BALAZS KICSINY, ST. LOUIS, at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
by Jessica Baran in Art in America
Balázs Kicsiny's installation "Killing Time" (2012) seems plucked from a lost Peter Greenaway film—some arch pantomime of pleasure courting death in a halted interstice of time. One enters a single, immersive installation, not unlike a movie set, via an unlit corridor filled only with the discordance of three overlapping soundtracks: the rumble of military radio transmissions, the dull thwack of thrown knives hitting a target and the clatter of dinnerware at a bustling restaurant. Resembling an abrupt film cut, the dark introductory hall dead-ends at the main gallery space: a dramatically lit circuslike arena defined by a large circular layer of sand on which four clothed mannequins are composed in static play. A male figure aims knives at a woman who is strapped to a white rotating disc; both wear checker-patterned aprons and combat helmets with surveillance cameras affixed to them. Nearby, a black-clad couple sits at a table, clutching knives as they gaze at television screens, which display their colleagues' surveillance footage, embedded where plates should be. A white circle riddled with knives in an arrangement suggesting a clock looms brightly over the scene, while the gallery's perimeter is enshrouded in black velvet curtains. Obscured in curtain folds, six more figures are interspersed; each holds a television screen lit with a bold red "X."
Kicsiny, who was raised in Communist-occupied Hungary and currently resides in Budapest, conceived of the exhibition during a teaching residency at Washington University St. Louis, where he worked with lecturer and exhibition curator Robert Gero as well as students from the university's art school to fabricate the piece. "Killing Time" was the first museum exhibition in the U.S. for Kicsiny, who is perhaps best known for representing Hungary at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and the installation feels very much the product of cross-cultural exchange. Elements of reality television ("America's Got Talent" uses a similar "X" to reject participants) and closed-circuit surveillance mix with the rigid regularity of Kicsiny's customary palette (black, white and red) and macabre symbolism, yet no simple agreement among them is struck. In keeping with the violent intimations of the title, all potential lead-ins to pastiche or political commentary are dead on arrival, making the exhibition feel like a bizarre netherworld existing beyond the familiar confines of narrative time.
This hermetic place does not even allow the infiltration of contemporary art discourse. Kicsiny's lexicon and deliberate illogic seem throwbacks to Surrealism: knives, curtains, gendered figures, the Freudian slippage between aggression and desire. The texture of cultural translation is most apparent in his use of these motifs, blending a kind of folk storytelling tradition, not with irony, formalism or conceptualism, but with something more akin to magic realism. In that sense, Kicsiny radically enacts a "frozen performance"—as his work is often described—during which one can only pause and submit to its cues. It's a massive game board poised for war, dinner or broadcast—where pawns forever mourn their manipulation by an off-camera arbiter.
THE ART OF SELF-JUSTIFICATION
by Bogdan Jacob
Balázs Kicsiny is one the most prominent Hungarian artists today. He is probably mainly renowned for his Venice Biennale pavilion from 2005, where he was chosen to represent Hungary, which was truly on of the best of that edition. But his career and oeuvre are far too complex to be reduced to this single, albeit quite spectacular endeavour, spanning more that twenty-five years of significant presence both on the Hungarian and on the international art scene.
At a first glance, the best term to describe Kicsiny’s artistic production might appear to be “installation art”. But, with him, just as an anthropomorphic shape is never simply a sculpture, in the classical meaning of the word (namely, a three-dimensional art object that is to be admired), an installation is never simply an ensemble of shapes that come together to produce meaning. Thus, his installations address the viewer in a very engaging manner, sometimes looking like frozen performances, other times like uncanny props from a theatre show of a director with a passion for surrealism. In a way, most of his major works, from Winterreise to Migrating Interpretation, from Permanent Landing to Exact Time, relate to the notion of performative utterance, in the very direct meaning of the concept. Thus, they are present and they act by the very act of their presence, they do something in the world, rather than saying something about it to the viewer. They tend to generate experience, rather than meaning.
