Jan Zálešák writes about the exhibition of curator Sandra Baborovská, who selected works from a group of contemporary Czech artists at the Art Quarter Budapest cultural centre. According to the curator, presented male and female artists share the theme of the influence of the economic system on the emotional and physical experience of the people, and their works can be framed by the concept of “fluid modernity” described by sociologist Zygmun Bauman. Zálešák asks in his review whether Bauman’s “fluidity” is a sufficient term, and also describes the context in which the exhibition takes place in Budapest.
art quarter budapest (aqb), 28 July – 9 September
On a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of July, we went with a few friends from the hot centre of Budapest to the premises of the former brewery in the southern part of the city, where the art quarter budapest (aqb) cultural centre is located at the opening of the Liquid Bodies exhibition. Aqb includes studios of permanent residents, studios designed for short-term residencies, and an impressive exhibition space serving also for musical, theatre and dance performances. In a country whose government, after its re-election in April, has launched a new round of attacks against an already decimated independent culture, a similar project / space is a rarity. Although it should be a significant event from the point of view of the local scene (thematic exhibitions of foreign art are rare here), we were almost alone at the opening ceremony, apart from the exhibiting artists and several aqb residents.
This experience confirmed the working hypothesis about the situation of the visual art scene in Budapest, as I know it from my partial, yet somewhat long time lasting experience. First of all, the whole scene is fragmented. Art schools live by their own, relatively isolated life. Private galleries are littered with their small “social bubbles” made up of friends and friends of the friends of the artists represented (and, in the case of the luckier ones, also of several collectors). There is almost no bigger group or thematic exhibition projects presenting actual discourse, at whose openings the local scene could manifest its coherence in the simplest possible way – participation. To a certain extent, this is done by the Trafó Gallery, but with regard to its size and frequency of exhibitions, it does not have a chance to compensate for this structural deficit.
A result of the above-mentioned situation is that if there aren’t exhibitions by someone you know well, you usually do not even go out. I have a vivid memory of the disenchantment that Balázs Arató, the owner of Gallery Horizont, could not hide, when not even two dozens of people arrived to the exhibition opening of Igor Hosnedl in May. In a sense, our experience at AQB was similar. No people, except for a few honest exceptions. Sandra Baborovská has managed to create an exhibition that not only fits well into the exhibition space and the mood of the summer days, but also offers a clear and relevant probe into the state of contemporary Czech art.
The Liquid Bodies exhibition is framed by Sandra Baborovská’s references to the texts of Zygmunt Bauman; a recently deceased British sociologist of Polish origin, about globalization, fluid modernity and fluid love. Personally, I was a bit dissuaded when I first read the curator’s text, it seemed to me that writing about fluid modernity and globalization is “démodé”. However, in the complete aforementioned three texts of Bauman, it is indeed possible to trace the movement or span that can be used to grip at the exhibition of the artists represented.
The fluidity that Bauman writes about in Liquid Modernity is a manifestation of changes in the “behaviour” of capital. Disconnection from the material base of production and shift to speculative and rapid capital flows across globally linked, electronically controlled markets led to a financial and consequently global economic crisis in the middle of the last decade, of which consequences many people today are experiencing on a very personal, emotional, often physical level (from depression and anxiety over poor availability of basic needs such as housing, water and healthy food). Even in this extremely abbreviated description, it is possible to demonstrate how the abstract forces of globalization and the capitalization of capital propel themselves into a very concrete, body-dense experience.
In Liquid Modernity, however, Bauman does not go so far as to deal with the metaphor of fluidity on the level of (human) identity. This topic Bauman opens up first in the context of “fluid love,” but if it comes to the fluidity of dissolving until recently solid categories of the human and inhuman, the subject and the object, the natural and cultural, which most of the exhibits deal with, it would certainly be interesting to bring up more recent reference texts. The body is ultimately the easiest entry point to grasp the entire show. A body understood and grasped as a sensitive interface on which the above-mentioned dichotomy collapses, sometimes as a result of intellectual speculation, sometimes during intensive experience caused by encountering a new technological interface or drug.
