The Sigma Group was an experimental group active in Timişoara between 1969-1980 and consisting of Ştefan Bertalan, Lucian Codreanu (matematician, from 1970), Constantin Flondor, Ioan Gaita, Elisei Rusu (shortly), Doru Tulcan (1969-1978). Its programme was both artistic and pedagogic; its members were teachers at the Fine Arts Academy in Timisoara. The group put emphasis on teamwork and interdisciplinarity (integrate mathematics, cybernetics, bionics, psychology, and architecture in the arts), used variety of media (paper, cardboard, wood, aluminum, glass, stiplex, synthetic materials, photography, film), and was influenced by Bauhaus, constructivism and new trends in art and architecture.
The name 'Sigma' appeared only after Codreanu's accession in 1970, but the group had formed already in 1969.
Dismantling of the group took place slowly, over several years and has never been declared formally. The last event all members took part was in 1976 on the banks of the Timis River. Multivision of Flondor and Tulcan in 1978 in the gym of School of Fine Arts Timişoara was the last public demonstration of Sigma; all group members attended. In 1978 the group entered a period of crisis after Bertalan was moved to the Institute of Architecture. Afterwards, the group splits.
Accounts of the history of the group
- The Other Transatlantic exhibition, 2017
On the 20th of July 1969, Romanians, like their fellow humans in other nations across the world, were intently following the broadcast of the moon landing. For this nation in particular, it was not only a symbol of the triumph of science and technology, but proof that a country that had been floundering under the rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu was finally opening itself up to the world. It was only a year before that its leader had refused to take part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in outright defiance of the instructions coming from Moscow. While a certain thaw with regard to political terror lasted only a few years, it opened up a space of freedom, in which brilliant new movements could be born, including SIGMA (1969-1981), one of the most interesting Romanian neo-avant-garde groups to mesh art with science and technology. Its founders Ştefan Bertalan and Constantin Flondor met towards the beginning of the 1960s as lecturers at the Art Lycée in Timișoara. They shared similar ideas regarding the role of art in modern socialist societies. The process of modernizing the country wasn’t only intended to improve the quality of life for individuals, but it also affected the way they interpreted reality. According to Bertalan and Flondor, artists who follow the modernist spirit should treat art not just as a medium for subjective expression, but also as a tool for the visual analysis of new forms of experiencing the world. They first set up the 1+1+1 Group with Roman Cotoşman. It was dedicated to the concept of Cybernetic Art and Op Art, inspired by theories of information, mathematics and bionics – an interdisciplinary study of creating machines that make use of the form and mechanics of living organisms. The group’s principles of honoring individuality shed light on the meaning behind the group’s name. This, however, changed as the group evolved into SIGMA, which functioned as a collective in the traditional sense. The group was established in 1969, following 1+1+1’s representing Romania duing the Constructivist Biennial in Nuremberg. There, Bertalan, Flondor and Cotoşman became acquainted with the International milieu of artists working at the intersection of art, science and technology, such as Nicolas Schöffer or Julio Le Parc. They returned to Romania without Cotoşman, who’d decided to escape to the West. They filled his spot with several artists, who also lectured at the school in Timișoara, including Ioan Gait, Elisei Rusu, Doru Tulcan, and also mathematician Luciana Codreanu.
The activities of SIGMA were based on two main pillars: creating a new art lexicon and developing a progressive form of pedagogy. For the group, geometry formed the foundation of reference, its rules re-evaluated in a shifting reality. Flondor, when asked about the inspiration he gleaned from abstract art, asserted that SIGMA’s practice had never been focused on abstraction, but on the concrete aspects of geometry, architecture and nature. This group of artists created several series of analytical drawings, architectural installations, which were subject to their environment, as well as sculptures that involved kinetic aspects, as well as experimental films dedicated to the analysis of such evanescent phenomena as the bursting of soap bubbles. One of SIGMA’s most intriguing works was the utopian project of an information tower constructed especially for the public space of Timișoara. The edifice was meant to react to changes in its immediate environment thanks to a simple computer system installed within it (similarly to the towers built by Nicolas Schöffer), while offering a stock of basic, everyday information. In SIGMA’s actions, art, in making use of the achievements of technology, brings to life new ways of experiencing the world. In parallel to their collaborative work, its members dedicated themselves to cultivating a new formula for instruction, which they introduced in the school they taught—under the direction of Flondor since 1969. Rather than promote hierarchical relationships, the school developed partner relationships and a pedagogical approach rooted in a sense of universal equality. Interdisciplinarity and the integration of theory and practice were key, based on the ideas of Bauhaus. The preferred formula for carrying out lessons were workshops held in the open air, where artists and their students produced installations that were open to the effects of the environment. The pedagogical program made up an integral part of SIGMA’s creative activities, while art became a tool for researching shifts in the way reality is perceived as a result of scientific and technological development.
