I was pedalling hard, with everything around me rushing and gliding past, but then a traffic light on the cycle path forced me to stop at a junction.
Propping myself up with the bike, I noticed a white sheet of paper that had somehow wrapped itself around the traffic light’s pole; it was a little folded and crumpled, like some abandoned, lost or discarded official letter or hospital discharge form, or perhaps a bank statement. I bent over, picked it up, unfolded it and immediately realised that I was holding a torn fragment of writing in my hand; some testimonial, or a scrap of a page torn from a diary. I read it:
“…2020 is a truly special year! It’s been that way from the beginning! We are already more than halfway through it, but the remainder will confirm the assumptions and hitherto unimaginable, horrifying things that...”
It was frustrating that the sentence was cut short in this way; yet it was exciting too, because the meaning of the text remains a secret here in the present, but perhaps it will no longer be a secret in the future that will one day be our present. Then it may well become a rationally noted fragment of the past, what you might refer to as a historical fact. If you like. But who knows? Until then it remains a secret, an elaborately packaged mystery.
I stood awhile as the cars whooshed past in pursuit of one another, but I never got a green light. The electronics, the system of switches, the automatic system for ensuring a safe crossing had given up the ghost. Now I had no hope of traversing the six-lane road. Instead I persuaded myself that I had changed my mind: I didn’t actually want to cross over to the other ‘shore’. So, I abandoned my attempt at crossing Váci Road and set off in another direction.
As guest curator of the Artonomy | 2nd National Salon of Fine Arts exhibition I had a clear vision that fortuitously aligned with the Kunsthalle Budapest’s concept. Together we wove a carefully structured plan on how to build up a project consisting of several units, where all the sub-units make up one big whole. I broke down the whole structure into chapters, acts: approximately equal parts. It was with great excitement that I and Mária Kondor-Szilágyi, the staff curator at Kunsthalle, set to work organising the exhibition. Kunsthalle’s artistic director György Szegő, providing every assistance and exercising reasonable control, supported us in our work by enabling the Artonomy – Rooms exhibition – the latest chapter in the Salon project – to get off to the best possible start in spite of the disruptions thrown up by the constant changes in our everyday lives.
Many circumstances arose that impeded the planning work and the elaboration of the exhibition concept as a continuation and extension of the 2020 Salon of Fine Arts, which was already open to the viewing public. We had to adapt to a constantly changing present, as almost everything seemed to be improvised. While things may have appeared unchanging, with events moving so slowly as to be almost static, in fact precisely the opposite was true. The world was a hive of activity behind the great yawn that spanned continents. The oppressive pandemic; closure; total uncertainty at every level, often from one day to the next; an unplannable short and long-term future; then the reopening, torrential rain, waterlogging, summer, social distancing, hand disinfectant, mandatory mask-wearing, exhibition construction, catalogue production, events planning, dealing with impossibilities, exhibition tours, interviews, reports, congenial and heated conversations – both virtual and real – understandings and misunderstandings at every level.
Today, the starting point often seems like the endpoint, and the endpoint just another starting point: The similarity between the starting line and the finishing tape is confusing. The whole playing field is surrounded by a forest of dilemmas.
It’s increasingly hard to find, within a reality that is constantly in conflict with itself, the place of the individual artists’ oeuvres, the imprints of personal realities, signatures and touches, miracles encapsulated and concealed in materials. We lack a suitable system of coordinates, we don’t have the software for it, we have no GPS device that can be used for this purpose. The route is constantly being recalculated; here we are again, and again.
Our habits – good and bad alike – have packed the recent past into a suitcase and left for good, taking this sizeable package with them. Our new ‘living companions’ don’t have their own key yet, but they’re ringing the doorbell and will eventually come flooding in to live with us. We’ll have time to get used to them, and we’ve no idea how long they’ll be staying. During the pandemic, under it, on top of it, alongside it, behind it and (if there is one) afterwards, the world wants to cling to its own past; like a stray root on a rock face it tries to stay in place by holding on, grabbing, embracing, carrying on living where it is – even without soil.
A visual artist’s own surroundings are just as important, one way or another the artist’s existence is the same: Clinging to the little that he or she does or doesn’t have – because ‘nothing’ is also a possession. Embedded and unembedded, alone and collectively, the habits and experiments, the sustaining silence of the artist – known as contemplation – the active and passive varieties of an unplannable and improvised existence, are important. The here, the now, the always, the nowhere and the never are also important; because everything is important, everything in the world, even the ‘nothing’, the absence of a thing is as important as the ‘everything’ that is very much there, even if today’s everything will one day no longer exist.
This takes material, tools, hands that shape the material into a work of art, for which the heart, mind and soul combination are also needed, of course; and it takes free will, and it also takes the indispensable, persistent presence that could be called spirituality. The three chambers of the Artonomy – Rooms exhibition offer an insight into the lives of the artists exhibiting here: Opening the doors to the rooms allows you to glimpse into and into the present, and to walk into reality. We aren’t all the same, and nor should we be:
The similarity of each particle within us should be a building block of our dissimilarity; let us be differentiated in a cellularly-identical way. Let there be an opportunity for a gesture of expression, declaration and acceptance with the aim of reaching all things, even for the sake of touching things that are impossible, so that understanding may eventually find its sensitive path. Let us see the world as it is and give everyone the ability to see. Step into these rooms, take a good look around, and then look out of the window too; experience certain perspectives, sense the presence of distant things and be capable of also recognising the right of things to exist that may not be visible to us or which may be very far away from us.
The artwork units and the individual works on display here express the most varied phenomena in a diversity of ways.
Although the exhibited works talk about many different things and use a wide range of artistic vocabularies to do so, they all have one thing in common: All of them are relevant to us; to all of us. Interacting and complementing each other in so many different contexts they permeate the exhibition spaces like the radio waves that criss-cross our planet – slipping into every space uninvited with a multitude of intangible lines of force. But there is also space here for the local aromas, light that has been reduced to shadow, slowed down or bent, emotions and various stratified, parallel realities, together make up the medium in which we are compelled to exist.
Of course, there are miraculous everyday phenomena like the rising and setting Sun, while continents burn, and flooding wreaks destruction. Things are simple and not so simple, but all-in-all the terribly complicated world rattles on, it never rests; but it no longer matters because we’ve overplayed everything, spun out of control, the cup has overflowed.
Out there or here in the rooms, the exhibits are waiting for you in space and time. They speak to you softly or loudly, saying there’s no need to be afraid, just do what you have to.
Each and every artwork is yours, let it be so; accept your own alternative, let it mature in you, let the unconditional freedom to play, this Artonomy, expand and strengthen within your own reality, be a part of it!
Don’t ever think that the laws of the universe can be subverted from the truth or let yourself be told that God’s finger points in another direction. Whoever has possession of the house that you live in, it’s your life. Yours. It’s your room, you live in it. Sometimes, observe the things that are within sight too. Look: the inscription is still there on the facade of the Kunsthalle building. Read it, if you have any doubt: FOR HUNGARIAN ART.
Thanks to all the exhibiting artists, thanks to the staff of Kunsthalle Budapest, György Szegő, artistic director; Piroska Medgyes, finance manager; Mária Kondor-Szilágyi, curator; István Steffanits and his fantastic team.
József Szurcsik, curator