Sandra Baborovská included the current works of Valentýna Janů, Marie Tučková, Radek Brousil, Martin Kohout, Pavel Příkaský and Adam Vačkář, the works created mostly during the last two years. The theme of “body as an interface” comes to the fore mostly in the newer works, but here I start from the opposite end. The oldest piece is the photo of Adam Vačkář Still Life / Nature Morte (2013) standing at the beginning of the author’s series of floral stills – studio photographs of a girl’s flower dying in PET bottles filled with different contents (coke, gasoline, urine). On the background of sterile pure studio photography, the story of meeting different circulation systems takes place. While at the level of physical metabolism, any hitch changes into an instant path, at the worst end of death, at the level of supply of goods it is possible to keep the bodies alive and their aggravation, maturation and breathing, out of sight.
Another kind of speculation about physicality is found in the works of Pavel Příkaský – in paintings and large-format prints of microscopic photographs, the body ceases to be a disparate, clearly bounded unit, it turns out to be a strange landscape for a moment constrained by constant movement and change. In the context of others, the works of Příkaský seem perhaps a bit decorative, on the other hand, their role of distinctive visual “attractors” in the overall composition played very well. Radek Brousil’s work portrays the body as a formal matrix. Textiles, either directly identifiable pieces of clothing or “pillows” hung in the space on elastic cords, act as indexes of the body – bear its imprint and bring a personal, intimate plane into the works that refer to the “abstract” problems of the globalized world, from slave work in sweatshops to ruthless extractionism.
Sandra Baborovská received a copy of the short film Slides for Liquid Bodies, with which Martin Kohout succeeded in last year’s Jindřich Chalupecký Award. Instead of a consistently illuminated and soundproof blackbox, the film Slides at AQB was installed on a smaller flat screen in open space. It is difficult to judge to what extent it was because of the independent space with a limited budget, but from the viewpoint of the whole installation, this solution, in which the video was not isolated from the rest of the work, was lucky. Slides is a speculative look into the near future, in which the series of small revolutions at the interfaces of bodies and technologies continues unabated, resulting in a different kind of fluidity than Bauman thought. Recall that the current “fluidity” (of body, identity) is the result of massive changes in the sense-perceived “environment” and close physical contact with rapidly evolving technologies or the impacts of global climate change.
As part of the exhibition, Slides is a more coherent whole with the works of Marie Tučková and Valentýna Janů. On the imaginary axis, expanding from fluidity, understood as the index of the development of society to fluidity, arising from the intimate relationship of bodies to new technological interfaces, their work is found significantly in the other half. It is worth seeing what prominent role plays narration in their work. While in Kohout’s case it is basically a classic narrative (we observe narration as a plot uncovered by the camera views into the fictional world), Valentýna Janů’s border between narration as fiction and narration as a personal statement is deliberately wiped out. Is Your Blue the Same As Mine? speaks sometimes to itself, and so remains closed in a fictitious world, but at other times it directly appeals to the viewer and accentuates the problematic nature of the interface (projection surface of image) as the boundary between the physical space of reality and the disfigured space (digital) of representation. Fluidity, manifesting itself not only by the mentioned shifts in the narrative perspective, but also in the constant visual changes of the main female actor and the space in which she is moving, is today a completely “natural” sign of identity in a digital (virtual) environment in which we all spend more time, without it having a touch of drama, with which the early visions of “cyberspace” were operating.
Similarly, also Marie Tučková, represented at a video exhibition designed as a love conversation with the personal virtual assistant called Siri, is working. A tiny, overlookable display with this video balances an impressive textile object on the opposite side of the exhibition area with an audio fragment of Monuments of Love. What both artists unite – and what they differ from their male counterparts – is the way they directly enter the space of their work. Valentýna Janů as the protagonist of her video, Tučková through her digital alter ego Ursula Uwe. The fluidity of the body ceases to be a matter of speculation and representation, but is directly executed (performed) in the work.
What to say at the end? On the one hand, there is a message that a show of contemporary Czech art (and that it was a good show) was held in Budapest, is positive. It testifies the existing and further evolving relationships between the two scenes. The exhibition certainly helped to strengthen several personal contacts and would probably bring further professional cooperation. The photographic documentation of the exhibition has found its way to several portals which focus on this way of reporting on exhibitions – for example here or here). On the other hand, the experience with an almost empty opening and the fact that I did not notice (with the exception of the above link to the local Art Mirror web portal) any response in the Hungarian media, raises questions and doubts. It seems as if the exhibition itself represented the paradox of a liquid body desiring to dissolve in a post-human identity, yet still too human, clothed in sweaty clothing, with an ID of the Central European state in its pocket.
Cover image: Valentyna Janu: Is Your Blue the Same as Mine, 2018, video / valentynajanu.com