„…but rather something different”

Chat with Anita Sárosi


You often disappear for some time, to come up with something new again…

Yes, I am not the type of artist who pours out artworks. I only work when I have something to say. The topics may vary. What really counts is that I have a problem or a situation that intrigues or seizes me, and doesn’t let me go. Usually, it takes an indefinite span of time, a long period of preparation to articulate the process of thinking, reconsideration and experimentation – both in the theoretical and the practical sense – plus the time spent obtaining the necessary tools. (Actually, I had had no technological pool from which to draw up until last year. Before that, I had always been dependent on some institutional background in creating electronic artworks. Now I have a computer and a camera.) In certain cases, such as the Shop Window, the working process also included the organisation of the venues (the shop window and the server). When everything comes together, then the realisation itself can begin. The Shop Window is a special case, as it was an ambitious undertaking, involving the creation of installations for 12 shop windows over a year, as well as the creation of 12 web materials for each of the shop windows, all of them functioning independently. It required a lot of work and energy. At the same time, it has turned out to be the most fruitful period of work for me so far.

The Shop Window CD-ROM has come out, which most certainly means the closure of the Shop Window project.

The Shop Window Gallery functioned for two and a half years, within which our collaborative artwork with Beatrix Szörényi lasted for precisely twelve months. Each month one of us made a new shop window, with a new addition to the web site in each case. When we started the project, we were unable to foresee how long it would last, as we were already aware that this shop, together with its shop window, would be sold. Every 2 or 3 months, our agreement had to be renegotiated with the proprietor so that we could continue to use the shop window. Seeing that we had managed to complete our one-year project, and we still had use of the window, we started operating it as a gallery. We provided everybody with the opportunity to make an exhibition, without any constrictions or technical limitations, and of course, without any financial support. The whole project, which ran for two and a half years, was made possible without any outside support.

What I found interesting, however, was that none of the exhibitors took advantage of the existing web site to freely do whatever they (would have) wanted to do, that is, to use another type of window as well.

Did your own series of exhibitions also have some continuity in terms of its content? I mean, did you have a preliminary concept to which the exhibitions related, or was it the venue itself that was the core concept?

We had set themes for ourselves according to the given season; for example, adjusting them to the light and shade ratio of the month and to the activities and topics that could be associated with it. We did not conceive this as a form of restriction, but rather as a point of departure. In the meantime, however, we noticed that it was as if we were furnishing different rooms in the shop window. In a spontaneous way, it came about as if we had opened up different rooms of a house toward the street; letting passers-by in the street have a glance into the living spaces of non-existent dwellers. After we became aware of it, we started to deliberately create newer and newer rooms, which with the exception of the bathroom, showed people around in the house from the kitchen to the garage. We even constructed a bar in the shop window, which opened from the front of the house. The floor plan of the house we “constructed”, served as a site map to the web site, from where you could directly access the pages belonging to the given rooms.

What sort of audience did the shop window attract, or rather, what feedback did you receive?

Right form the very start we were excited about the sort of reactions we would get from people in the street. We even put them up on the web site. People shared their opinions with us personally and by e-mail. The URL of the project was also placed in the shop window. Obviously, the most direct responses came from the residents of the house, and actually only few of them were positive reactions; they were mostly irritated by it all. They did not appreciate strangers standing in front of their house and our incessant constructing, coming and going. It was much better for them when there was nothing there at all, that is, when the shop window had been empty for almost eleven years. Not to mention that the art they were offered was not the sort of aesthetising and easily understandable art form that they could enjoy. The dialogues expressing their views can be read on the Shop Window web site. We, however, received a lot of positive feedback from the people who just happened to be passing by. Somebody living in the house opposite the shop window was always checking to see whether there was an opening, and on such occasions he dropped in, presenting us with a bottle of champagne.

Did the openings attract a coincidental or a regular audience?

On each occasion within our own project, we shifted the time of the openings by one or two hours, trying to follow the full cycle of a day, in the same way as the project followed the seasons of the year. Thus, sometimes we opened the exhibition at daybreak, and at other times at night. If it was 4 o ’clock in the morning, we offered the visitors coffee with cognac. With regards to the people who came to the openings, we noticed that each time the attendance grew by one or two people. The whole project in its continuum, however, was primarily followed by a core audience comprising of mostly friends and acquaintances.

What is happening with the shop window now?

The same as before our project: nothing. It’s once again empty.

After they had sold it, we could not continue the project. We could have only carried on the project if we had completely placed ourselves at the new proprietor’s disposal – for free – whenever he wanted us to make different installations for their new program. By a strange coincidence, on the same day that the Budapest Box exhibition opened at the Ludwig Museum, the shop’s new proprietor told us that we could no longer use the shop window. On the very day that we entered the environment of institutionalised art, we lost the venue on the basis of which we were invited to participate in the Ludwig Museum’s exhibition. We felt that somehow this had brought a perfect completion to our project. It has ended, but there are still a lot of other venues in the city that others can use.

How does the Shop Window project relate to your previous works?