For his first solo show in Romania, Kicsiny Balázs proposes, at Bázis from the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj, a project that reveals precisely the above mentioned characteristics of his art. Titled The Art of Self-justification, the show at Bázis touches on topics such as the relationship between signs and interdictions, the conventional character of communication and the oppressive nature of power, manifested in standardization. An immersive installation, Kicsiny’s project is at the same time an open invitation to reflection on such issues and it challenges the spectator to go beyond visual pleasure or fascination to take a glimpse at the menaces it alludes to.
FIRST U.S. MUSEUM EXHIBITION FOR ACCLAIMED HUNGARIAN ARTIST
The army, the circus, and the restaurant: three diverse institutions, each embodying distinct ideas about the nature of service. In Killing Time, Hungarian installation artist Balázs Kicsiny both investigates and conflates these institutions and their raisons d'être—to protect or kill, to entertain, and to feed—immersing viewers in fragmentary, disquieting and sometimes absurdist narratives that challenge assumptions about who is serving who, and to what purpose.
In January, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will present Killing Time, Kicsiny's newest installation and his first U.S. museum exhibition, developed while in-residence last spring with the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. As the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Visiting Artist, Kicsiny spent two months co-teaching a class on the performative aspects of contemporary practice, while also engaging students in the fabrication of components for the installation. The class was led in collaboration with Robert Gero, lecturer in the Sam Fox School, who also serves as curator for the exhibition.
Seemingly poised on the edge of violence, Killing Time is anchored by two pairs of life-sized figures. In the first, a male figure, dressed as a chef, stands with knives in hand, facing a female figure dressed as a waitress and strapped to a spinning disk. Both wear military helmets outfitted with small video cameras, their faces covered in identical checkerboard head stockings. The second pair, wearing similar headgear, are seated nearby and gaze downward at a table of video monitors. Overlooking both scenes is a large circular form, mounted high on a gallery wall, into which knives have been thrown to create a pattern of clock arms and numbers.
"These scenes taken together may evoke an unsettling sense of disorientation or unease in the viewer, since they create a fragmented narrative, a puzzle of sorts, with no fixed meanings," Gero says. "The protagonists are caught in a frozen performance, a moment of some strange, nonrational event, a dichotomy of perpetual motion and immobility.
"The title, Killing Time, alludes less to violence than to a play with the concept of time and time-consciousness," Gero adds. "Kicsiny visualizes on one hand Aristotle's connection between time and motion—that is, objective time, time as the means by which the motion of objects through space is measured. Here every moment is a process, a going-by. In this installation, Kicsiny has slowed the infinite succession to a standstill, freeing the notion of time from a subjugation to the concept of space. In doing so, he introduces another reading of 'killing time' as a form of timelessness. By stretching a present moment, these captured scenes fold time back onto itself as infinitesimal movement, not so much stillness as durational slowness."
Balázs Kicsiny: Killing Time will open with a reception for the artist from 7-9p. Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, and will remain on view through April 16. In conjunction with the exhibition, Kicsiny will lecture about his work Jan. 30 for the Sam Fox School Public Lecture Series.
FALLING OUT OF TIME: AN INTERVIEW WITH BALÁZS KICSINY
Extract from the catalogue entitled Balázs Kicsiny KILLING TIME published by Mildred Lane Art Museum Washington University in St Louis, 2012
by Robert Gero
RG. Growing up in a small mining village in rural Hungary you have said that a number of your relatives were miners, and that your father was involved in a community gallery. Can you describe this time and place. Following, how would you describe the art you were exposed to at the gallery? Is this when you began painting?
BK. I lived in a small mining town built in the 1950’s until I was 14 years old. Only my father’s relatives were miners, my father was a first generation intellectual, and never worked in a mine. My mother’s family was on old middle class rather intellectual family, Catholicism was an important aspect in their life. There was also a very strong interest in history (my mother’s sister is an academic historian) and literature.
I have to say that my parents’ different social backgrounds gave me access to very different social classes, from the proletarian environment in the country side to the influential intellectual circles in Budapest. On the other hand this special mobility also gave me the feeling of not belonging to any social class but crossing “travelling” easily between them. If I look at the social status of the artist generally, from my point of view I find it rather problematic, because I don’t think that an artist is really a profession, rather a camouflage to expressing myself freely and to avoid the pressure of socialization.
