Csaba Nemes
I Have Caught a Butterfly

Mixed media installation
(Photograph, glass, 120 x 150 cm, 2 parts), 1986

Butterfly Giving, 1996
Video installation, 1986

Why are there holes in Christ's hands?

The captured moment: this evaluative definition is often heard in art. But we must be able to let go of these moments quickly, if we want to catch the next one - thus we think and act.

This continuous process, the even rhythm of catching and letting go, is not interrupted even for the instant during which we feel one of the infinite number of moments in our hands, since instead of the moment we hold only its fluttering butterfly between our sweating palms. And this desperate fluttering corresponds perfectly with our haste. We do everything in haste, because it is becoming increasingly more difficult to capture the real moment. The beautifully coloured butterflies withdraw into the space of telecommunications, where they either become ionized and then die while being discharged in our memories, or, less frequently, expire after chewing through the thin web of our thoughts and hiding their eggs in the lining of our coats.

In the summer of 1995, I tried to catch a butterfly several times. By hand. First I scrambled into some vegetable beds, but the results were only a few maimed cabbages and cabbage moths. Later, thousand of butterflies were flying around me among some wild pear trees I had discovered up on the hillside by the brook. I felt I only had to reach out my hand. But I could not catch a single one, nor could I grasp them. After this hopeless struggle, seeing the black "mourning butterflies" (traur) on the walls and gates of the houses - a well-known sight in the Balkans - was a cathartic experience. These "peperudas," constructed individually from materials of varying quality and in various sizes, are honoured for years as symbols of never-ending memory; they fade and vanish together with the houses and their inhabitants. Sometimes the black material becomes its own opposite and turns white. I think I will never again return to the wild pear trees, since I do not have to become a butterfly hunter to have a butterfly. At most, I will never put lavender in my closet again. And while I try to patch up my brain with odds and ends, I find time for the correction of a 2000-year-old story: when a butterfly hunter, after chasing butterflies for a lifetime, finally caught a specimen, thinking that it was the only one in the world, he squeezed this evidence of his righteousness so tightly that when the O.J. Simpson day arrived and he held up his proof to Pilate, there was nothing in his slowly opening fist. Liar!, the crowd shouted. But he had a tiny hole in each palm. Exactly the kind, as anybody could confirm, that moths would chew.

Photos: Bulgarian Mourning-butterflies (Photo: Csaba Nemes)

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