I teach in an art university. I therefore have frequent conversations with art students about art, contemporary art practices, art in Romania, the possible future of art and artists and so on. I need, as probably does any teacher in the field of art and / or humanities, examples of role models which to present to my students. I use the example of such personalities to motivate them, to provide them insights into the profession, to make them realize that outstanding achievements, of one sort or another, are within grasp, even if or when circumstances might appear adverse. I definitely have reasons to thank Berszan Zsolt for offering me a compelling model to refer to.
He graduated art school and returned to his home town of Miercurea Ciuc only to find himself trapped into the somewhat typical small town’s cultural ataraxia and lack of appeal and understanding for contemporary forms of visual art (maybe even for art in general). Quite soon he understood that he had to fight really hard in order to avoid the perspective of becoming just another talented and vivid young artist turned into a dull and self-sufficient, locally acknowledged producer of kitsch or of tamed, dusty and irrelevant art. Berszan’s response to that perspective was to get associated with other artists in order to form a group which got both culturally and socially involved in the life of the community and visible outside it.

Thus, he started editing (in collaboration with a very few colleagues) an art magazine. It all began with four sheets of black and white printed paper, yet managed to become, in several years, a real effective means of recording contemporary art events in Romania. The magazine’s progress was made possible by the generous, yet far from effortlessly gained support of private businesses in the region. He got involved into the project of building up an exhibition space for contemporary art in the centre of town, a space which hosted, during its unfortunately short existence, the works of some of the most remarkable (young) Romanian artists at the time. He travelled around the country to distribute the free magazine at various art institutions: soon enough, everybody knew Zsolt; everyone became aware of the existence of “the boy(s) from Miercurea Ciuc”.

Relentlessly, Berszan also travelled abroad, to Hungary, to Vienna, to Venice, in an effort to keep in touch with what’s going on in international art, to establish professional contacts with significant institutions who were dealing with contemporary art, to document important events and to show that documentation to anyone back at home which might have been interested. As far as his art was concerned, it got compelling enough to persuade one of Romania’s top curators, Liviana Dan, to work with him for a solo show in Sibiu in 2008, at the Gallery for contemporary art of the Brukenthal National Museum. Now, he exhibits his strange and elegant sculptures and installations at MODEM Debrecen, clearly one of the most prestigious and coherent institutions focused on modern and contemporary art that exist in Hungary today.
“Genesis project” is the largest and most ambitious solo show that Berszan Zsolt realized so far. The generous space at MODEM certainly helped him in this endeavour, being fully adequate to host rather large scale works such as the artist’s recent sculptures and installations. The works boldly tackle ambitious topics such as the origin of life, the cycle of life bursting and decay, the elemental structure of the living. His art displayed in the Debrecen show artistically dissects that structure, trying to metaphorically reveal the basic components, the primary drives and mechanisms of life. It also aims at circumscribing, in a visually powerful manner, a certain western philosophical and scientific vision of it, namely the modern, analytical, microscopic and process – based understanding of the realm of the living.
The central motif of “Genesis project” is the worm, the maggot. In various forms, more or less explicit visual metamorphoses of the worm stand as metaphors of the cycle of life. The worm is, for Berszan, its basic agent: the maggot’s action marks the end of a life form, the termination of a complex, evolved organism. But, at the same time, the devouring action of the worm is what plants the seeds of the rejuvenation of life. The worm sends life back to its basis, forces it to literally start again. In this light, it becomes obvious that a dialectic view pervades the exhibition at MODEM. As its curator, Gerda Széplaky, puts it, “Genesis project” is first and foremost about „the way death leads to new life. In the micro-world of maggots (that one can visit thanks to art, leaving our human macrocosm behind) one may wonder at the powers of genesis residing within demise, at the breathtaking circle of the reproduction of life.”
The stuff Berszan uses to build up his works is mainly base industrial materials. As he’s been doing for a few years now, he creatively deploys concrete, aluminium, but mostly polyurethane foam and silicone in order to shape a quite personal array of sculptural volumes. They are painted black and the resulting monochrome look –altered only by the silvery aluminium elements that form the compositional structure of some of the works in “Genesis project”– is quite mesmerising. There are, in a very appealing manner, both minimalist and visually rich, they possess a strong tactile dimension as well as an elegantly unctuous appearance. The difficulties thus amount for Berszan’s art: the use of black monochrome language has a rather long and certainly revered history in modernist and contemporary art. Take this into account, and then remember the sheer seriousness of the topics dominating the show: you’ll get a pretty good image of the breadth and the honesty of his artistic ambition, which I believe is one of Berszan Zsolt’s most valuable assets. One of the things “Genesis project” shows is that, fortunately, his recent sculptures, installations and environments have the potential to live up to this ambition.
The display of the exhibition involves three separate, yet communicating spaces. By far the most spectacular is the small room at the end of the exhibition’s itinerary, which was entirely transformed into an environment: an overall, shining black structure of polyurethane foam and silicone is enveloping the viewer entering it. It offers the opportunity of a symbolic, yet acutely tactile journey into the warm, fragile “worm’s belly”, it provides the chance of a delightfully immersive experience for the exploring viewer. Yet, it is still the central and most generous room that hosts some of Berszan’s most compelling works he ever produced, the silicone worm alluding shapes horizontally displayed in rectangular, low profile aluminium frames and covered by a thin layer of water. When the display was being realized, the chemical components present in the water from the city of Debrecen unexpectedly interacted with the pigments the artist had used, changing the chromatic appearance of the sculptural shapes. Berszan has redone all the affected works, except for one, which was left as a reminder of this fortuitous semantic enrichment of the sculptures.
Perhaps the liveliest impression left by the art he produced during the last several years, impression which is strongly reinforced by the solo show at MODEM Debrecen, is that of growth, of development. It is truly remarkable how he was able to conceptually refine his artistic production, how his use of materials became increasingly meaningful and more visually poignant, how his understanding of the means and the context of contemporary art has become more and more mature. Berszan Zsolt has evolved in a very steady, personally adequate rhythm, from producing an art that was strong and charming, yet probably excessively subordinated to a neo – expressionistic paradigm, to proposing a more personal, more appealing and considerably more challenging artistic production. He convincingly evolved from being an artist in a group and a cultural promoter to being first and foremost an artist to be reckoned with on his own.

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