My father was a director of a culture centre in the mining town where we lived. There was an art gallery, but I was not at all interested in this. The culture centre had an art club for children and there was a very liberal and open minded art club teacher who showed us Picasso and other modernist works in reproduction. Also he taught art making in a rather conceptual way, to learn different use of materials, abstraction and composition.
Also the culture centre had a huge cinema which was much more important for me than the gallery, I found the art exhibitions rather boring. As a result of the relative liberalism of the Hungarian ruling party’s cultural policy, this cinema played, amongst other Hungarian or Soviet films the best French films, amongst them the new waves director’s (Truffaut, some Godard, but lots of adventure and film noirs. Often I could see the same film twice or even three times a day. This was visually very influential for me, however also my way of thinking was deeply affected, I gained knowledge that you can built an alternative world away from the daily life conformism under the dictatorship.
I also gained a very strong visual influence from a French comic magazine for children called: Vaillant, le journal de Pif, which my father started to collect when he was young and bought me regularly. This comic was created as an outlet of the French Communist Party and you could by this comic in Hungary. At that time I did not read French therefore the comic exercised my visual imagination and my interest in narratives in visual representation.
Another very important role in my intellectual awakening and visual taste was visiting a 1930’s modernist Bauhaus style church, along with my grandfather on my mother’s side, in the big industrial town. At that time, under communism, going to church was a rather demonstrative expression that you are against the political regime. I liked my grandfather’s religious commitment and brave behaviour and also the enigmatic function of that church in the very functional industrial world around it.
RG . I’m curious why were you not interested in the art at the gallery, when as a child you were part of the art club?
BK. I was not interested in the art because it because it was state propaganda art (less direct than the soviet version) was exhibited in the Cultural Centre’s gallery (some sort of post impressionist pseudo modernist art). In contrast the art club of the Cultural Centre (every Saturday we went there until I was fourteen) was completely different: very open minded, looking at art in a more European way.
RG. You watched a lot of films growing up, did you also watch television? What sorts of programs were on Hungarian TV?
BK. I don’t have a lot to say about Hungarian TV. I saw two things which I remember particularly, which influenced me deeply, and maybe encouraged me towards making art.
In the Hungarian TV in the late 60’s or early 70’s there was a monthly program about international theatre. On that program I saw film footage of Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, which mesmerized me because of the simple repetitive movement and music. I found it very transcendent and cathartic. The other deep memory was from the TV when I was around 14 year old. I saw the film adaptation of Goerge Semprun “Le Grand voyage”. In the film there was documentary film footage of concentration camps shortly after their liberation.
RG. Why did you go to art school instead of University given what you described as your family's intellectual status and your interest in that tradition, also because of your enthusiasm and interest in film at that time?
BK. As a child I recognized that I could express myself visually, through painting, drawing and collage). I loved that you can make art alone, not like in film, theatre or music where you have to be part of a huge team.
Although I make art I do not prioritize fine art among any other art forms. (for example I love baroque music: Bach. Handle, Purcell, or literature, Beckett, Kafka, Berhard, Sebold). I am not at all an art fan, a “carrier” artist, who is all the time looking at art around the world, trying to be updated, “cutting edge”. I think living and thinking is more interesting then consuming art.
I have always been very interested in outsider art (or art brut), in the art of people, who are not professional artist. Their work always fascinates me, and I have learnt a lot from them, for example to be free from aesthetic prejudges.
RG. Given the strong tradition of film and film theory in Hungary – as w interest in film at that time - did you consider going to film school?
BK. I never wanted to go to film school, film-making is team work, I like to work alone.
RG. One of the things that attracted me to you work was its odd sense being not of this particular time, it wasn’t contemporary as in what you call ’cutting edge’. Instead it felt like a step back in time, it could have been done in the 80’s just as easily as yesterday. Your choices of clothing, shoes and props for the installation or ’scenes’ seem to be chosen specifically to remain in this limbo. Is this what you mean by not being a “carrier” artist who is trying to be updated or “cutting edge” ?
BK. Yes, you are right. My choices of clothing and props for my scenes are very carefully decided to make the interpreter confused from which time and space these things are coming from? I think the main goal of my artwork is that: to represent time and space which is cleaned from preconception of the interpreter. If this is possible the representation has to be able to take us back to the authentic temporality.
