The art of Tamás Szentjóby is built around the concept that "art is what is forbidden" and it is from this his call "Be forbidden!" originates as an (auto)-therapy shaking the bases of drowsy lifestyles and encouraging to reach out for higher and higher levels of consciousness by means of permanence. This attitude bears similarities with the mentality of Fluxus as well as deriving from his own poetic practice (originally in the forms of happenings and actions) on a conceptual level becoming "tangible" in running-tracks leading towards unknown directions and an art that was composed of diverse and yet parallel activities. An overview of the latter was presented to the public in 1975 as the first and (so far) last independent (collective) exhibition. His film the "Centaur" was made in the same year. ("The content: Tamás Szentjóby, first using the medium of film by means of dubbing puts his own sentences on the lips of other people" - Gergely Molnár), which has never been publicly shown so far. "This centaur-medium is a superb medium! I love it. I'm talking about Tamás Szentjóby's film the 'Centaur'. To put it briefly: the 'Centaur' is the best film ever made in Hungary . The fact that it was made there is significant because the film is actually about it. And, oddly enough, it is not a disadvantage to it. And "ever" means that knowing the facts it is absolutely impossible that even one similarly credible film could be made within the same conditions.".. (Gergely Molnár: Letter to Tamás Szentjóby. Magyar Műhely 15 Dec., 1978. op. cit.): "The centaur is a good patriot. His psychological things fit to a citizen. He is a rebel, because he is an artist, just like anybody else. He hates oppression because he is a good student. And he uses the law, since he is not an aristocrat but the people. He is not an outsider; he fits. The people of centaurs love the system, which educates everyone to be the enemy of the other: i.e. individual and autocratic. This opens a wide space for the rebel, which fits any individual interests. Here is a state that resembles the image it had created of itself, a fictitious reality, centaur. A factory that is exactly like its workers. Where is the contradiction here? There isn't." Szentjóby turns the world reversed from the top backwards onto the reverse again - due to its self-motion, which he makes only palpable in his work. The observation of new qualities, a future-orientation in connection with denial, the problem of crime (see: Bűntetésmegelőző autotereapia [Crime-preventive Autotherapy]), by linking the tensions generated by the extremities of material presence and actual mental orientation he permanently creates a "shortcut" in the circles of "normal operation". Since 1976 he has lived and worked in Geneva (Projects and activities: IPUT - International Parallel Union of Telecommunication; International Gray Cross: 1984. etc.)
"One loses control. It is obvious that the whole thing is based on a fundamental thing that we still don't understand." This quote from Schrödinger I took from an extract that Miklós Erdély used for a work (made for a publication called dokumentum 69/70 ) and not only to illustrate that the central principle of Erdély's work represented the possible links between a scientific and artistic perspective (as well as the different methods of cognition or the various disciplines of approaching the world-essence) but also to give direction to activities by means of the words "we don't understand yet". Erdély put the emphasis on the "un-known", the uncertain and doubt - in the classical sense (c.f. Socrates). The attribute of "classical" is characteristic of his work in general (even if this might sound surprising at fist). Both in his art and thinking, morals and humanity are central issues. And that is why his writing and lectures have a surprising, shocking and even dramatic effect: his mentality free of illusions or the humble admittance of not knowing something (neither in the sense of the Judeo-Christian, classical or renaissance-humanist tradition) are not typical or "popular" attitudes today. In the present study I have no chance to analyze the conceptual system forming the basis of these statements (such as I do not give a general analysis of the work of other artists either), thus I will try to describe its characteristics through a piece. (Here are some concepts he was concerned with: montage-theory and connected with this: condition-communication and the principle of meaning extinction, the problem of time, identification and repetition theory, the problem of the copy and the original, the cognitive functions of art, the aesthetic relations of scientific thinking, interdisciplinarism). The piece I have referred to is "Az ember nem tökéletes" ["No one is perfect"], which is a montage-series composed of four separate images; it uses the experiences and formal achievements of Concept but also steps beyond them. The title is a quote from Jaspers that is inscribed on the first image: "There can be no ideal for man, since man is not perfect." I claim that it bears the signs of Concept, because the compositional elements which it is composed of are partly of conceptual origin: e.g. the text, photograph, found objects (sheets of paper) and they step beyond Concept because its realization shows visual and sensual attributes.
