Kicsiny Balazs at Bazis Gallery

December 5, 2011

Kicsiny Balazs is one the most prominent Hungarian artists today. He is mainly renowned for his Venice Biennale pavilion from 2005, when he was chosen to representHungary, a pavilion that was truly on of the best of that edition. But his career and oeuvre are far too complex to be reduced to this single, albeit quite spectacular endeavour, spanning more that twenty – five years of significant presence both on the Hungarian and on the international art scene.

At a first glance, the best term to describe Kicsiny’s artistic production might appear to be “installation art”. But, with him, just as an anthropomorphic shape is never simply a sculpture, in the classical meaning of the word (namely, a three – dimensional art object that is to be admired), an installation is never simply an ensemble of shapes that come together to produce meaning. Thus, his installations address the viewer in a very engaging manner, sometimes looking like frozen performances, other times like uncanny props from a theatre show of a director passionate about surrealism. In a way, most of his major works, from Winterreise to Migrating Interpretation, from Permanent Landing to Exact Time, relate to the notion of performative utterance, in the very direct meaning of the concept. Thus, they are present and they act by their presence itself, they do something in the world, rather then saying something about it to the viewer. In other words, they tend to generate experience, rather than meaning.

For his first solo show in Romania, Kicsiny Balazs proposes, at Bazis gallery from the Paintbrushes Factory in Cluj, a project that reveals precisely the above mentioned characteristics of his art. Titled The Art of Self – justification, the show at Bazis touches on topics such as the relationship between signs and interdictions, the conventional character of communication and the oppressive nature of power, manifested in standardization. An immersive installation, Kicsiny’s project represents, at the same time, an open invitation to reflection on such issues and a challenge addressed to the spectator to go beyond visual pleasure or fascination, in order to take a glimpse at the menaces it alludes to.

The installation comprises five anthropomorphic figures rather dimly lit by a light bulb placed just above the centre of the quite regular composition of the work. Four human silhouettes, wearing fluorescent vests and strange, bucket – like or hive – like helmets over their heads, each perform somewhat mysterious, yet eerily banal gestures using the two small flags with black and white squares they hold in their hands. The four surround a downed character, faceless and entirely covered in black and white squares, as two buckets presumably recently emptied of paint are lying on the floor, just next to this strange body. One is white and has the word fekete (Hungarian for black) written on it in black letters, the other one is, yes, black and has the word feher (Hungarian for white) written on it in white letters. The dim light engulfs the whole scene and provides the ensemble with an eerie quality, making it appear somewhat ritualistic and at the same time intriguingly menacing.

The most characteristic features of Kicsiny’s art are displayed by the immersive installation at Bazis. Among them, it is truly striking the carefully planned, one rightfully suspects, semantic ambiguity they rely upon. In this respect, the conscious choice of visual elements that embed a particularly broad symbolic content, which makes the artwork susceptible to various hermeneutic approaches, can be probably considered to be one of the most prominent strength of the Hungarian’s art. Take into consideration the black and the white, for example. In a certain context, in a certain socio – political environment, the viewer might be immediately tempted to read their use as a reference to racial issues. Change the context and allusions to colliding social ideologies or historical theories might appear to be the main signified in the mind of many (it suffices to think about “white Hungarians” and “black Hungarians” and to the potential for generating controversy such notions possess). But, equally justifiable, in almost any context, more or less corny, more or less existentialist reflections on the fundamental duality of human nature and of the complementary condition of opposites can be encouraged by the same visual items, as there is a perpetually ambiguous interplay between the realm of the political and that of the metaphysical that occurs in Kicsiny’s works.

The same goes for the use of the other elements composing the installation at Bazis, like, for example, the strangely hooded human figures. Are they to be viewed as metaphorical figures signifying communicational conventions that, on one hand, make civilization possible and on the other hand narrow the possibility of unconventional, emotionally charged communication? Or are they rather epitomizing the oppressive character of conventions, stemming from the very abstractness and arbitrariness of power, in a Foucauldian perspective? Are their flags, with their uncanny stillness, semantically alluding to interdictions, to guidance or the somewhat morbid meaninglessness of parades? All these interpretations are equally at hand for the spectator, but it is precisely their equal degree of availability that kind of makes the hermeneutical choice either impossible or futile. The semantic richness, as well as the semantic fuzziness, is emphasized by the discrete lighting of the frozen scene. There is no melancholia caused by the shabby light, but rather we are confronted with an almost irritating, unreservedly staged atmosphere of film noire.

Summing up, one could say they Kicsiny Balasz’s work incites the viewer to a tantalizing search for meaning and for metaphor, while at the same time engulfing him or her in the ambiguous atmosphere of the installation itself, one that rather provokes a feeling of unease than gets one’s mind to reflect upon conceptual issues. Thus, for this and all the above reasons, his art displays perversity as its core feature. It is not a malevolent type of perversity and certainly not a sensorially based or related one. Rather, we are faced with a sort of almost purely intellectual perversity, as his works manipulate the viewer without even possessing a specific target of the manipulation they operate. What his installations, The Art of Self – Justification included, perform is a highly paradoxical open ended manipulation, in the case of which one is eerily left to “freely” opt for the particular direction towards which he or she prefers to be manipulated. In a way, all the leads provided by the artwork are equally rewarding paths and dead ends. Nevertheless, this is probably the kind of perversity embedded, more or less obviously, in any artistic endeavour that is truly problematic, without screaming its problematic status out loud. And I suspect that the playful, intellectually sparkling and calmly confident Kicsiny I’ve met in Cluj is quite pleased with this outcome.

 

For video of the installation, go to http://www.bazis.ro/GALLERY%20BAZIS/Kicsiny%20Balazs%202011/KicsinyBalazs2011.html

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