Once I had a very important recognition of the relativity of temporality beyond the continuity of time. In 2001 I had a side specific solo show in a Victorian Collection called the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, in South of England.
I reinterpreted the paintings of the once famous but later forgotten painter, Edwin Long. In the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery I created a ‘Mirror Room’ as the subconscious of the Victorian “Long Room”. The two rooms had the same size and they were separated by a door. In my “Mirror Room” you could see the reinterpreted Long paintings in the same size as the original ones and in the same arrangement as it was in the Long Room.
Once I was standing in the threshold of the door which separates the two rooms and suddenly I ask myself of who adapted who, Edwin Long adapting Balázs Kicsiny’s paintings or Balázs Kicsiny adapting Edwin Long’s? I was thinking about this absurd idea until I felt that both of us, Long and me, fall into the unknown realm of time and space. I felt that linear time is disappearing. At that moment I thought that I was standing in a “time segment,” which is manifest in Marcel Duchamp’s work The Clock in Profile (1964. This experience made me aware that my art is about time, which is something always visible and the same time not possible to represent it as an entity. In the case of visual expression this is rather a contradiction.
Just to finish this answer with another reference to Duchamp, which for me shows well how we as an artists have to transcend time and space on which common sense is founded: “To all appearances the artist act as a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space seeks his way out to a clearing.”
RG. You have stressed in multiple conversations including your lecture at the Kemper that there has been a loss of real time and place, could you describe this place that has been lost and when this loss occurred. Following would you please describe what 'real time' is like? And finally, how would this present be different as a real time and place?
BK. I see real time as the experience of authentic time, the “Here and Now” of the individual, which was deeply affected by technology from the late 19th Century. As Walter Benjamin wrote: „The equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology”.
I think in the 21st Century the individual’s relationship with authentic time and space is lost from two main points of view: Because of the society’s traumatised collective memory which is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The fall-out from this can still be traced in central and eastern Europe. Currently in the state of late global capitalism, time and space has become a commodity. The connection between the “personal” time of the individual with the “common” Time of the society has been lost, this shift causes a sense of identity crises. As a consequence the link between the past and future is lost, personal and collective memory has no connection.
RG.. I’m interested in pursuing your notion of a more authentic temporality that has been lost. You seem to be saying that it has been lost because of technology, when was this technology free authentic time?
BK. To answer to your question I have to go back to my doctoral dissertation.
I think Time is determined by the duality: as measurable and immeasurable Time, sacred and profane Time, or cyclical and linear Time. From the 16th Century, the European Christian society, has gradually been transformed to a clock-Time directed secularised society. That time the qualitative, immeasurable, religious aspect of Time came into conflict with the momentary and measurable Time. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the individuals’ experience of Time was affected fundamentally by the technical representation of Reality. Not only is the aura of the artefact liquidated by the mechanical reproduction, but also the experience of authentic Time, the “Here and Now” is affected as well.
The avant-garde movement attempted to find connection between the mechanical Time of the modernity with the Time of the individual. But World War I unveiled the irrationality of the progress orientated Time concept and the Dada and the Surrealist movement turned against the clock directed society. These avant-garde movements aimed to open up the realm of the immeasurable Time, the subconscious, the imagination and dreams, which are important components of the “authentic temporality”.
The World War II’s traumas and the beginnings of the consumerist society marked a fundamental effect on the “authentic temporality”, as I wrote to you before, when Time became a commodity. In the second half of the 20 Century I interpret the “performative turn” in contemporary art (fluxus, happening etc) as an attempt to regain the lost authentic temporality.
RG. You say Time is determined by duality then list several dualities such as “measurable and immeasurable”, “sacred and profane”, “cyclical and linear”, “mechanical and individual”. Are there other pairs that could be included like fast and slow, spiralling and straight, folded and flat?
BK. Yes, but these dualities, like in philosophy the absolultist and relationalist interpretation of time and space, mainly refer to the “measurable and immeasurable” concept.
RG. If I’m understanding correctly, you believe that time is then a series of dualities, this would imply that time is then multiple, is that right?