The (mental) essence of the problem is revealed in the text: it concerns the mutual reference of the ideal as the level of perfection, to man as the "imperfect" creature. The conflict derives from this. This statement was made by means of human terms - and at the same time it refers to a transcendental (substantial) truth: it is tragic and yet attractive; it seems true but it cannot be true or untrue - it is a hidden paradox. The point is that such a statement can be made and this is truly astonishing (which equally refers to the piece itself): art is possible, because the work represents the impossible being the substance of humanity in a way that in this relation something "perfect" is created - and especially because by art we always mean something similar. What is the meaning that something that perfectly reveals its imperfection arrives at the idea that denies the possibility of an "idea" - and in what conditions is it possible? The point is in comparison/relation, and according to Erdély, in duplication and repetition, which, on the other hand also causes a decrease in substantial existence; such is the effect of photography, carbon paper and factory production. The concept of identification, however, is attached to permanence, the history of a person or object and self-identity. The images of the montage-series show elements that are self-identical and partly repeated: the phrase (being also the title of the piece) is multiplied by carbon, the blackness of the photo-paper is related to that of the carbon such as the different hues of blue and brown are related to each other as well as to the different elements of the images. The relationships are created not on a formal level but rather on a mental one: the torn piece of paper that holds the Japers quote, the normal perforations of the slide, the details cropped from the photographs of the slide-copy: all serve to arrest the single elements, which then form a different relationship with the other elements. The accidental split of the film, its regular perforation and the incidental way of cutting (because it was cut straight) have altogether crucial importance. The photograph of the medium and the materialized spiritual image mentally refers to the fixation of the TV-image on photo-paper; in the first case the photograph is a document of the event, it is the transcendental substance itself (ectoplasm) in the second. The primary connection still derives from the decay connoted by the color of brown: the reproduction is a vague reference to the ephemeral and ideal original piece and yet the materialistic realization (together with all the possibilities of the accidental) is the only chance for capturing it.
The "price" of the imperfect copy is an unavoidable decay. Human desire for the ideal (its origin, destination and supposed perfection) and to recognize the substance of our own selves leads us rather to the barriers of our existence; proceeding forward in time through the phases of an increasing absence of knowledge, we are confronted with our own "decay" and the palpable results as well as flashes of the substantial and momentary illuminations, reveal the final destiny of fate being unavoidable and a reality that is identical with primordial times. The time in between is, in fact, an experiment to communicate with this transcendental quality - with only a few tools and methods. The last piece of the series is the material version of these modes and an evidence of the tragedy of communication: these are the qualities of black. The blackness of the "burnt" photo-paper turn towards the carbon, fitting together with the black paper. The images show accidental layers of forests; the blackness covering our vision and extinguishing the image. The two photographs together repeat the photo-duality of the second piece; the text written on the carbon repeats the phrase of the first page (using the method of the third page: the copying layer of the carbon "writes" it down). The face of the catatonic woman in the photo of the third image denotes the countenance of the medium being in the condition of trance from the first image. There is a form of a hand on her forehead and the accidental gesture concludes everything that can be said beyond that.
A possible approach to Dóra Maurer's work also seems to be an examination of the (mutual) relationship between science and art but concurrently her system of concepts can also be understood through her background with graphics.
Traces, hidings, distortion, phases, counting, minimal changes, (straight/mirror) translation and series are all methods present within graphics. And still, there are only few artists who are more concerned about the conceptual field determined by the medium rather than the direct skills provided by it. The first step could be linked to the motivating materials: to the plate, for instance, which is an elementary tool of "printing" - but the static typical of graphics can be reached only through a drastic intrusion that happens not on the plate but to it (e.g. a plate can be dropped or bent).
