BACKUP: An Exhibition by Ádám Kokesch
by Gábor Kaszás
The selection of the venue for Ádám Kokesch’s exhibition titled Backup is by all means to be regarded as symbolic. The memorial museum of the first Hungarian apostle of avant-garde and constructivism serves as a hot venue for presenting a collection which ultimately builds on that tradition as well. Kokesch’s well-known “technical counterfeits or imitations” draw their design from the concrete-constructive schools of the 20th century and, through Bauhaus, from modern design. However, the charming and disarming character of his works is more due to the fact that there is no trace of 20th century functionalism in them. Instead, an ironic picture of today’s object culture that is turning into formalism is drawn, highlighting the object fetishism of our time as well as the increasingly self-serving and self-generating phenomena of a design that is slowly breaking away from the rational logic of technics. The pieces arranged in loose relation to each other, as well as the living-space-like decor (sofa, TV-set, etc.) of the reception room, perfectly thematize these symptoms of our times. His works are derivatives – impressions of the world of a post-capitalist culture that communicates and operates through simulacrums.
Yet, while pondering in the presence of Kassák’s pictorial architectures that overflow with a sense of mission and Kokesch’s seemingly “aimless” constructions, one shall notice a peculiar kind of parity between them. It slowly occurs to the viewer that the aesthetic formula of Kokesch’s pseudo objects appears to faithfully follow the totalist system of criteria for artworks set by Kassák in the early 1920’s. In his manifesto titled Pictorial Architecture, Kassák essentially describes the ideal work as a separate entity which is, at the same time, a demonstration of the “New World Order”. In fact he believes that “Real art, as a synthesis of the life present, is the goal itself.” Even though supposedly they were not created with this goal in mind, Kokesch’s works comply in a surprising number of ways with the aesthetic code formulated by Kassák as the ideal purpose of art and his own pictorial architectures. Kokesch is the “forerunner” of that very New World Order, the spirit of which – having been released from the bottle – obviously overfulfils the original plan and sets itself as the goal for the members of more advanced societies. And the list of correlations continues…
From this point of view, the difference between the classical avant-garde artistic stance and that of today becomes, if possible, even more dramatic. This theory has already been put forward in connection with Kokesch’s works by Zoltán Prosek, according to whom the cross-compliance between his works and the things named by them “is not phenomenal but unconventional.” However, the semantic difference between the two appears to be, in situ, even crueler. Sic transit gloria mundi, my aging teacher friend would say. But luckily, here comes the notion set as the title of the exhibition (backup).
Because this makes one stop and think about what the distinctive features can be when two completely different artistic approaches are so close to each other both in terms of their narrowly interpreted intentions and their practical manifestations. How could Kassák’s phenomenology be backed up? Or if it cannot, will the boundaries between the two types of artistic intentions and practices get blurred gradually? Let there be no mistake about it, this is not to say that Kassák should be isolated and locked away from the visual “impurities” of our day in the most sterile way possible. Kokesch does his work with the precision of the anthropologist. His is one of the most sincerely created oeuvres in the contemporary Hungarian art scene. The subtle humor of his works also shoots back on the visual medium, rather than on poor Kassák himself. Instead, what we see at work here is that our collective consciousness gradually forgets about the distinction described by Prosek, namely the one between phenom and convention. Of course, this is perhaps not a common problem which we should ring the alarm about, but we can definitely argue that in constructivism and the abstract schools a fading memory is clearly perceptible. There are two reasons for this and the first one appears to be more relevant: the works created within the emerging trends of constructivism are most often self-referential in nature, which greatly complicates putting them in a historical context. The other one – which is actually the most important tie between these works and the aforementioned original context – has to do with the rapid transformation of the perception routine of our time.
But before going too far, at this point is worth returning to the Kokesch exhibition. The two models put in parallel in relation to Backup reinforce each other in a fortunate way precisely because of the amazingly sharp matches between them. Perhaps this is why the viewer can feel that, at last, the phenomenon often perceived in the Hungarian scene (whereby the representatives of structure-based and geometric arts keep referring back to the constructivist predecessors such as, Kassák, László Moholy Nagy or other Bauhauslers) is given some meaning in a much more fortunate way here. In Kokesch’s case, however, legitimization is not the goal. Intentionally or unintentionally, but his works overlap with those of Kassák in a way that has allowed for the two models to include – despite the clear differences between them – the nearly 100-year-old tradition of constructivist art, as well as the various strategies and interpretation opportunities of its present, in a tight and exciting framework.
Kassák Museum, running till February 14, 2016