|interview | archive | all authors|
Without a Script
Maria Marcos: Retrospective shows of living artists are often burdened with the pathos of over-explanation permeated by the narcissistic nostalgia of retrospection and re-examination, or, to the contrary, by its elusion. An example for the latter endeavour was Gianni Mottiís retrospective in 2004, a single empty labyrinth in which the guards were relating anecdotes to the spectators about the artist and his works. Your current exhibition cannot be associated with either type. Is it even retrospective? What does showing your videos in this fashion mean to you?
Szacsva y PŠl: Indeed, Ďretrospectiveí was intended to be more of a pragmatic than a pathetic label. But this is precisely the point: it was not the exhibition that I intended as the main statement. Instead, I found in it a suitable form of presentation for the works. I know, this is disappointingly practical... However, if one thinks about it, video works generally carve out quite closed structures for themselves from the representational theatre of art. In my case they are to be considered even more isolated than usual. (I am referring to Happy Friday or Another Finger Exercise, but it is just as valid for the others: they have been engendered by dissociated, random events as opposed to representing the stages of a consciously projected artistic strategy.) They are simply independent; they donít depend on one another. They are just lined up and thatís it.
MM: All works exhibited in Pixel Gallery are also available online. In a technical sense, (almost) the same can be seen in two completely different spaces. How do you relate to this duality, and to what extent do you see it fit that your videos should appear in an exhibition context?
SZyP: The exhibition form and the online archive give rise to considerably different discourses. Even if its spatial structure uniformizes the relationship among the videos to this extent (the videos are displayed at the exhibition by identical screens placed at uniform intervals), the exhibition can by all means be considered a kind of singular statement. Online appearance (in this form) doesnít count as a special event or statement, and as such, will not be stumbled upon by anyone, except for those who are directed there by me. Owing to its title, Another Finger Exercise is often mistaken for a video guitar lesson, and the surfers navigate away in frustration once they discover that it features tapping instead of twanging. Of course, I donít mean to say that such encounters are of no interest, for, whatever the form, the video content is still displayed publicly. All in all, the exhibition frameworkís added meaning - as well as the almost complete lack of it online - is considerable.
MM: The online form is rendered just as uniform by YouTubeís interface, and some artists consider their appearance in this medium an autonomous statement that reflects precisely on video artís current paradigm shift by approximating the "popular" use of this medium. Other artists, on the contrary, respond to the same phenomenon by expanding the cinematic possibilities of the video technique. Is this decision lingual or conceptual in your case? Does the spatial frame of the show mark the boundaries of the discourse maintained by traditional art institutions?
SZyP: I donít disagree that there are such tendencies in my artistic approach (autonomous statement in a popular register on the one hand, and experimentation with cinematic language on the other). Iíd rather say that it is difficult for these tendencies to assert themselves nowadays, neither in terms of the advancement of art history, nor as success-acrobatic attempts. I think that nowadays the mutual reflection or dialogue between artists and theoreticians has not been as successful lately as it was - we would like to believe - in the 60s and 70s Europe. The reason is that the exhibition commissioners who have since gained crucial power - and most of whom are also theoretically educated - interpret, rank and classify the works from all kinds of other aspects than historians and the rest of the theoreticians do. I think that there is a growing bustle and chaos arising from the competition between representatives of the two different approaches (active, interventionist, initiative - in other words, curatorial on the one hand; and reflexive, classifying, dating - in other words, posteriorly evaluative and therefore critical and historical on the other). To put it simply, the artist is now faced with a scene that is not just descriptive and evaluative, but also enriched by a prescriptive and initiative theoretical environment, to which, I think, it is impossible to reflect "consistently". (Nowadays the logic of arranging exhibitions urges the primacy of moral content, while posterior reflection, the historical view reasonably gives precedence to innovation on the level of artistic language.)
I would like to emphasize that notwithstanding, artistic language is very important to me, even if I donít give a lot of thought to classifying and categorizing myself on an artistic and professional level. It just doesnít make sense to me to carry through an artistic program with the stubbornness of a mule while communicating with an environment which - owing to the chaos mentioned above - reacts in an overly complicated and even contradictory manner.
In response to the second half of your question: it needs to be declared that, naturally, I donít equate the frame of my exhibition with either the physical framework of the exhibition space or the discourse upheld by art institutions. Of course they do endeavour to put it into a framework, but, as apparent from what Iíve said, without complete success. When I called the exhibition a framework before, I was referring to it as the territory of a social event where people with similar interests and affinities: artists, art-related theoreticians and aficionados get together and exchange ideas, etc. There isnít too much professional coherence in the workings of this enthusiastic party nowadays. So, to sum up, I think that an exhibition reinforces the meaning of the exhibited works not by constituting a strictly professional (theoretical or institutional) frame, but rather by having the nature of a social event.