It is also widely known among printers that the idea of making two identical prints is an illusion; there will always be very small changes (that the eyes cannot trace, which are normally considered to be "an insignificant shortage". (Naturally enough, I do not refer to "phase" prints here - in which case change and alternation is part of the work process - I refer rather to the difference between prints made from the same prepared plate.) There is another solution, which is to start to examine these very small changes - independent of graphics. These slight modulations or manipulations eventually become a happening, the representation of which demands a certain system of relationships: a series, a medium capable of continuous representation or a system, a structure operating by certain rules. The "one graphic page" is static: its enclosed system starts to move but the principle to reduce change to the minimum demands this dynamic to stay on a minimal degree. This offers two direct processes: one is the strict and consequent observation of a "constant" being, while the other is the transformation of a given thing (this method is appropriated from geometry).
In this case, the principle (artist) leaves the internal-motion of the system (outside world) untouched and relies on its inherent uncertainties as well as the determinant factor of time. (An analogy to mathematics could be the Fibonacci-series: it always remain the same constant yet the concrete appearance varies).
The archetype of the other method is the "magic square", where all the transformations (i.e. transposition, reflection, shifting) as well as symmetry are substituted by numbers. This quality hidden behind numbers (quantitative items) is emphasized by Dóra Maurer, when she substitutes numbers with concrete objects and "forms". The central idea of counting and calculating can be researched on the basis of these facts: thus, when posing the question of "which objects can be counted", she simultaneously attaches the element of quality to the exactness of calculation and measuring. In other words, she points out the already existing qualitative element. Due to this method, numbers "bear themselves" and formulate the system. Quite naturally, one of the reoccurring elements of Maurer's work is the "magic square": it integrates a static enclosure (the "amount" is always the same) and because of the various results of addition it is also a dynamic entity. There is an infinite number of varieties to calculate a certain result and yet the process is determined by the order and thus the variation of possibilities range from the "accidental" to the "intended".
It depends merely on where the emphasis is put, whether the created system (turned into an artpiece) becomes metaphoric or ironic and whether they are manifest as a "cold" structural or a "sensual" form that - through associations - reach metaphysical levels. It does not require any special intellectual effort to link these pieces to oriental philosophy (Zen, Tao) or to the tradition of European humanism, constructivist avant-garde or process art.
Inasmuch as the works reveal their own system, they also hide the structure that created them (the two are not identical; as an example "Relatív lengések" ["Relative Swings"] could be quoted here but it could be any other work). The commonness between them is the pure conceptual order behind them, which enables us to discuss the artwork of Dóra Maurer from the perspective of Conceptual Art.
Endre Tót chose simpler methods and it might illuminate the fact that a randomly selected principle or manner can become general in the appropriate context. In 1970 he gave up painting and by the next year he had already formulated his rain and zero-pieces as well as the systems regarded as pleasure-works. He also joined the mail-art movement. The rain-pieces required nothing but two characters from the type-writer (/ and O), while the zero-texts could do with only "one" (it was a conscious destruction of information). The O works of Tót are tellingly meaningless: they are free and shameless manifestations that surprise us the most if we are aware of the consciously taken barrier and limitation of expression - in fact he uses only "nothing" and it is good for everything.
Compared to this "system" even the pleasure-works look more complex: these are statements starting "I'm pleased if...", occasionally supplemented with a smiling (self-)portrait; the TOTal use of the pleasure principle and the emphasis of identity. The sentence usually refers to what we directly see - in print: "I'm pleased (glad) I could print this sentence." or a placard he holds in his hands: "I'm pleased (glad) I can hold this in my hands". At the same time, he calls for a complete re-evaluation of the social-communicative context. A piece of news is published that says nothing and yet it stands out from the others: it is a demonstration that "protests against nothing" and it is still provocative because it rises consciousness about the possibility (or impossibility?) of the gesture being an expressive medium of both the essence and the limits of the activity. The connection between a general "nihilist" principle and private pleasure created a surprising result: it revealed the general absence of the latter and tried to define its reason in the limited and illusionistic nature of personal freedom and self-development, which seemed to be an ultimate problem of modern society.
