In conversation with Leonard Ursachi, of Drift
Drift, a new public art sculpture by DUMBO-based artist Leonard Ursachi, will be installed in the Archway December 1, and will be on display through March 30, 2017. We sat down with Leonard to get the back story on his beautiful piece, and his and its relationship to DUMBO.
Drift: “a slow and gradual movement or change from one place, condition, etc., to another: a large pile of snow or sand that has been blown by the wind.” – Merriam Webster
For DUMBO-based artist, Leonard Ursachi, drifting means much more than that.
Ursachi was born in Romania during the Communist dictatorship, but fled the country at the age of 23. He stayed briefly in Italy, and was then granted political asylum in France. “The French gave me a scholarship to the Sorbonne and I went straight to school,” said Leonard. “I stayed in Paris for 5 years, then went to Canada for a job opportunity. I drifted a lot.”
After living in various places around the world, Leonard settled down in DUMBO more than 25 years ago. “Once I came to DUMBO, I felt this is the place for me,” said Leonard. “I love being by the river. Now my hair is going grey, so I enjoy the energy and the young people; it’s invigorating.”
Beginning December 1, Leonard’s latest instillation, titled “Drift,” will move into the Archway, where it will stay until the end of March 2017.
Drift is an installation made up of seven cement casts, made specially for this site from a piece of driftwood Leonard salvaged from the East River years ago. “The driftwood I used for the seven casts must have started life as a large tree somewhere on the banks of the East River,” said Leonard. “For the platform, I made casts from a few pieces I had saved from the original old pier that used to be right here at the end of Anchorage, where the old barge was.”
Leonard produced Drift in his cozy, 700 square foot studio right here on Plymouth Street.
“This studio is small for the work I do,” he said. “Half of the time I spend working on a project is organizing and moving things around to have space to work. The molds, the rubber… they come to life here,” he adds with a smile. Creating the installation was a long process. Leonard began by hollowing out the driftwood tree to make it lighter to work with, and then made a rubber mold. From the mold, he cast seven identical cement sculptures. However, Leonard insists that each piece has its own characteristics, based on where a visitor is standing while looking at the installation. “I like the repetition. They’re all the same, but different. Depending on the angle, each has a different color, different texture, different light,” said Leonard. “Drift seems to transform and reinvent itself.”
Leonard’s art has often dealt with change, transformation and the environment, motifs that spring from his childhood in Romania. “They tore down our home – it was a dictatorship – a totalitarian regime,” said Leonard. “They were altering the landscape, literally changing the course of rivers, razing homes, pushing people around.”
When Leonard was finally able to visit his hometown of Vaslui years after defecting, the beautiful, varied small city he once loved was gone, replaced by colorless asphalt roads and monolithic, concrete apartment blocks. “Like weapons left at the scene of a crime,” he said. This experience led Leonard to become an advocate for public art, as a means of bringing a community together. In the public realm, art is often a surprise, to which each visitor brings a different background, different life experiences, and different emotions.
Leonard often refers to his thought provoking, bold and insightful work as “question marks.” “A lot of my work, including my bunkers and my Open House, represent spiritual shelters, they do not represent something literally habitable,” said Leonard. “They are markers of loss, but also of aspiration. That’s why they may be viewed as possible, impossible houses.”
Leonard was passionate about creating Drift in DUMBO, and believes that the Archway serves as the perfect first home for the installation. “The Archway, beyond its architectural beauty, is also a conduit, a community gathering place, a structural element in a bridge that spans the East River and connects Brooklyn to Manhattan, and a vivid emblem of the city and its history,” says Ursachi. “In this site, Drift echoes the poetry and drama of the river, as people and time flow endlessly over and around it.”
What does he hope visitors will take away from Drift? “I will respect whatever they get out of it,” said Leonard. “But I hope visitors feel a connection, through Drift, to the nature and history and community of this site. And Drift may also make them feel how temporary and yet continuous life is, how beautiful and fragile we are, and home is.”
Although Drift will not live permanently under the Archway, Leonard says he will carefully consider future sites. “I don’t want to just bring it anywhere. I like it to have meaning in relation to the site, otherwise it’s pretty depressing if you just place it with no chance of connection,” said Leonard.
Leonard has exhibited internationally, including a solo exhibition in 2008 at MNAC, Romania’s National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest. He has exhibited temporary public art in, among other places, Prospect Park, Brooklyn; Duarte Square, Manhattan; and Oak Park, Illinois. In 2015, Time Out New York named Ursachi’s sculpture, Fat Boy, among the best public sculpture to see in New York.