BK. Yes, that is right. Even in Kafka’s diary you can read sentences about how the” two clocks” are not showing the same time: “ the inner demonic or evil clock spurs, the outside clock goes discursively by its own regular way”..I think it is a major argument in 20 Century philosophy to question the existence of subjective or objective time, just to mention here, amongst the others, Heidegger and Henri Bergson’s time concept.
RG. Is it possible that time is a relation between and of things (Kant)? Do you agree and how does this fit into your schema?
If I understand well Kant’s idea is that time and space give empirical limitation to the object. But Kant argues that “real” existence of the object is beyond time and space and beyond the human knowledge. Of course the problem is the same with representation: how you can represent something which is beyond representability, for example representing time. I like this paradox. May be this is the driving force of making art, as Klee
wrote: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible”.
RG. Following on your answer that “the components of “authentic temporality” are the realm of the immeasurable time, the subconscious, the imagination and dreams”, this sounds very much like surrealism. There seems to be a great deal of surrealism in your references i.e.: unconsciousness, dream, imagination, and irrationality including writers like Benjamin who was very influenced and wrote on surrealism. Writers and viewers have often invoked surrealism in describing your works because of the incongruous elements and objects that embrace irrational narratives, all things that are definitional surrealist. I’ve noticed a great deal of Hungarian art using surrealism as a source both historically (Szentendre group) and following, continuing today whether explicitly or implicitly. Can you speak to why is this so prominent in Hungarian art generally and then to your work specifically?
BK. I am not sure that surrealism dominates in Modern Hungarian Art. It is a much more complex issue than I can discuss in this interview... Also I have a doubt that my art is surrealist, rather than some kind of metaphysical realism. I think my works divert the meaning of things or clash opposite meanings. This is rather a hermeneutic play with the interpreter, rather than the interpreter interprets the artwork, the artwork interprets the interpreter.
Regarding this issue I would like to mention the notion of “detour” from the situationists Guy Debord. I think these sentences could be written about my art as well: “Outside of language, it is possible to use the same methods to ‘detour’ clothing, with all its strong emotional connotations. Here again we find the notion of disguise closely linked to play. Finally, when we have got to the stage of constructing situations, the ultimate goal of all our activity will be open to everyone to ‘detour’ entire situations by deliberately changing this or that determinant condition of them.”
I think surrealism, nowadays is exploited by the cultural industry and has lost it’s relevancy. The suppressed sexuality (one of the main issue of the surrealists) is not at all a taboo. Sexuality is everywhere in the highly developed consumerist society and in the cultural industry. The fetishism (other principle of the surrealists) also became an important driving force of consumption. These issues are not any more subversive in contemporary art and society. In the first half of the 20th Century the important tools for surrealists were the automatic writing, dreams, free associations for destabilizing the everyday rationality of capitalist, progress oriented society. It was not by chance that a big percentage of surrealists where members of the communist party. But these surrealist tactics were overshadowed by the Second World War and the Holocaust. These events were far beyond the wildest surrealist imaginations of the bestiality of human being. Also the idea of the communistic society was devalued by the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe.
RG. You say “every individuals’ life has a different length and different narrative. These narratives are different “authentic temporalities” You are making a connection between narrative and time, how does narrative fit into your definition of “authentic time” since it is already a representation?
BK. Maybe I have to be more precise about my interpretation of narrative. The origin of the narrative for me is the simple motion in the unknown space and time. Motion becomes action and finally that action forms a narrative. When the narrative goes beyond the scope of its own meaning, then it becomes a parable or mythology. In the case of my works and the motionless situations, where the characters are frozen, some kind of inertia has overwhelmed the participants. The state of feeling inertia is the state of “not authentic temporality”.
RG. You have claimed that your figures are “burlesque recreations obeying an enigmatic judgment” could you please expand on this claim.
My protagonists could be interpreted as motionless characters in a burlesque film still. I like the tragic-comic nature of burlesque films. My characters are also in conflict with the world around and that is why they are motionless, like Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, by realizing that they are at the wrong moment in the wrong place.
RG. You address identity not individually but generically in terms of roles and jobs for example you have dressed your statues as priests, sailors, chefs, waitress, and firemen, among others. Is this collapsing of identity to one’s job or role your way of framing of the loss of the self, a loss of individual identity?