It certainly fitted into what I had done before, as it contained a lot of video materials. I had also made a few video installations before. I have a certain inclination toward manual work, perhaps since my secondary school years, where my art teacher was a sculptor, and I really enjoyed modelling. If I had not been admitted to the University of Arts and Crafts, then perhaps I would have stayed at the Faculty of Sculpture in my fifth year… I don’t deal with the means and tools separately. I simply regard video as the most fitting form for certain things. I mix different techniques. Perhaps this is the very reason why my works do not really reveal that they have been created by the same person. I don’t want to develop a single style to conform to, as if to hang everything on the same peg. When we worked on the Shop Window, we had a given space and location to deal with.

Avatar, the subject of your present exhibition, may be termed anything but palpable, in the sense that it has little to do with physical, material qualities. In addition, I think, it seems to be a solitary piece of work, as far as the medium is considered.

It is not unprecedented in my work. My piece, ViewPoint, was also a solitary piece in the sense that I created it on my own. I could not finish it with the actor I had started it with, but I simply couldn’t let it go. The idea had already been in my mind for seven years. All right, I thought, if there was nobody else, then I would also be the performer in it. One can always be at one’s own disposal.

How did you start dealing with virtual bodies?

I had a fundamental motive originating from my personal dissatisfaction with virtual bodies. When I had first entered virtual space with an avatar that you can choose from the offered panels, I was completely shocked to realise how flat the participants’ imagination was in this virtual parlour game. What a boring place cyber-town was! Everybody had a human-like form, with the only difference between men and woman being the size of their breasts. Also, moving about in a space that could offer so many different possibilities of doing things, those virtual bodies were merely repeating the same actions that people already do in their everyday lives.

What we can see now is how the body is created, but it stops there, taking no further steps toward virtual life forms…

Yes, what you can see at the exhibition is the preparation and the first steps of the avatar being rendered visible. I am planning to continue it, but for the time being, I haven’t found the exact mode of realising it. It won’t be a film, that is for certain, but rather something different. It will be a new project, to which this one serves as an introduction. I have to find programmers and experts of artificial intelligence, and I don’t know enough yet so as to conceive how I can realise what I would like to achieve – but this is often the case with me.

I started to build Avatar approximately two years ago, without knowing what it would turn out to be. At that time I was only thinking of a VR avatar, and it only came later that I thought of bringing myself into the material. I was interested in the potential contents of the avatar as stemming from the original meaning of the word, and in the relationship between the VR avatar’s superficiality or inner emptiness, and the original notion of embodiment. That is, I concerned myself with the problem of personification. Parallel to dealing with VR, but quite independent of it, I started collecting various types of medical images of myself. First I received a heat image and an impression image of my soles. The camera is beneath the sheet of glass on which you stand. It is this image that I took. Then I realised that from the many images of different parts of my body, taken and kept in various locations in the country, I could reconstruct myself.

It is quite clear that doctors make these images to find the source of your ailment, and of course, people dislike seeing maladies. Thus, I would like to point out for the sake of these people that the artwork does not include images of maladies, but only those of healthy body parts. Anyway, this was a détour. What I really want to say is that when you have these types of check-ups, sometimes you get the feeling that you have just taken your body along, out of your sense of duty, and that you yourself are actually not there. For those who are lucky enough not to have experienced this, I could compare this strange feeling to that of when you are completely exhausted, but you go on and on, and you can’t even imagine how you are still able to move, you just put one foot in front of the other, as if your feet had a life of their own. Then came a few more examinations, and in two years’ time the images and experiences became interrelated with the theme of the avatar, and I got an inner impression of the relationship that exists between the human consciousness and the body. That is what this film is about.

As the film illustrates, your relationship with your own body seems to be rather distant.

This is fundamentally a part of the examination images. When you see such images of yourself, which are, I think, beautiful, you also feel that they are somehow alien to you. If you wish to compare and confront the structure of the human body with the concept of the avatar, you simply must take this stance. But I would not like to force my attitude on anybody; that is to say, my creation might appear to others to be quite different from my original conception.

Yes, the artwork does not belong to the creator alone; as we all know, the recipient is free to disregard the artist’s intentions.

I would not really like to define it any further. Earlier, for instance, in my work Map, I wanted to make my train of thought that had led to the film’s creation explicit. And from the responses I got, I think, I had succeeded in doing so. Later, I concentrated on the impressions and did not wish to guide the viewers within my own conceptual structures. In an earlier version of Avatar, I would have made more clear what I considered important, namely that it was not the visualisation that played the key role, but that which was behind it. If you can simultaneously see the physical body, its image, and the way the avatar is taking shape, then the relationships between them become clearer to perceive. In this linear version, where we can first see the structure put together from the bodily images, then its transformation into another layer, and ultimately into the virtual space, the narrative quality becomes stronger. It doesn’t bother me that it has turned out this way. During the process of creation, some alterations often occur, and anyway, what I have originally planned may not always be the best solution. It can freely move within certain limits.

Translation: Andrea Szekeres