- by Ileana Pintilie, "Spira mirabilis", e-cart, 2005
A defining characteristic of the Sigma group was the declared program of work, based on the principle of team and interdisciplinary work (mathematics, cybernetics, bionics, but also plastic structures). The first creation period of Sigma group (1970-1974) is characterised by projects made in common, visible also in the system of participation in exhibitions. One example of such a project was "The Informational Tower", conceived in 1970, mixing architecture and sculpture, exhibited information within a show of light and sound. But not only the public projects, as the geometric structure realized in 1971 for the hallway of the Students' House in Timisoara or the project of fountain which brought them an U.A.P. prize, have marked the important moments of the group's development; a new vision upon their subsequent evolution was to be marked by the action and the environment called "bloating structures" and realized at the Bastion Gallery in Timisoara, for the UNESCO Plastic Arts' Week. In the Bastion Gallery the rooms have been organized with bloating structures in the form of transparent tubes, onto which, during the opening, a dia and film projection took place. Thus, the spatial environment took the form of a happening with public assistance. In the same year, Bertalan, Flondor and Tulcan were invited to participate in the exhibition "Art and Energy" in Bucharest, where they created spatial installations which were separate but at the same time within a unitary ensemble that carried the unmistakable mark of the group. The last big common action of the group before they separated was "Multi-vision" (presented at the exhibition "Study 1", Timisoara, 1978), a spatial environment formed by a tri-dimensional structure made of coloured semi-transparent nets, spatially arranged in the form of a tetrahedron, onto which there was a projection of black and white and colour film for two cameras.
- by Erwin Kessler, "Making Art by Numbers", Plural 1, 2000
By the early seventies, the most representative movements of making "art by numbers" in Romania were the "sigma" group in Timisoara and Kinema Ikon. Sigma was intimately connected to a neo-constructivist (Bauhaus-like) practice both in creation and teaching, while the second was a rather structuralist-borne implant in experimental film-making. Although "sigma" was very well-known and held in high esteem (even by the political establishment of the time), whereas Kinema Ikon was barely known at all, pursuing its research in a rather silent if not hidden manner, both groups shared, in the words of one of the "sigma" manifestoes, "the reconsideration of the environment as an object of artistic research" and they aimed, manifestly, at the development of an "intelligence able to adapt them to a future culture" inescapably marked by "the development of an algorithmic culture". Structures, frames, schemes, recurrent invariants, technical manipulation, calculation, repetition and scientific-like insight were the main marks of their aesthetic outlook. "Organizational" and meliorist, positivist and centripetal, highly "humanistic" in a contemporary sense, such artistic endeavors are nonetheless stamped by that profoundly Utopian drive of the historical avant-garde. Their unexpressed goal was to regain a certain, "alternative transcendence" for our times, one that was believed to be controllable, science-based, computational, and eventually thoroughly intelligible.
Bertalan: „ ... ne-am plimbat atunci toată noaptea. Fiind sosit atunci cu trenul, te-am luat de acasă de pe Sălăjan, seara la zece, şi-am mers vorbind prin parc, prin cimitir şi pe străzi. Am fost ca doi nebuni zburând în văzduh, plini de proiecte şi idei. Gândurile noastre din acea noapte au marcat anii ce au urmat”. Curând voi observa că ceva, un clic, se petrecuse cu noi: nevoia de a lucra împreună. De a ne topi individualităţile într-o sumă. Am început împreună lucrul. Cu un element, alb de carton, propus de Berci- un cerc secţionat pe una din raze şi pliat pe alta- începuserăm să căutăm un superelement, o cărămidă care să ne poarte în vederea configurării unui corp spaţial-complex. O simplă şi teribilă piramidă se intrevedea, deoarece, pornind de la o bază patrată, articulând complex superelementul, după aşezarea primului nivel, apărea, funcţional pentru continuarea nivelelor următoare, o reducere în trepte. Albă, pură, - cu o mulţime de sferturi şi treisferturi de cerc, îmbinate şi crescute spaţial, - barocă şi rectangulară, cu plinuri şi goluri repetitive şi imprevizibile, piramida, de tip zigurat, se isca fragilă. Am reuşit să construim doar primele două nivele, când ne-a prins predarea lucrărilor pentru salonul judeţean din toamna acelui an. A fost prima prezenţă a unei lucrări în echipă, şi momentul transformării grupării "111" în grupul "SIGMA 1".
