Always on the go
"I am always paranoid about everything." – Interview with Brad Downey
Kovács Kristóf (Sajnos Gergely)
“In 2020, because of my captivity (for about seven months), I was forced to rent a room in an apartment in Slovenia and work in a new studio. I bonded daily with the same five people. It was significant to me that I became so close with these strangers. We together created a community that felt like a family – deep human relationships when relationships were prohibited. As for 2021, I read a few days ago that the USA passed a special bill to authorize domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor “domestic” terrorist. Sounds like some hardcore Stasi shit to me.”
It is fascinating to see the strength and persistence that manifests in the way you create an artwork, never giving up. What drives you?
My work is almost always about context. Method, material, medium, etc., will usually be dictated by the context. Context, for me, is not as simple as the placement of an artwork.
I am always paranoid about everything. Maybe it is some kind of motivation. I heard that the Knights Templar used to travel with the dismembered head of John the Baptist. Somehow, the head was reanimated by a mysterious kind of spirit. The head would tell the Templars what to do. Sometimes I wish I had something that could reveal what I should do next.
It is inspiring that you track back your artistic motivation to both conceptual and emotional foundations. Do you take notes of those situations – perhaps in the form of a written or illustrated diary – that lead to creating an artwork?
I make paper works almost every day. It is a lesser-known side of my working-process. Most of them take the form of travel journals. Usually, the book’s cover has all the places and dates where it was written on it. Many of the notebooks were found in various abandoned spaces. The one photographed was found inside a massive abandoned factory in Moscow.
Which one do you prefer; to create out in the field or in a studio environment?
I do drawings almost every morning after breakfast and go walking almost every evening after dinner. Probably that is the foundation of my art practice. I guess eating and cooking are quite important to me also. It feels extremely different to cook over a fire than in the kitchen. The conversations and mood change depending on the context.
I once had brunch with Rammellzee. The sun was shining. I asked him, “Do you have any idea how lucky you were to be an artist in New York in the 80s before all the cell phones with video cameras?” He smiled and said, “All formations of word knowledge are constructed under the symbolic thoughts of the infinity sign.” I asked, “What is the infinity sign?” because I did not quite understand him. “That is for you to figure out,” he replied.
In 2019, in Slovenia (Sevnica), on the banks of Sava, you created an unusual public art piece with the help of a local amateur artist, Maxi. It is a naive artwork carved into a living tree, which depicts Melania Trump. This peculiar statue has become famous and renowned worldwide. It was set on fire and damaged by unknown perpetrators last year. Fortunately, the work could be saved from total destruction. What did you think when you found out that the statue of Melania Trump had been vandalized and set on fire?
At first, I was extremely surprised and worried. After the press found out about it, I received hundreds of hate messages in emails and DMs. It was an extremely emotional moment for me, also considering the turmoil happening in the world with the lockdowns, political tensions, and the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. In the end, I felt compelled to replace the disfigured monument with a bronze version.
I still wish the perpetrators had come forward. I am curious to know who and why they did it.
Do you have any plans regarding the damaged statue, or do you actually plan to work on it later? Have you come up with any solutions?
The scorched statue was removed immediately. It has since been replaced by a bronze version replicating the original. I cautiously exhibited the burnt version of the sculpture at a gallery in New York days before the Presidential election. Not many people attended the exhibition because of a combination of Covid restrictions and most Americans total preoccupation with the election.
You spent most of 2020 in Slovenia. Could you tell us a little bit about what you did there and what experiences you had?
In March of 2020, when the pandemic broke out (and the borders closed), I felt like I was faced with some kind of staged mass psychological torture or a new world order or new-old world totalitarianism.
During that period, I met a guy named Brane with the tattoo “Fuck Off Illusion” on the back of his neck. He kept repeating the sentence “Fuck Off Illusion” to me, and it quickly became my mantra for 2020. A constant reminder to let go of self-deception. I was never sure if the illusion was me, fucking off, was the world as we knew it, or the world we are faced with now.
In the third, eighth week of lockdown, I had a stressful meeting at a police station in Izola. The police wanted to export me to a Covid quarantine detention facility on the border of Austria. I was in Slovenia without registration, and they did not like this. In the end, they decided I could stay after I paid a few hundred euros and my friend promised to register me.
So this is why you chose this title for your exhibition in Koper last year. During your eight-month stay in Slovenia, you have created many artworks. Could you please tell us a bit about these and your exhibition in Koper?
You have to remember all these works were being developed before anyone understood the extent of the pandemic and the psychological effects of the “flatten the curve” measures. The first work was a kind of self-portrait acting out the destruction of my own reality. Literally, I dug away the earth from under my feet, causing the sea to flood the island where I stood.
In another artwork, I transformed small drawings made during the first weeks of the lockdown into hand-sewn masks. I photographed the masks on the people I was able to form a bond within quarantine, later printing these portrait photos on large boat sails. The work is meant to be a thanks or homage to my “quarantine family”. Basically, we turned our face-masks into sails.
What was your most significant experience in 2020, and how do you view the year 2021?
In 2020, because of my captivity (for about seven months), I was forced to rent a room in an apartment in Slovenia and work in a new studio. I bonded daily with the same five people. It was significant to me that I became so close with these strangers. We together created a community that felt like a family – deep human relationships when relationships were prohibited.
As for 2021, I read a few days ago that the USA passed a special bill to authorize domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor “domestic” terrorist. Sounds like some hardcore Stasi shit to me.
So are you staying in the US for a while to create and recharge your batteries?
I am here at the moment with my wife to sort out some family and visa complications. I plan to go back to Europa in the next month or two. Also, I have been enjoying the sunny weather waiting out the winter lockdown. Hopefully, it is not going to be dragged out all year again.