Emergence is a common theme in art, but how it is handled is the source of endless interpretations, and often within the work of an individual artist, iterations. In Jana Opincariu’s Happy Birthday, we find our view smack-dab in the middle of an emergence scene of the invertebrate kind. Limiting ourselves to the spineless realm, we’ve got Franz Kafka, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Eric Carle on the literary side, but in visual art things can get a little less clear. Sometimes the lesson is you are a cockroach, your farm was eaten by locusts or that excessive eating can make you a beautiful butterfly. With Happy Birthday, it’s not so clear.
Opincariu has said in her statement that every piece she does is a self-portrait. It is a bold and vulnerable position to take when painting cicadas, or insects of any kind for that matter. Opincariu’s gilding and chunky style renders objects, often animals, small on a golden field. Happy Birthday tells us a story with her similar style, as the festive cake is left somewhat abruptly and inelegantly to move on to the more pressing transformation at hand. It is jarring, yet full of possibility. What does the next moment hold in this bug birthday storyline?
We are often reborn (with cake, if lucky) on our birthdays. Age is how we stratify society. Age is how we gain entry into its commonly agreed upon rights and responsibilities. We become new people in the eyes of others, if not ourselves. For a while, birthdays seem positive, until that time when it no longer seems to be. Then, it often becomes a time of loss that no cake can restore. It is a cruelty of time fueled by our own perceptions. The same could be said of most transformations.
Opincariu’s Happy Birthday doesn’t tell us how to receive this birthday. That is up to the viewer. She just gives us the opportunity to consider what shedding our skin means.