relate to a sound from the catchphrase. “Pst. Pst.” for example mimics an elongated ‘S’ and the photographic image in the same work is a ‘T’ from the mute alphabet with morse code signs for ‘P’. Madalina directs every piece as if it is a character performing and recalling history: “Each sound is an actor with a prescribed set of actions and representations, a character in our investigation, a thespian dressed with all our objects and depictions”.
Giving materiality to onomatopoeia is a playful challenge for the imagination, one Madalina chose to connect to a snippet of post-communist popular culture. Triggered by a crippled would-be-iconic ad, the 6 pieces are embodiments of a media product visually long forgotten but mysteriously still present in its awkward sonority. It goes without saying that there are Romanians who would relate differently to this exhibition given the shared history, but everybody will have the chance to see what sounds look like on metal, paper, stone and silent video.
It will be pretty quiet for a walk through so many sounds, but this is the kind of walk that has the potential to alter your relation to nonsense onomatopoeia and pieces of history embarrassingly hard to forget. Or remember.
Initially published in Weekend Notes