BK. My works also could be interpreted as parables without illustrating instructive principles. I think this visual parable only becomes true if the viewer could recognizes oneself in it. For example all of us could be the “Prodigal Son”. That is why my protagonists don't have a face. Although my figures have no individuality, they obey the pressure for socialization (being priests, sailors, chefs, waitress, and firemen), to become somebody desperately, in the eye of others. Nevertheless, my figures “existence” originates from real and unreal people. That is true about Killing Time as well, I do not want to unveil the person because it does not have relevance in this cases.
RG. You have framed the main question of this exhibition as “who serves who”? Accordingly, whom then does the artist serve - the collector, the gallerist, the curator, a peer group, the spectator or themselves? Whom do you serve as an artist?
BK. My favourite Hungarian painter and writer György Román (1903-1981) called it rather “expectation from the artist” than service of the artist to the specific segments of the contemporary art industry. He wrote: “For a person who is predestined to be an artist, it is not a maximum expectation, but the minimum that where nobody else can sense anything, his or her spiritual nose can smell out the scent of the carcass”. I think this is the main service of the artist towards the whole society and anything else is coming after that.
RG. Loss and mourning play large roles thematically in your work generally and in this exhibition specifically. Can you talk about why these themes are significant to you?
BK. Loss and mourning do not refer to specific personal or collective trauma. The root cause is some kind of amnesia, when the continuity of time is broken, when the authenticity of Time is eliminated. In the case of Killing Time I would say that the characters mourn their own lost time. Of course this is a paradox: you could not mourn yourself, you mourn others, who have “fallen out of your time”. But with Killing Time the “time” itself has fallen out from the characters’ own existence. Their own time shrinks to an instant as Becket wrote in Waiting for Godot: „They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”
RG. You have said of “Killing Time” “This installation could be interpreted as a memorial to a lost reality, a frozen ritual…” Ritual is something you have referred to many times in relation to your art work both in terms of the installations as well as your paintings, can you talk about the significance of ritual to you and how important it is to your work?
BK. In the case of “Killing Time” the circus is a form of ritual, the ritual leads us from the possible to the impossible by a set of actions. In Killing Time this action could be sacrifice or same strange media cannibalism. In this work the moving image itself, the technical perception of each other, is consumed cannibalistically. This pseudo religious ritual is rather in connection with the late capitalist consumerist society’s irrationality than any other cult. Over the last 20 years I have set up site specific works in used or unused churches or synagogues all over Europe. In the context of ritual these works were neither blasphemous nor propagandistic regarding the actual religion. It was rather profane how I installed the work. For example once I placed the artwork between the chairs of the congregation instead of placing them at the altar or in the chapels. My idea was to build a bridge, using my work, between the profane and the sacred. My work was standing on the figurative threshold, where the object is neither functional nor symbolic.
RG. In Killing Time a faceless male figure (the chief) throws knifes at a bound female figure (the waitress) on a carnival spinning wheel. Over the coarse of the exhibition viewers have noted the role of gender in this work. Please comment.
BK. In the Killing Time not only the male figure is faceless but the female figure as well. I placed the female figure on the circus spinning wheel, because this is often the stereotype within the circus, I wanted people to think critically about these roles. Both of these roles are, beyond their gender, in the service of voyeurism. But in the case of Killing Time this voyeurism never fulfils satisfaction, the violence will never break out. We all, the object of the perception and subject of the perception get stuck in time, forming a unity or even solidarity with each other beyond the division of gender.
RG. Guy Debord speaks of “constructing situations” in everyday life in direct contrast to art, which for Debord, should be abandoned (this is specifically why he expels founding member Asger Jorn and others involved in SI). He writes in 1956 “that art can no longer be justified as a superior activity, or even as a compensatory activity to which one might honorably devote oneself” He continues; “It is in the advertising industry, more than in the domain of decaying aesthetic production, that one can find the best examples” (of détournement) .
Second Debord writes that one of two ”fundamental laws of détournement are the loss of importance of each detourned autonomous element — which may go so far as to completely lose its original sense” In your work the original maintains important symbolic value such as the chiefs or waitress outfits (roles and service), military helmets with cameras (surveillance, global telecommunication systems) and so on. It seems that these connotations and symbolic values are critical to the installation Killing Time. Please explain your rereading.