Grupul "Sigma 1".
Membrii grupului: Ştefan Bertalan, Lucian Codreanu (matematician), Constantin Flondor, Ioan Gaita, Elisei Rusu, Doru Tulcan.
Programul şi principiile grupului :
- munca în echipă
- principii de ordonare; studiul drumurilor ce duc la forma
- cunoaşterea şi integrarea unor discipline de graniţă: psihologia,cibernetica, bionica, matematica, arhitectură
- natura şi mediul - locuri de cercetare şi manifestare
- includerea unui program pedagogic (în cadrul Liceului de Artă din Timişoara)
- investirea formelor cu componenta de util
- diversificarea mijloacelor ş materialelori de configurare ( hârtia, cartonul, lemnul , aluminiul, sticla, stiplexul, firele sintetice)
- utilizarea fotografiei şi filmului
Anii 70, prin cercetări autonome şi în cadrul grupului "Sigma 1", îmi aduc pregnant componente ale mediului şi a determinărilor în spaţiul tridimensional.
Unele întrebări mă leagă de geometrie şi de matematică. Sunt reguli şi organizări, ce mă pot apropia de armonia sub care e constituită lumea.
Filmez în 1972, alături de elevii mei, membrane de săpun, admirăm frumuseţea lor şi modul lor tainic şi legic de a compacta, câte două...câte trei...câte patru. Drumul mă duce spre cunoaşterea poliedrelor şi a modului lor de compactare. De ce universul conţine cinci şi numai cinci poliedre regulate: tetraedrul, cubul, octaedrul, dodecaedrul şi icosaedrul...? Ce ne spune această armonie?
Prin apropierea de universul poliedrelor, având la îndemână câteva bare triunghiulare (sau pentagonale), mă ataşez de întrebarea: care este numărul de bare necesar pentru a aşeza aceste bare într-o situaţie unic-determinată de o articulaţie fixă? După cum în experienţa cu membranele de săpun încercam să parcurg un traseu de la fenomenologic la legitate, aici, încercam invers, să-mi stabilesc un punct de plecare - prin nodul de articulare, de unde să obţin posibilităţile ulterioare de creştere a sistemului (1972-1974). După mai bine de un an de cercetare plastică simţeam nevoia unei colaborări directe cu matematica, pentru a-mi verifica şi certifica intuiţiile. Lucian Codreanu (matematicianul din grupul "Sigma 1") nu putea acoperi domeniul ce mă înteresa şi atunci am avut şansa de a o întâlni pe d-na profesor dr. Maria Neumann.
„Concluziile plastice” le prezint la Salonul Anual din Timişoara, 1972-73, cât şi la expoziţiile grupului Sigma: festivalul Cibinium-Sibiu (1973) şi expoziţia Artă şi Energie, Galeria Nouă-Bucureşti, comisar dl. Dan Hăulică (1974).D-na Maria Neumann face o comunicare în Analele Universităţii din Timişoara (1979 )iar în 1983, în urma unor corespondenţe cu matematicieni din alte ţări, află că a fost menţionată la Darmstadt de J.Hoschek (vezi anexa) . Este pentru mine probabil perioada cu cel mai pronunţat demers raţional-abstract. Voi păstra legătura pe această cercetare cu d-na prof. Neumann, până dincolo de 1983. O structură sferică determinată de unghiurile spaţiale ale unuia din sistemele mele de îmbinare a prismelor triunghiulare (Artă şi Energie) va suporta în timp diverse utilizări, devenind în final pe balconul blocului meu (1985-2002) locul util pentru un cuib de vrăbii. Iar acum, un obiect pentru expoziţia gândită de Karla Sachse, „Transportable 2003 - crossing - knotting”, Berlin).
- 1969-1974, Saloane de Artă, Timişoara.
