Tayler Patrick Nicholas
There are places in suburban Budapest where artists tinker around in weird hours, working on pieces that can be described with a collection of contradictory terms: edgy, ephemeral, toy-like, pseudo-scientific, Blade Runneresque, sacred, sacrilegious, modified, recontextualised, assisted, remixed, etc., deploying tactics that unsettle the norms of art. They sometimes utilise the tools of the film industry, of fine mechanics or of any other area connected to the construction of illusions and palpable realities. They are inside and outside of pop culture, pursuing complex artistic practices that are hard to define. Non-academic, out of the norm attitudes stem from these laboratories, where windows are opened and closed, laptops are placed on tables, their cooling fan buzzing quietly while distant cars whiz past… Life – as an intricate set of forms and happenings – is not excluded from these places. There is no pedestal that separates art from everything else, there is rather an osmosis that washes distinct areas together causing startling combos. Lengthy projects unfold in these studios, where artworks become coded objects that transmit the conversations and atmosphere of the atelier. In this case, the artworks are exhibited in Nick Gallery, Pécs and have travelled from Budakalász, which is somewhere along the Danube, between Szentendre and Budapest. However, the exact location does not play a large role, the exhibition-goer won’t find any Danube landscapes here.
The iconic painting A young girl reading (1770) by Fragonard is transmorphed into a domesticated monster in Study for the Reading Girl (2018) by László Karácsonyi. It is not simply the jarring difference between the slimy visuality of sci-fi horror and rococo sweetness that makes the image explode: the fact that the predator seems to be OK with sitting in profile for the painter is even weirder. On the painting, the book – a realm of linear fantasy – absorbs the reader, who is himself/herself/itself also a product of imagination, showing the abyss between the narratives of the 18th century and our 20-21st-century phantasmagorias. The alien or predator, who became lately the central protagonist in Karácsonyi’s gobelin-based works, appears on the piece titled Conflict in the Countryside (2018), where the pastoral landscape of the watermill is animated by a fight scene, making the peaceful contemplation of the image impossible.
In another piece by Karácsonyi, titled Monument to Transformation (2017) Vera Muhina’s two Soviet propaganda heroes are replaced by their capitalist equivalents, Fordian Autobots, commodity-chameleons. Tiny white figures – standing on the glowing base – gaze at these flamethrowing, helicopter-bodied, graphite-coloured mini-gods. Close to this miniaturised remix sculpture, the Budapest-skyline heroine – the Statue of Freedom (1947) by Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl – gives her double a handclap in a piece titled High Five (2015) by Balázs Veres. The sculpture is just as small as when one looks at the original on top of Gellért-hill from the 4-6 tram. But here the allegorical figurines face each other with the wind blowing in contrary directions simultaneously. The two together become a sign, a letter, a one-liner.
In the same L-shaped space, around the corner, there is a small monitor. Its ‘80s design positions this piece of technology as something from a previous evolutionary phase. Slightly yellowed by time, this ex-high-tech mini monitor sits on top of a pedestal, showing off its sculptural nature. Nándor Keszeg’s video titled Buzz! Lenin (Double Stalin) (2019), that is played on this screen, shows multiple Lenin faces moving around, shaking as if about to fall apart. As our vantage point moves around and the doubled faces shift as well, we become aware of the virtuality of this vision. The artworks discussed so far are all found in a smaller room of the gallery and present an exhibition within an exhibition where iconic images are hacked, transformed, showing how symbols can be recontextualised to become more than mementoes of history. This is a show – borrowing the word used by Margl in the statement – where utopias mix with the nostalgia for our old, discarded ideas of the future.
Moving to the other exhibition hall we are faced with artworks that are exhibited according to a different organising principle. The key in reading these artworks according to the curatorial rationale, is the reflection on line-structures and a focus on motion that creates imagery. In a piece by Veres How to create a five-pointed star (2018), four concrete slabs serve as a drawing board for ideas to emerge. Lines and shapes appropriated by systems of thought and belief become incorporated into these pieces. Their title preserves the pseudo-do-it-yourself quality of a manual, but gives us an answer that we cannot follow. All we can do is walk around the ever-changing minimal reliefs and hope to get a better understanding through vision. In a small piece by Veres titled Determining Symbols (2019), a dollar sign ($) is transformed into a yen sign (¥). The dark, layered, gleaming object shines as we walk around it. Motion informs our interpretation: ungraspable, out of reach, like money transfers in the night.
There is a similar realm of the unknown in Péter Szalay’s Borgesian double artworks that combine two radically different systems. On the one hand, the series Modified Clockwork (2019) connects temporality with different line structures, on the other hand, Generated Form (2019) gives these detracked non-linear continuums a closed sculptural reality. The La Hire-line, the Durer Folium and the pentacle that serve as a base for these remodelled temporalities is spatialized in the series Generated Form (2019). Here Szalay uses medical tongue depressors that are coated in a thin layer of graphite to create complex depictions of the before mentioned mathematical formulas. The sculpturally complex pieces turn into baroque ornaments of thought: the structure that served as a starting-point is lost in the voluptuousness of the form.
The line is taken out of its mathematical context in the collaboration between Erik Tollas and Zsófia Magdolna Nagy. In their polycarbonate installation titled Shaped Line (2019), three see-through plexiglass pieces are suspended on the wall. Each piece is filled with a web of lines, that relocate themselves as soon as the visitor does what the sign says, and starts using the flashlight of their mobile phone. The shadows of the multi-coloured lines become projected on the wall, expanding across the surface due to the movement of the viewer. This is however unphotographable, as the viewpoint of the telephone’s camera coincides with the directed light beam. To capture the interaction between the installation and the rays of light, one needs at least one more technical device. The artwork thus dissolves the myth of the multi-functionality of our electronic devices.
Nagy’s nearby monochrome canvas Interface III (2016) also plays with motion and light but in a more minimalistic way. The frontal surface of the black canvas has a velvety shine, while the sides of this relief-like painting are completely mat. The hidden structure that the canvas is stretched on becomes a question of speculation, Nagy directs our attention to what cannot be grasped empirically. In the large painting by Tollas, titled Squama Series XII. (2014), we see a large expanse of snakeskin: the scales transform into a pattern of multi-coloured brushstrokes. Tollas’s painting is however not an all-over image, the patterned skin of the snake is framed by the white canvas. This non-environment redirects us to the repetitive beauty of the composition, letting our gaze draw its own lines on the surface. Keszeg’s large image, The Nature of Waves (God) (2018), is exhibited as a dark pendant to Tollas’s painting. As Tollas’s image reflects the movement and action of the artist, so does Keszeg’s picture as well, connecting the two works by their relationship to temporality and motion. In this larger exhibition hall, distinct lines move around to define something: a snake, God, a pentacle, time, space. However, it is the interaction of the viewer that makes these pieces work, transforming the exhibition hall into a place of involvement as well. Is it possible to rethink our most basic categories or do we draw the line here?
Exhibiting artists: László Karácsonyi, Nándor Keszeg, Zsófia Magdolna Nagy, Péter Szalay, Erik Tollas, Balázs Veres
Nick Gallery, Pécs, 5th April 2019 – 5th May, 2019
Curated by Ferenc Margl