The three artists do not form a collective; Meaning
juxtaposes three solo exhibitions in order to explore the connections between the three artistic practices, to get them read together, and to testify their common ways of thinking.
The exhibitions of Esterházy, Forgács, and Gerhes interact like three books in a box set – not just because text-based works appear in every exhibit and all three artists import or evoke technical and literary texts in some ways, but also due to the manner in which they relate to each other. One needs that kind of enduring attention to interpret the exhibitions either separately or as a whole, opening up the layers of meaning and connecting them, that is needed for text reading as well.
The works of art presented here are new pieces made just for the exhibit. They were completed in the course of the project started in September 2014. The artists did not predetermine any concepts or topic, still – when the three exhibitions were approaching their final forms – it turned out that they all share common topical traits such as the analysis of power exercising techniques and the examination of the relationship between authority and individual. These similar characteristics allow a global lecture of the show parallel to several other possible directions of interpretation.
The most recent works of Esterházy, Forgács, and Gerhes focus on phenomena, which are in many cases linguistic in nature, such as language usage of power, propaganda, lies, artistic canons influenced or dictated from above, and the secretly functioning state security agent network. They arbitrarily select topics from different historical eras to reinterpret, thus giving guidance to the meaning-constructing mechanisms of our present.
During the past one year the three artists regularly talked about their ideas, dilemmas, working methods, and creative processes in interviews. The accompanying texts of the exhibition highlight extracts from these conversations. The curatorial method was influenced mainly by the artists’ practices and the first-hand information received from them.
Marcell Esterházy works with family materials and found archives that he appropriates and reinterprets. He has been preoccupied with the history of the Esterházy family since 2005 the events of which constitute an integral part of the Hungarian and universal history. In his 2013 exhibition compare (cf.), marking the end of an artistic period, he presented his works that focused on some arbitrarily chosen details from his own memories and the family archive.
The Shifting Meaning
exhibition is the first stage of a new creative period, in which the starting point for Esterházy remains the observations made in his own surroundings; nevertheless he stopped limiting the scope to his family. He has also altered his working method: while his primary tool of expression used to be photography, now most of his new works consist of found or created texts treated as images and interconnected by the exhibition situation itself.
The context of interpretation for his exhibition is provided by several entities: the comprehensive exhibition Meaning
, the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, the Hungarian art scene and today’s Hungary. As a result of contemporary events in this milieu, concepts like truth, propaganda, fence, state, interest, war, Russians, ending, etc. are being filled up with new connotations. Esterházy gives space to these new meanings by intentionally de-emphasizing his personal involvement in his works.
The meanings are modified by the method of presentation and also by the media. The chosen and appropriated texts and images of Esterházy appear in the forms of photographs (One Day
, Tourner la page
), an object (Cui prodest
), videos (Man Forgets
, You Know?
), installations of takeaway artworks (Propaganda
) and a neon sign commissioned from a neon expert (Liar’s Paradox
). These pieces demonstrating great diversity in the way of expression are characterized by the gradual disappearing of the visual information.
Attribution of Meaning
Similarly to his earlier practice, Péter Forgács processes private archives with his creative method again, but this time he not only explores other people’s past but also adds some of his own memories. His exhibition comprises of two distinct sections, separated in space.
In the first section he presents a video sequence he started in 1982 and finished in 2015. The work and its script is based on a Kafka letter, written on the night of January 8, 1913, to the writer’s love, Felice Bauer - this is where the title comes from: I Can Laugh Too
The sequence is characterized by a disturbing ambiguity that on the one hand the artist intends to create images for a greater public and on the other hand he discloses a recording that captures intimate family moments. We can see family members, mothers, children, friends on the screen; their unconstrained behavior stems from their trust towards the cameraman and vice versa.
In the second section, titled Mrs. P and Her Sons
, Forgács processes an archive, unfolding a family story with a mother figure in the center. Mrs. P worked as a III/I intelligence agent in Hungary between 1975 and 1985 and concealed that from her children. The installation filling the whole room helps us track the life events of this artist family in two parallel ways: 1) through the supervising officers’ evaluation reports and Mrs. P’s own reports, and 2) through her son’s diary entries, photo archive of almost 400 images, and other documents of his related to the family and his artistic activities.
András Forgách delineated the portrait of Mrs. P in his new book which constitutes also an integral part of the exhibition. The installation, together with Forgách’s book, encompasses ten years in total, and through the rearrangement of the private archives of the P family, helps us picture as to how everyday life was determined by the authoritative practices of the Kádár era.
Meaning Under Surveillance
While in Neue Ordnung
, the previous exhibition of Gábor Gerhes, he presented imaginary secret societies, now he examines the mechanisms of openly functioning oppressive systems of power. His observations are focused on the communication processes between different regimes and the individuals under their governance.
Language, i.e., the basic tool of information exchange, is both topic and medium for Gerhes. In this exhibition he turns towards words with a linguist’s curiosity and questions and with an attitude inspired by Victor Klemperer’s book about the language of the Third Reich.
These latest text-based works of Gerhes present elevated ideas that are so often (ab)used and recycled by different regimes. Motherland. Beauty, strength, diligence, readiness, endurance, loyalty etc. – Gerhes rips these words out of their contexts and places them into the gallery space – that is, into an extraordinary position of attention, and he does not stop there.
Since these creations have both the aspect of a conceptual artwork and that of an object or an installation, it is not only the mere texts inserted into the artistic context that convey the message but also the ways and the media of representation. The process of (text) interpretation is deliberately distracted and redirected by the typographic design, the material qualities, and the installation solutions of Gerhes.
Gerhes refers also to another important element of the Third Reich’s communication strategy in his video work, namely as to how the art exhibitions created for propaganda purposes reveal the guiding principles of the fine arts policy in national socialist Germany. His work paraphrasing the triptych of Adolf Ziegler, President of the Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts and Hitler’s favorite painter, highlights the artistic qualities of the conservative genre painter who was responsible for the general perception of other artists whether they were supported, disapproved or dishonored by the government; and brings the dictator’s personal taste into the scope of analysis as well.
Among the non-text-based objects presented at the exhibition there are cross-like mahogany structures on the way of transformation only suggesting their virtual future forms. The works examine the relationship between the systems of power and the Church the institutions of which are well known of their high crowd-motivating capabilities. The Herend porcelain plate from 1964 is another example for the textless works. It bears a portrait of Gerhes as a child and its particular story introduces us to the half-finished history of communication between the cadres and their inferiors in the Kádár era.