MM: There is more than one piece at the exhibition that is based on private, everyday recordings: tourist videos, images of family holidays, everyday situations on the street recorded with amateur methods. Videos that would have once borne the attribute Ďhomeí, and are identified today more as Ďvernacularí. Tom Sherman writes about the semantic inflation of the notion of video in a 2005 text while pointing out that the shocking spread of the technology has made it the "the peoplesí medium". This phenomenon - he writes - cannot be ignored by video artists, and they have to make an important decision whether they wish to use it as practice, tool, or medium. Which of these three aspects is the most important in your case?
SZyP: As apparent from the exhibition, I equally employ all three modes. Actually, the reason the exhibitionís subtitle is video retrospective is that I ended up displaying works created at very different times, with different motives and accordingly different methods and approaches, all in the same space. The single common denominator of these works is that they are all called video. So it is obvious that I use video in various ways, but this doesnít worry me. What does, in fact, is if I use the medium in the same manner twice. Of course, one might ask: what keeps the whole bunch together then? I donít know. But I feel there is something common in all my works... at least as much as I intend.
MM: Would you name some of your earlier and current goals? How and why was the earliest and the latest piece made? What has changed in between?
SZyP: I have no specific goals. These works are made with humbler ambitions. Generally I deal with themes from real life. I donít go looking for subjects I would consider important. Of course, then, one could say I always just react. Reaction instead of action as good old Beuys would say... Well, in this spirit, almost every piece was made for different reasons, and something always happened in between. Sometimes several years passed and the world changed a lot in the meantime. But I think it would take ages to recount all this at length...
MM: About action and reaction: you once said that the majority of these works have been conceived as a response; that you intended to return the balls thrown at you, as in a game of table tennis - reacting while making sure you keep a certain distance. From what, and why?
SZyP: Well, above all I meant a little critical distance... even if not exactly the same way as philosophers. Although, it is often said in this regard that the critic somewhat identifies with the object of his criticism; this is even more characteristic in the case of artists. Identification, however - especially if it is partial - is not the same as concordance. Sometimes it is important to try and see things from the viewpoint of the negative hero, while retaining the option of our own approach all the same. Then again, we donít always need to identify with whom we agree with. This is an issue that artists relate to in rather different ways. So, on the one hand, there is our desire for solidarity or just the feeling of responsibility regarding the matters that we have gotten closely involved with for some reason. This motivates us to approximate. On the other hand, the critical position distances us somehow. Criticism is more rational than solidarity. I usually reproach myself for staying in a critical distance rather than being more personal and sensitive.
MM: Your video Pericycle, which received a prize in Pasadena in 2008, is featured in the exhibition. The three-minute piece is a morphed slideshow of photos from the third world, found on the internet, all of them displaying enormous heaps of cargo amassed surreally high on top of various modes of transportation, moved by identifiably poor people in identifiably poor environments. Is this work a compassionate statement regarding the impact of colonialism, or rather the critique of entrepreneurial spirit?
SZyP: Both. At least by my intention. Obviously, someone will decide to bear such enormous load on his shoulders or pack it on his manually driven or pedalled vehicle only under the pressure of inhumane exigency. Pericycle is a peculiar memento of these cases. The fascination surrounding these inventive achievements, however, occasionally yields to the idea that competition, that is, the quest for advantage, may well be the inception of greed, the dark side of entrepreneurial spirit.
MM: Many of your videos are characterized by a sort of conscious non-consciousness. Sontag writes about the photographers of the 70s and 80s that they have become sceptical about the commonplaces of modernist thinking, which presumed that the final picture should already be present in the photographers mind at the point of taking it. "Photography as knowledge is succeeded by photography as photography."(1) Do you perceive something similar in your own intentionally non-conscious approach, or it is something completely different?
SZyP: I donít work by a playbook. I have always tried to avoid that, whatever medium I was experimenting with. When I worked with photography, I tried to record specifically banal images. The actual creative moment came afterwards, when I was walking around with a slide projector casting thousands of images on the objects of a three-dimensional environment serving as an experimental screen. Then I selected a single moment when the projected image formed an unexpectedly interesting assemblage with the image of the group of objects it had been projected onto. I took a photo of this, and that is how the "artwork" was born. The "unexpected" had a major role in this method. If the end product didnít give the impression that it had been brought to life by an unexpected coincidence, I dismissed it. Sometimes I do the same with video; I turn on the camera in the midst of a street hassle, and come what may... Of course the artistís statement is inherent in the final form of the work, which is the result of very much conscious decisions. The fewer of these there are the more weight each one carries. There are a considerable number of elements in all my works, which, thanks to the automatic recording ability of the device, remain and are transferred into the artistic discourse in their raw form. So these pieces are not especially studio works. I would say Iím creating them together with the rest of the players of the surrounding reality. This work is incompatible with the paradigm of laboratory (formalist) art just as much as it resists instrumentalization. Perhaps I am a latent Fluxman?
1 S. Sontag: On Photography, Penguin Classics 2002, p 117
2. April 2010.