Ecaterina Stefanescu

Ecaterina Stefanescu

back to the overview I deutschsprachige Version des Textes

Ecaterina Stefanescu´s approach to the Romanian diaspora in Berlin revolves around the use of spaces. The architectural designer and artist chose a Romanian grocery shop as the starting point for her work. The Eastern European shop is an important meeting point, contact point and the space that symbolises both a homeland and an exchange of information for the respective community. Stefanescu situated herself in a Romanian supermarket in Friedenau and sketched views of the premises and the everyday scenes taking place around her. Using the sketches she had created, she entered into conversations with the people using and working in the shop, and got to know shop owner Nicoleta as well as a regular customer Toni and the shop assistant Maria.  Through this process of rapprochement in a public place, Stefanescu received invitations to private homes and insights into the everyday lives of Romanian migrants from different generations and with different migratory experiences.

The spatial experiences resulting from these encounters were translated into constructed spaces in the form of models and collages. Interior scenes, at the scale of 1:20 built from coloured paper and cardboard depict the Romanian supermarket and the private places the architectural designer had visited. In the model of the Pia Roma supermarket, the products on sale can be recognised though their detail. Spices, pickled vegetables, oils, sweets, cakes, cheese, meat and traditional alcohol, supplying the Romanian diaspora with a comforting, familiar taste of home. Countless stacked packages are also visible, waiting to be picked up, give a clue to the other function of the the supermarket: Pia Roma is also a typical German parcel shop for the neighbourhood. This juxtaposition produces moments of bemusing cultural exchange on the shop floor and is indicative of the migratory experiences of people in Berlin. The miniatures of the living quarters reveal the cross-border identity of the people who inhabit them: rented accommodation, furnished with generic furniture, but filled with objects and artefacts that hold a special meaning for the inhabitants and remind them of their homeland; ceramics, religious icons and textiles. In addition to the interiors, Stefanescu´s small-format paper collages show personal and emotionally charged objects of the residents, such as inherited jewellery, tea towels, or the bbq that cooks the traditional meat dishes served at social gatherings.

The photographs of the models make it possible to experience the spaces from a different perspective.  These pictorial representations of the reconstructed interiors are designed as an invitation to the visitor to enter the rooms. It is here that Stefanescu alludes to the work of Thomas Demand, who recreates photographs of historical places and scenes out of paper and cardboard, only to photograph them again. In Demand´s pictures of pictures, too, there is a focus on the essential features of the places; human actors and evidence are banished from the photographs.

Miniature rooms can be interpreted as fictional spaces; at the same time, they make social norms clear and contexts comprehensible. As Gaston Bachelard points out in his 1957 “Poetics of Space”, miniature worlds are worlds that can be comprehended. Experiencing something in miniature can release us from the bewildering vastness of the outside world. Bachelard calls this a „metaphysical balancing exercise”, a “world-superiority exercise”. Although one can have a better and more skilful grasp of the world through miniatures, according to Bachelard, at the same time values become denser and more immediate. The philosopher believes that one must look beyond logic in one´s contemplation of a miniature in order to experience how many large things can find room in a small space. This experience of the topophilic reveals itself to Bachelard particularly in interiors, since it is here that an inner beauty can be discovered.

By focusing on interior spaces that visitors can view through windows, doors and unbuilt walls – as well as interactively, by opening up the models – “Rooms” explores the immigrants` liminal identity and how it is expressed through the spaces they inhabit and the objects that they surround themselves with. The models, objects and collages, elaborate down to the tiniest detail, showcase the minutiae of everyday Romanian life in Berlin. With their emphasis on the ordinary, they document, visualise and give a sense of value and recognition to the lived experiences of a group of people often ignored or disdained. The dedication to this form of repetition and representation transforms the simple, ordinary commercial and private spaces into objects of beauty and atmosphere.

The slow, time-based method of research Stefanescu utilised for this project manifests a deep participation in the life of place and people. In this sense, the spatial objects created and the project in general encourage access and participation from the point of view of the subject/participant, the maker and the viewer.

Text: Dr. Silke Förschler

About Ecaterina Stefanescu

Romanian-born Ecaterina Stefanescu is an architectural designer and artist based in the UK, where she currently teaches architecture at the University of Central Lancashire. Her collaborative practice Estudio ESSE, co-founded in 2015, creates highly contextual site installations and bespoke design work. In her artistic projects, Ecaterina uses the act of making as a tool for exploration and investigation, producing models, collages and drawings that deal with place and material cultures of people.