In his pseudo-principle, Gyula Pauer defined an even more simplistic system and makes it a general perspective and lifestyle, despite it starting from sculpture: it was the "unseparation" of illusion and reality, a mental and material equivalence, "the coincidence of differences", the total, mystical "One".
Somewhat appropriating Pauer's words we could say that seemingly, pseudo is a little bit like this and a little bit like that but in fact it is not like what it is: it is rather what it is like. It is seemingly real: a real illusion and the illusion of the real - increased to the level of a visual disorder. The principle of the "pseudo" is a tautological paradox, which is the rationalized form of mystical illusion in art and justified by a manipulated reality. In the formation of "pseudo", Pauer's principles about life and thinking had such a crucial role and to such an extent that they still determine his personality. Here, I have to refer to the artistic context and that is why I had to make the previous observation. Before he found "pseudo" he had made non-figurative plaster sculptures, which he covered with metal and thus they appeared to be bronze sculptures (he did this for financial reasons). One should not try to find "pseudo" reasons in the background in this period. Its first manifestation was a surface and cube-sculpture; it was composed of basic elements, such as light, the surface and different concepts. Pauer wanted to create a "double perspective" within one piece, which, seemingly would become three-dimensional. It was during this project he discovered the sprinkler as a tool and later more specific ways of using it: e.g. shade created by light can be substituted by light created by shade, with special attention to the angle of incidence. The second "pseudo" manifesto is already the extension of the idea: "Life that creates pseudo-art can still be protected". After this there came its application in everyday life (theater scenery) and integration in books: e.g.. the Villány-cliff, Maya, etc.; see the analysis of "Tűntetőtábla-erdő [Placard-Forest].
The sculptures of György Jovánovics are the artist's strategy to create a unity between himself and the world ("I have to find out who I am - to be") so his works are rather plans, when compared to a - later - "bigger unity". He gradually creates a mental and physical space and environment for every element and concept (writing, sculptures, images) and similar to an inverse Occam's razor, increasing the number of the inhabitants of his private world, they become more organized, complete and "transparent". (Chess as a model; L.W. the female alter ego, camera obscura as space, the automata and the marionette, holograms being the leading principle, "to put down everything" and the "immaterial" image in space). The art of Jovánovics made the general expansion of Concept Art culminating in an "internal" experience. He had concern for forms again yet he had previously prepared the immaterial (spiritual) context of material and form, which united in an image. The image appeared together with its environment and creative mechanism as well as the spiritual context that "developed" it. In this period, it was Pauer and Jovánovics (both sculptors), who were the most interested with the concepts of image, while a return to images only occurred a generation later (with the first representatives of Conceptual Art) around 1974-75. I will refer to this by bringing in examples from the work of Ákos Birkás and Zsigmond Károlyi.
László Beke once wrote about Zsigmond Károlyi that the thoughts he is most concerned about are - in Károlyi's words - "our image in life (our life in the image) our image in the image, our life in life", even in cases of the most simple things. In the present context, which tries to analyze Concept from the perspective of the disappearance of the image (n.b. "image" in the traditional sense), his work can be interpreted as one dealing with the problem of the absence of, a search for and a return to images. Commonplace elements, such as the line, mirror, shadow and attraction to certain painterly styles (c.f. Gyula Czimra - still-lifes; see the discussion of still-lifes earlier in this study) were elevated into the visual sphere again and further re-interpreted from a new aspect. Both Károlyi and Birkás are interested in the tiny parallel narrow lines that separate the slides on a film and symbolically denote a spatial and temporal "void" between the images. A return to the image is only possible once the absence of it became a conscious realization; such an arrangement of the ultimate present and the void (the possible function of "cutting") simultaneously formulate the axis of a coordinate plane that is both a meditative base and also the last impulse to the reoccurring image. The photographic work of Ákos Birkás can be evaluated in terms of this arrangement between two periods of painting, while the photographs themselves are related to paintings, their places and the museum. Artistic thinking as an artpiece returns to the museum, since that is its original place and the artist examines this very place with his camera as an environment (discovering the damage caused by the war, for instance, as visual material) as well as the relationship of the accommodated images and visitors (how can one "get into" the picture by means of another image, what is it like when one almost touches the image or one's shade falls on it) and finally the relation of the images to each other (images reflecting each other, images reflecting series of images, a sequence of pictures on the wall and in film). The latter is elaborated in the film entitled "Tükör-tükröződés" ["Mirror-reflection"], in which the artist applies the metaphor of the art-concept for "art" itself.
