Florian Lang & Klára Petra Szabó’s exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum Budapest
The exhibition of Florian Lang and Klára Petra Szabó is currently on display at the Austrian Cultural Forum Budapest. Titled Blue Sunday the collaboration presents an intricate combination of traditional and unorthodox painterly methods, video- and light installations and a migration of motifs between images that use diverse strategies to establish and break illusions. Referencing the exhibition’s booklet written by the curator Gábor Rieder, the title alludes to the famous song Gloomy Sunday. The melancholy of the song is echoed in the way the artworks seem to stage an undefined inner drama. Nothing is said out loud, but the podium is built and lit, and the viewer’s attention is directed towards the artworks.
In the watercolour paintings of Klára Petra Szabó pictorial space is segmented into ornamentally delineated areas where the viewer is encouraged to step in and out of deeply personal spaces. Haruki Murakami’s analogy of the soul being a dark room, where only a small part can be viewed with the help of a cigarette lighter is a good starting point in understanding these pictures, as Szabó’s work also connects personal narratives of self with the experience of space, while questioning the location of identity. In the painting INDIGO (2013) watercolour-marks stylized as die-cut stickers overlay the edge of a central rectangle with the towering figure of a male protagonist at its centre. Hovering above a reclining woman, the man is either passing by or is the object of attention. This is left open to interpretation. The fourth wall is broken down and in this breeze between the artwork and the exhibition venue, the conceptual centre of the image is left in continuous flux.
In this ambiguous state, the viewer starts to close-read the painting to find the key to the scene. On the one hand, Szabó uses traditional multi-layered techniques, on the other hand, the act of cutting is also introduced, revealing the materiality of the paper. This gesture introduces refined spatial happenings as drop shadows reveal the position of the sheets of paper. Certain elements, such as an indoor plant, are on the border of the sculptural and the two-dimensional. Szabó’s visual language can be likened to the aesthetics of a pop-up book, where the delicate pieces of paper are destined to be slowly worn down, but in this case, the fragile artwork is behind glass, protected, similarly as how the exact meaning is kept safe behind the complex scenery.
In the picture titled CONCUPISCENTIA (2014), raw painterliness is tamed by multiple visual strategies. The expressive gestures of the oversaturated clouds are cut off from their context, stylised and restrained. There is generally a strong emphasis on patterns, even appearing in the birthmarks on the body pinned down by the female figure, who is herself surrounded by a white buffer zone. Is desire, which is the topic of this picture according to the title, quarantined in the visual language of style?
In one of the most recent composite watercolour paintings, The Butterfly House (2018) the viewpoint is uncertain. It is impossible to define if we are looking upwards, or downwards. The palm and philodendron leaves surround a snapshot-like image, framing it in a lush, floral wreath. Similarly, in the picture I’m just a killer of your love (2018) Szabó finds a way to expand the reach of the image, framing it within a more abstract visual field. There is a heightened sense of awareness of the photograph as a presented object in other artworks as well by Szabó, such as Florian in Budapest (2014), The Palm House (2016) and The Bathroom (2018). The objecthood of the pseudo-photograph is strengthened by its shadow on the blue background. In these seemingly unaltered, unadjusted images there is a twofold feeling of intimacy and alienation at the same time.
The video installed by the Szabó titled Between the four walls (2015) is projected on a thin, transparent veil, that is constantly moved by a ventilator. It shows the two figures, the artists, in an intimate situation of a woman combing a man’s hair. The light coming from the window merges with the projector beam. The dichotomy of outside and inside is evoked in a confusing array of materials and media. The slight jerkiness of the stop-motion animation is contrasted with the continuous flow of textile, that occasionally distorts the image into watery curves. This video is placed in the conceptual core of the exhibition. Next to it is a piano and an overhead projection of various plants magnified to the extreme by Florian Lang titled Blue Sunday (2018).
Florian Lang’s wall-mounted artworks are constructed paintings that also deploy devious strategies to create and destroy illusions. They are small stages in themselves, impossible flat dioramas that invite us to step inside. Florian uses a mixed media approach, where traditional painting is injected into a collage of different visual sources including newspaper advertisements and magazine photographs. Central to the works exhibited by Lang is the swimming pool which is put into perspective by neatly delineated borders and is filled with water constructed from finely glazed newspaper pages. The simple shape of the pool recalls the tidal sea pools of South-East England, but the viewer is also reminded of the abstract, architectural spaces of art history. However in the case of Lang’s work, there is a strong sense of a contemporary setting: a time-zone where images have short life-spans, but at the same time manage to become present, now, immediate and timeless through the technicality of the printed image.
In the most expansive piece by Florian Lang titled Pools of Sorrow Waves of Joy (2017), picturesque landscapes fill the horizon, bringing to mind questions such as the sublime as advertisement-strategy, the touristic mediation of landscapes and the slowly fading entertainment-value attached to nature. These hills – discarded commonplaces – reflect in the pools of sorrow, which are full of people who seem to be unaware of their circumstances. To quote the teenage superstar, Billie Eilish: “If teardrops could be bottled, there’d be swimming pools filled by models.”, showing how Lang taps into the Zeitgeist of this moment, but in Lang’s case, the pools are also filled with sports figures, businessmen and not just interchangeable fashion icons. While the picture depicts a post-existence moment of stillness, the painting itself seems to squirm and move on the wall like a hysterical child. In the water there is an empty Sudoku puzzle hidden, giving a precise definition to what Lang’s work is: an unsolved riddle.
In the piece titled Incubator (2017), Lang contrasts figures of different size in a box-like space. In a diorama or a landscape painting, staffage figures serve to show the dimensions and the scale of the artificial space, but here instead these relations are confused by the figures. The spatial quality of the whole piece together is totally convincing, but not due to the figures, but in spite of them. The young man’s reflection is facing in the wrong direction, certain members of the supporting cast are larger than the city in the background. The isolated spaces – the sides of an illusionistic cube – reflect in each other merging the disparate images into a whole, showing how an artistic construction has its own autonomous existence.
In the video piece by Lang titled Adam ‘n Eve (2018) the aeroplane viewpoint of the cloudscape and the hockneyesque patterns on the water clash with the figures who are soaking in the vitamin D. The video shows a cube, an extension of viewing space: a place which is impossible to step into, even if we are lured, invited into the image. Viewing these works one must continuously travel in and out of the artworks only to discover that we are all standing in a pool of water, a stage made from the most uncertain material.
3rd September 2018 – 31st October 2018
 Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Vintage, Random House, London, 2003 p. 30.