BK. I think the Situationist International were right about neglecting modern art as part of the capitalist system and finding more direct contact with the daily life of the society. On the other hand I do not believe that the advertising industry’s détournement is more efficient …to what… in the beginning of the 21st Century. I think this industry is much more sophisticated, complex and fast reacting then the time of 1950’s consumerism. Even the détournement, as subversive neo-avantgarde attitudes, could be part of the cultural industry system. This system is rather “détouring” contemporary art than vice versa.
When I mentioned the Situationist ‘s détournement about my work it was in the context of surrealism only. I felt that quote from the text of détournement perfectly describes what I do in my art, for example using ….‘detour’ clothing or “the stage of constructing situations”.This is very close to what I do. But how I used this quote was also a détournement! I do not completely lose the original sense of the various components of my work, rather it is possible that these components clash with each others. That is how I illuminate the original meaning, in favour of representing time and space which is free from preconception of the interpreter.
The whole text of „A User’s Guide to Détournement” is less relevant for me. I do not like it’s proletarian revolutionary propaganda language. It was written in 1957, and I think it is as outdated as surrealism in the beginning of 21st Century. In the 1950’s the class struggle was still on the stage and the Marxist concept of proletarian revolution as well. But where is the proletariat with their factories and working class consciousness in the beginning of the 21st Century? I think new class structures have emerged in the age of globalization. It is impossible to analyse it with the Marxist class struggle. It is as anachronistic, like using Russian constructivism’s visual language as a form of political art nowdays.
RG. When I asked you about Surrealism in Hungarian art, I was suggesting that there is a strong thread, not a dominance. This follows from a number of texts on Hungarian art history for example in Piotr Piotrowski In the Shadow of Yalta The Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 1945–1989 he writes “In the Szentendre context, Surrealism provided a method for engaging the uncanny, grotesque and metaphoric, rather than for making specific art-historic references, Hungarian attitudes towards Surrealism retained this form after the war. There was a generation of avant-garde painters which began to manifest a peculiarly Hungarian synthesis of new trends in which elements of Constructivism, Surrealism, and folk art merged”. Given that you studied art under (somewhat) restrictive cold war conditions, was this history made available to you?
BK. I think the idea of this “Hungarian synthesis” has very strong links with the music of Béla Bartók, which is much better known to the west, than modern Hungarian art. His music was an example of how you can be faithful to your national heritage (by reinterpreting folk music) and the same time you could be universally modern (placing yourself into the European modern music context).
The art movement in Szentendre (small town near to Budapest) was called “European School” in the Hungarian Art History. Their artistic link with the European avant-garde movement was very strong. After the Second World War the Stalinist regime of the 1950’s, censored the movement and the artists where expelled from the cultural life in Hungary.
In the 1970’s and 80’s they very rehabilitated and I saw their retrospective exhibitions in the early 80’s, when some of them were still alive. When I was in art academy they become well known for us but unfortunately none of our teachers came from that modern tradition. I like their art but I do not think that my works have a connection with this “European School”.
RG. Another follow up question; you say that with your work “rather than the interpreter interprets the artwork, the artwork interprets the interpreter”. I’m unclear how an artwork (a material object) can interpret the interpreter (the viewer) please clairify.
BK. Of course I mean that figuratively. During the time when my frozen actions are on display in the exhibition space they are inseparable from the audience, there is no stage, no cordon. They are at the mercy of the audience. This defenselessness encourages the viewer to be reflective. The beholder can look in the figures’ “face” as if looking in the mirror. Both of them interpret each other, give meaning to each other’s existence.
RG. You seem to touch on a number of political themes when speaking about your work for example you make multiple references to late capitalism, the surveillance system, the Obama administration and even racial politics “The black and white dividedness becomes charged with a social meaning in Saint Louis”. Since the Killing Time exhibition was in Saint Louis USA it makes sense that's your critical reference point. Hungarian politics seems ripe for critical comment, a shift to the far right, a new constitution that is under attack by the EU and Human Rights Watch, the economy close to bankruptcy, and xenophobic sentiment is strong. I’m curious, you have had so many exhibitions in Hungary, does the politics of Hungary appear anywhere in your work or discursively around the work when creating an exhibition there?