- 1970, Grupul Sigma la Salonul judeţean, Galeria Helios Timisoara,
- 1973, Festivalul de artă Cibinium, Galeriile Sirius Sibiu,
- 1974, "Artă şi Energie", Galeria Nouă Bucureşti, curator: Dan Hăulică
- 1974, Săptămâna artelor plastice UNESCO, Sala Bastion Timişoara,
- 1975, "Arta şi oraşul" [Art and the city], Galeria Nouă Bucureşti [The New Gallery Bucharest], organizers: Anca Arghir and Mihai Drişcu,
- 1978, "Studiul I", Galeriile Bastion + Liceul de Artă Timişoara coordonatori: Paul Gherasim, Ion Grigorescu, Coriolan Babeţi, proiecţii film+instalaţie (Multivision I, II)
- 1991, "Creaţie şi sincronism european. Mişcare artistică timişoreană a anilor 60 - 70" [Creation and European synchronism. Artistic movement from Timisoara in the years 60 - 70], Muzeul Banatului Timişoara şi Galeria 3/4 T.N. Bucureşti [The Banat Museum Timişoara and the Gallery 3/4 T.N. Bucharest], curator Ileana Pintilie.
- 2014, 1.1.1. & Sigma Retrospective exhibition, Jecza Gallery, Timisoara
- 2015, Multivision I, Gerhardinum High School, Timisoara, 
- 2015, Sigma: Cartography of Learning 1969-1983, City Business Centre, Timisoara. Project website. 
- 2017, Re-enactments 5 artists from Timișoara – Art Encounters 2017, Jecza Gallery, Timisoara
- Alexandra Titu, "Experimentalismul în arta românească după 1960", in Experiment în arta românească după 1960 / Experiment in Romanian Art since 1960, ed. Madga Cârneci, Bucharest: Soros Center for Contemporary Art, 1997, pp 11-29. (Romanian)
- Erwin Kessler, "Making Art by Numbers", Plural 1, 2000. (Romanian)
- Ileana Pintilie, Acţionismul în România în timpul comunismului, Cluj-Napoca: Idea Design&Print, 2000.  (Romanian)
- Actionism in Romania During the Communist Era, trans. Silviu Pepelea, Cluj-Napoca: Idea Design&Print, 2002, pp 41-44. (English)
- Doru Tulcan, Grupul Sigma, o perspectivă [The Sigma Group, a Perspective], Timişoara: Interart Triade Foundation, 2003, 132 pp. Publisher. (Romanian)
- Flondor, de la "111" + "Sigma" la "Prolog" [Flondor, from 111 and Sigma to Prolog], ed. Georg Lecca, Cluj: Idea Design & Print, 2005, 197 pp. Catalogue. Excerpt. (Romanian)/(English)
- Ileana Pintilie, "Spira mirabilis. Imnul revenirii ciclice a unei cresteri interioare", e-cart 6, Aug 2005. (Romanian)
- "Spira mirabilis. The hymn of an inner growth's cyclical return", e-cart 6, Aug 2005. (English)
- Erwin Kessler (ed.), Cel ce se pedepseşte singur. Ştefan Bertalan, Florin Mitroi, Ion Grigorescu: arta şi România în anii ′80-′90 [The Self-Punishing One: Stefan Bertalan, Florin Mitroi, Ion Grigorescu: Arts and Romania during the 1980s and 1990s], Bucharest: Institutul Cultural Roman, 2009, 332 pp. Catalogue.  (Romanian)
- Arina Susara, "Începuturile acţionismului în arta românească", April 2012. (Romanian)
- Space Utopia. Between Nature and Research. 111 & Sigma Group. Retrospective exhibition, Timişoara: Galeria Jecza, 2014. Catalogue. Exhibition. 
- Juliet Bingham, "Multivision 1, 1972–8, reconstructed 2014", Tate, Jan 2015. (English)
- Alina Șerban, "Sigma Group: Negotiating New Spaces for Art", trans. Alistair Ian Blyth, Third Text 153: "Actually Existing Artworlds of Socialism", Jul 2018, pp 485-499.  (English)
- Lucian Ionică, "Grupul timişorean Sigma şi experienţa filmului", Meridianul Timişoara, Jan 2020. (Romanian)
- Andreea Palade-Flondor, "Sigma — Utopii ale spaţiului. Relaţia cu arhitectura", Institutul Prezentului, Feb 2020. (Romanian)
- "Sigma—Space Utopias. The Relationship with Architecture", Institutul Prezentului, Feb 2020. (English)
- Romania#Experimental film, avant-garde film