19. October 2007. - 13. January 2008.
Politics of effect
The Remake of Remake
Remake1 is considered the work of Csaba Nemes artist by public opinion – understandably yet erroneously. The series of ten videos is unmistakably the result of his initiative and organising work. Nevertheless, it is not just one piece, but an entire project, in which Csaba Nemes carried the role of animator, photographer, acting character, and most important of all: director.2
Several news items, interviews and critiques were published about the popular project, due, on the one hand, to its theme, and to the discordant and debated decision of the jury on the other, as a result of which a different work was selected for show at the Hungarian Pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennial.
Remake is considered a political work by public opinion – understandably yet erroneously. The reason is, on the one hand, that the theme (the riots of October 2006) cannot be interpreted as an exclusively political event. All the more so, because it was the result of a much more complex social interaction, which was a medley of passions and frustrations. These arose from rooters’ romanticism, from the contradictions of the public interpretation of history, from revisionist nostalgia and various other collective and psychological factors within the scenery of the contradiction-laden media ritual of the commemoration of a revolution. On the other hand, a work is rendered political by its position, its social embeddedness and its effects on political thinking, and not by its theme. Therefore, the extent to which Remake is political is in the least questionable: its position is kept hidden and it uses a format that, in the safe-zone of the gallery context, musealises the event it builds on instead of analysing it.
The intention of Csaba Nemes and his associates to react quickly and immediately to an event of daily politics leads to shaky ground. All the more so because when viewing the series as a whole, it appears as though its creation had mainly been motivated by the idea of rapid response to current affairs. This is the reason why the role of interpretation has become secondary. The latter is quite difficult anyway: the public debates of the past years have made it clear that the various interpretations of the previous year’s events, let alone those of fifty years ago, might well be contradictory. There is nothing wrong with the point of departure (not expressed specifically in the work, but often referred to), namely that the project reflect not on the event itself but on its media representation. It does not, however, allow for shunning the act of interpretation, since today’s spaces of politics and media overlap to such an extent that it has become impossible to treat one without mentioning the other.
Three substantial factors need to be taken into consideration in interpreting this work: the gesture of replay/re-enactment, its cooperative character and the application of animation as a genre.
We then have an artist assuming the role of director, an act not infrequent in contemporary art: several visual artists from Matthew Barney through Francesco Vezolli have assumed this sphere of activity. What is conspicuous in the case of Remake, however, is the eclectic diversity of the ten video animations with regard not only to standpoint and dramaturgical character, but also to stylistic features and genre. Let us ignore the issue of how legitimately the ten roughly one-minute animations (each involving several characters and hours of work, yet occasionally based on simple effects) claim to be viewed as a single production. Instead, let us ponder over the reason why the director did not manage to keep the production unified, to synthesize the stylistic approaches of the five co-authors.
The multifarious nature of the works, ranging from gestural manipulation by effects (Magyarósi: Status Report) through an aestheticizing graphical approach (Huber: Barricade), is strengthened by the mixing of positions ironically grotesque (Kupcsik: Túrórudi) through almost resigned (Nemes: The Tank Starts Off); documentarist distance with a hint of irony (Erdélyi: Freedom Square) through poetical fiction (Kupcsik: Dunno); the simulacrum of popular hip-hop music videos through the matter-of-fact talk-show remix (Magyarósi: Combino Song and If You Were a Revolutionary…). While encountering sensitive stories, elegant graphical solutions, witty and funny lyrics and appealing music, we are faced with a compilation of pieces lacking cohesion notwithstanding the form, the use of which seems forced sometimes, and can only be considered animation insofar as a photographic print manipulated in Photoshop can be called a copper engraving. Some of the ten pieces included in the work belong in the genre of manipulation with effects rather than that of animation in the classical sense.
Remake and re-enactment, the recontextualisation of historical events through re-creation, is a widely known and popular practice 3 . Even so, its interpretation is inseparable from the conflict of the ethical and the aesthetical system of views emerging in art criticism from the early nineties 4. The socio-political artistic endeavours of the past decade have been characterised by determined radicalism as regards theme as well as format. This fundamentally queries the use of traditional forms for the treatment of political content. It is not by chance that the terminology of interpretation for such types of works generally includes the term ‘social turn’, which turn has suspended the traditionally unequivocal nature of the customary thematisation of politics and attempts instead to reposition it in an ethical-aesthetical frame of reference. The present case lacks any trace of such an attempt, and what is more, maintains an admittedly aesthetical approach instead, as it turns out from the exindex-interview made with the artist in March 5. This undertaking is, however, quite contradictory, since during the course of the same interview the author wishes to distinguish his own position from the the aestheticizing trend of the Hungarian theory of art 6, rightly disputing the premise that an artistic imprint of aesthetical approach would be a genuine document of the age. At the same time, the 16:9 aspect ratio which is, albeit fancy, not the classical format of media coverage and therefore indicates an aestheticizing intention. The “sudden, rapid and direct reaction” would assume a smaller degree of detachment and a more concrete definition of the relation between the ethical and the aesthetical. Perhaps the method of re-enactment would have been more suitable for this than the strategy of remake.
All things considered, the technique of remake is still adequate, as the perplexingly bizarre nature of the evoked event lay not in the aggressiveness of the grotesque revolutionary romanticism, but exactly in that peculiarly incidental yet dramatic interference that made use of the ritual and props of the anniversary, in a wider context making use of the image of the revolution. So the event itself was an absurd remake, a dramatic exercise broadcast live. Compared with its immanent force, what the authors did was re-enact and retake the events with the multiple repetition of the act of remake, as well as retell them with the help of transforming the medium. The cumulation of transpositions served to detach work from theme, but its unjustified multiplication produced a difficult situation: the gesture of detachment is immanent in re-enactment and retake, a new, medial transformation of which (their transposition into video animation) rendered the – already questionable – detachment redundant.
While the autonomy of any work presupposes a certain distance, its function is to detach the work of art from the event it alludes to in order to produce a distant perspective for overview and interpretation. This is what generates awareness of the event as public and mediated image, and not the neutral distance created between the event and its interpretation. The latter’s grotesque irony, in turn, gives rise to doubts as to what it was that the work wished to reflect on: the event itself or indeed its media image; whether it identifies its theme as socio-political or media event. These two can hardly be treated separately, but this is exactly how the role of artistic remake and re-enactment strategies may be fulfilled. In Inke Arns’s words: “Re-enactments are artistic interrogations of media images that try to scrutinise the reality of the images, while at the same time pointing towards the fact that collective memory is essentially mediated memory.” 7
Remake, unfortunately, does not lead us closer to this realization; instead, it wraps a further coat of popular and museal aesthetic around that mediated and exposed public memory which is called history.
3 See Jeremy Delle's: The Battle of Orgreave. Recently in Kunstwerke Berlin an exhibition has opened presenting similar practices:http://www.kw-berlin.de/english/program_History_Will_Repeat_Itself.htm
6 "I think a view of art has developed in Hungary which thinks more in the long term. We prefer to create work that is solid more in an aesthetical sense; artwork which will retain its qualities and can remain genuine for centuries, or which addresses the audience through various transpositions." Ibid.
“Re-enactments are artistic interrogations of media images that try to scrutinise the reality of the images, while at the same time pointing towards the fact that collective memory is essentially mediated memory.”