It is also characteristic of the period following that of Concept Art that the artists, who represented this movement, created pieces showing the features of "great art" (not in the traditional sense, however) or were of a conclusive nature remaining within the conceptual period but also pointing beyond.
I will finish this study with the description of two of these artpieces. The first is Gyula Pauer's work: "Tűntetőtábla-erdő" [Placard Forest] (1978) that he made for the international sculpture symposium in Nagyatád together with the Maya-piece and the pseudo-tree and which was eventually destroyed. The general concept behind the work is particularly complex, thus I can only vaguely describe it. It was 131 oak placards of different size that contained inscriptions (placard-images). One of the texts on these wooden boards said: "THE IMAGES OF A PSEUDO-EXHIBITION - pseudo-title-pieces". Faithful to the pseudo-principle it was a phony exhibition, where the placards as well as the visual concept were made for a demonstration, they were exhibited outdoors and the wood became "woods" again. The arrangement of the placards required buttresses, since any piece can only be exhibited outdoors if it is firmly supported. The "space" was composed of the forest of the placards and the small clearing "in between" - with the woods in the background. The piece is designed for one perspective facing from North to South, which gains meaning through the painterly style and its relation to the rising and setting sun. Symbolically, it is the imitation of the crowd's motion that after having cut through the woods is arrested by the clearing and fixed like an image. The placards (when looking at them frontally) were situated at the intersections of two (virtual) hyperbole - cutting each other - but not into all of them; their spatial pattern, on the other hand, enabled the visitors to walk between them and read the phrases. The tone of the phrases imitates that of demonstrations (e.g.. exclamations, harshness, etc.) but pseudo has its effect here as well, just like in any other details: "GOD FOR ALL!", "A DOUBLE LIFE MINIMUM!", "DON'T DRAW!" Besides his own life, the "pseudo" information of the anti-pseudo and the redundancy of non-fitting elements further encourage a growing awareness about the situation and drive perception and thinking towards poetry. (Some more examples: LONG LIVE THE CONSCIOUSNESS-RISER; MY LOVE, MY DREAM, WHY DON'T YOU FLY TO ME?; COMRADES, DO WE NEED THIS?; TOMORROW IS THE PROOF; ANTI-PSEUDO - WHEN A THING IS NOT WHAT I THINK IT IS BUT WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE; I CANNOT BE MORE STUPID THAN EVERYONE ELSE; OUR GREAT DESIRE WILL BE FULFILLED; IDEA-DEVALUATION; A DIFFICULT WORLD IS AWAITING YOU, DEER; I'M NOT SURE IF I NEED SUCH AN ADVENTURE HERE; TALEPIECE) - the selection from among placards 11 and 131 is completely random.
The phrases on the boards were arranged partly by the rules of the "pseudo" and also a calculation with the motion of the sun, light and shade. As a necessary result, the texts can never be read "together": the readability of the texts already "prepared" by the manner of painting depends on the angle light falls on them. The motion of the Sun (i.e. the Earth) makes visible - or blurs - always another phrase. In this way, harmoniously with the changing perspective of the moving human, it creates a direct contact between the cosmic systems of man and the world by means of an artificial sphere. The latter is simultaneously the "forest" and the "protesting crowd"; the first, on a material level, is determined by its material, while the second (being the spiritual sphere) is shaped by the text - and the arrangement imitates both as a "sculpture" (Here are some quotes from popular movement-songs: "The crowd is / a growing forest..." and "Blow, forest comrade.")
