Phoebe Crisman

Every day for two and a half years artist Sanda Iliescu made a self-portrait, observing her face in the reflective medium of a mirror, windowpane, or metal surface. Reflection – the world reversed – and self-reflection based on past and future events are essential to these self-portraits, which she has titled Timeline. While each is an artwork unto itself and fixed in time, together the portraits form a timeline of the artist’s ephemeral expressions and an investigation into ways of drawing. As a series, this project rejects the concept of the portrait as a static or definitive image: each drawing opens itself to interpretation through the memory of those that precede it. Nostalgia, originating in the Greek neisthai, means ‘to return.’ Iliescu’s series of self-portraits returns again and again to the subject matter of self, but a self that is ever-changing.

Titled “Tuesday, June 18, 1996,” the portrait reproduced here is a palimpsest. By literally drawing over and over the same piece of paper, Iliescu transforms it, each new layer of drawing adding new readings, memories, and interpretations. Iliescu is fascinated with the human face. “Even after many years and much aging, an essence endures,” she says. “Each face carries a sort of unique weight—a unique way of looking at the world. This essence remains, while features, movements, and attitudes shift.”

The same could be said of buildings, and that is why we visit buildings again and again. Each building carries a sort of unique weight – a unique way of looking at the world. This essence remains, while features, movements, and attitudes shift. Buildings, like faces, express and record changes over time. While human occupation, material weathering and collective memories may transform their outward appearance, their essence remains and compels us to both reflect on and experience them anew.

Charlottesville, VA
January 12, 2014

Published in Souvenir-Nostalgia / Room One Thousand / Issue 02
(Berkeley, CA: College of Environmental Design at the University of California, 2014)

This essay is accompanied by a color reproduction of the drawing:

“Timeline: Tuesday, June 18, 1996”
Sanda Iliescu, 1996
Ink, watercolor & gouache on paper, 12 x 10 inches
(private collection: London, UK)