The other piece I promised to analyze is Miklós Erdély's text Tézisek az 1980-as Marly-i konferenciához [Theses for the Marly Conference in 1980]. It seems that the theses are about the essence of art and creation and they show numerous similarities with other writings dealing with the analysis of an artwork (e.g.. "an artpiece is a meaning-structure (energy) whose layers are in constant change" - Lajos Németh; or "interpretation is the creative, further development of an artpiece" - László Beke). If I focus on these relationships, I handle the theses as theoretical observations that are concerned with problems of interpretation - and not as artpieces. Another possible solution seems to be an analysis that uses the text as its base, and the commonality with the first approach is that I examine the text also from an art-theoretical perspective (e.g.. Áron Kibédi Varga's analysis of the work of János Petőfi S.). The latter method reveals the hidden contradictions as well as the "uncertainties" of the vocabulary - just as the previously mentioned author did in his writing - and a system of anti-thesis structures can be set up. There is only one aspect that experts seem to neglect; and accordingly the theses should be considered artpieces and immanent statements that are applied to describe themselves. The target of examination is what the artpiece as an artpiece says about itself as well as about art. (The first sentence already gives a clue: "It can only be decided but never stated what art is" ).
What does, then, it mean eventually that the artwork "refuses any meaning" or that "its message is its own emptiness"? In other words, it does not take meaning and states its own "emptiness" (impossible to be confused with anything else) as an alternative, which measures the degree of "non-knowledge" within it. The statement "it cannot take meaning" is not identical with "it has no meaning" and yet the connection with Erdély's (above mentioned) principle of "meaning-exhaustion - situation communication" is obvious (an "empty sign" - a signed void).
The concept of art is empty, the message of an artpiece is (its own) emptiness, i.e. the artpiece communicates the concept of art. At the same time, the piece talks about the matters of the world in a way that in the meantime this talk about the matters of the world (i.e. the artpiece itself) disappears. Where does it go? (c.f. the artpiece "creates room" for the "perceiver" in a different sphere, which - in a fortunate case - is heavy with thoughts.) Thus, the concept of art cannot be solved through the artpiece either, and yet we can calculate it from the concept of the artwork: the artwork "has an infinite meaning in its tendency" and so it is the medium of the concept of art (but it does not provide a meaning; it is not about art but rather about the artpiece and its history). If it is infinite in its tendency, it can mean anything as well as the opposite of anything (even that it is not art), but these meanings should not be taken too seriously (i.e. one should not stick to certain meanings). This attitude does not encourage jocularity: it merely protects one from misunderstandings. The process of cognition is the acceptance of the piece as a non-obvious product of relative power and liberalizing influence, which rearranges the consciousness of the perceiver in a way that it creates space not for itself but rather for the creation of a non-existent. Interpretation as being the simplest solution derives from this very phenomenon (or necessity). Without any particular evidence it can be claimed that it is generated by the artpiece and the absence (space) it creates, which then needs to be filled by interpretation. Thus, interpretation does not refer primarily to the artpiece but rather to the closure of the feeling of lack that the artpiece generated (again another way of saying that there is a constraint in talking about something and describe it somehow). The most obvious reactions are to utter the word "nice", smiling, wondering, becoming angry.
In fact the artpiece itself fills the gap of an "absence" and closes a place or void: "emptiness" as a message is a condition in art, which has existed long before it was actually created. Being a "place", it enables the realization of the artpiece by conquering it and yet also "reproducing" through communication. This kind of an artpiece and the art-concept beyond Concept Art encourages the total recognition of the unknown rather than a search for the "place and function" of art and to raise consciousness about the creative motifs rather than the concepts of art.
Budapest, Spring 1983 - Spring 1985
INTRO PART I. PART II.