|Péter Csíkvári has installed
a curious world into the lateral halls of Mûcsarnok: his grand vision,
made up of pictures and object installations, is a real bucolic tableau;
it emanates the kind of monumentality 19th-century encyclopaedic visions
of mankind possessed.
The medium he uses is technical, his raw material photographs. If anyone wanted to put up a thematic exhibition on the image making methods of recent years, a separate sections should be devoted to that great friend of the graphic artist, the computer. Csíkvári would be among the first members of a Photoshop Fan Club, he has been creating works utilizing the potentials of computer-aided graphics for almost five years. In M?csarnok the scenes and the image-friezes they constitute are divided into picture tables, printed canvasses on stretchers, which offer the photos to be interpreted as paintings. The fantastic exteriors and historicizing landscapes were derived from original set photos by means of electronic transformation. The general impression is one of a twilight zone: we’re passing on the border of exaggerated beauty, classicising and visuality frozen into clichés, chilled every now and then by the cold breeze of kitsch. It is exactly this intermediary status that is the forte of this set of works. We can witness an extremely subtle play: the modality of pictures and objects never lets the works slip out of the border zone in any direction, keeps them constantly hovering as far as their disposition is concerned, denying certainty for the viewer. Grandiosity or a sham?
Note the incredible (you could say, overrefined) quality with which the world represented in these works is realized. The artist makes academic quality his programme, the quality modernists derided. As a result, this set inhabits the transitional zone between art and human desire. We long for the ideal. The academic ideal treats the photograph as information bearing eternal beauty, which is the result of an optical illusion based on the permanence of visual imagination. With the digital processing and manipulation of the photo Csíkvári represents reality in a deformed visual space. He makes incursions on the eternity of the photograph, while also disturbing the perpetuity of the world recorded on the recurring recollection-clichés of old, classic art.
Artistic modelling is a valid and acceptable tradition for the contemporary artist, it is one of many possible ways to reconsider art. In our post-Modernist age all starting points can be chosen at the same time. While the idea of an image has radically changed in the past few decades – thanks to photography, video and computers –, the aesthetic status of the image has found new areas for appearance. In the postmodern condition art, in alliance with technology, can place imagined objects into new dimensions. It can relocate the landscapes of memory into a world outside the consciousness, into modernized reality. Reality loses its authenticity, and we are prone to lose our way in the labyrinth of historical-cultural possibilities.
Here we have the very images to prove that technological phantasms can blur and extend the boundaries of reality. Csíkvári’s works create illusions, and start operating as efficient engines of reproducing false recollections. The technology applied usurps the position of the artist, cunningly copies the styles of artists long dead, the process of creation, the nature of man. And all the while it secretly aspires for the status of magic, providing copies which imitate reality, which are substitute realities. All this by the mere reproduction of formal and stylistic features, done now consciously, now instinctively.
While striving for the perfect vision, technical – mechanical and electronic – manipulation could offer itself for the self-reflection of art: yet in Csíkvári’s case the reasons are more playful and pragmatic. His chosen starting point, photography, offers realistic visuality ab ovo. This is quite conspicuous in Susana’s Dream [Zsuzsanna álma], where the dream is presented as a scene in another picture within the picture. An ornamental frame demarcates the field of the pornographic dream from the field of the “primary” picture, yet the careful observer will detect optical tricks: from the expansive primary field of the picture a drapery hangs over the frame of the dream world, to return to the primary reality further on. The picture offers several passages, representing the symbolic situation of presenting–concealing. This picture too features a rustic column, which returns in many others, and which suggests we’re peeping at the scene. In the case of the Dream the column divides the picture into further units. The massive drapery falling on the scene of Susanna’s dream is drawn aside by a bald man, as if he were offering the sight to a Peeping Tom of a viewer. The diagonally positioned innermost and most secret scene has the marked characteristics of a painting, while the one closer to us has the features of a genre. Generous reflexes and blurred highlights on the naked bodies make their plasticity unrealistic, whilst curves are emphasized by one or two deepened wrinkles.
Much too refined a picture to be the innocent result of an instinctive urge to create.
Its creator uses the bodies as if they were plastic. He revels in the representation of spatiality, in the texture of draperies, which betrays his record as a sculptor. The iconographic precedents can also be pointed out, because there is always a precedent, even if its surfacing is not the result of conscious configuration. Are the figures real people or visual clones, computerized phantom actors or characterless dummies? They must be ideal types, masks of personal histories. The embodiments of a realistic dream, as almost all of the two-dimensional works of the artist are invested with a dreamlike realism.
This “souped-up” realism gives a superrealist character to the pictures. The last to project such a coherent vision were Puvis de Chavannes and Gauguin, but they meant it. Csíkvári as a painter is void of heroism, and perhaps the industrial, duplicating feel of the chosen technique (though all the pictures are individual works) also suggests life in a modern world void of pathos.
Meanwhile the artist remains faithful to the vision. The primacy of vision derives from the fact that he uses photos as a starting point. But amidst the great variety of available artistic strategies, when forms and styles are available as ready-mades, a simple photo or painted picture is no longer enough. Manipulated, mixed-media images (like the ones Csíkvári uses) rely on the tradition both of photography and painting. To this medial world belongs the history of the arts, mediated by reproductions of artistic or technical media. Photography, thanks to its indexical nature (it is intentional, that is, it is always directed at something, always records something) has an important role in this. It is there to help the artist, if you like. Photography, unlike painting, transposes the represented world without transforming it into a symbolic-representative configuration, but uses instead a mechanic process of recording. We believe it, since that is the purpose of the photograph. It’s mechanic origin also means that once looking beyond representation, it becomes an object, a work (of art). While generating false memories and manufacturing dream copies, Csíkvári also inflates the objective being of the picture. His pictures are emphatically material, the sarcophagus-like boxes represented in them return into the space of the exhibition as objects, installations. The modelling of the objects/bodies represented in his picture is more than perfect: it is plastic.
Csíkvári, in other words, turns sculptures into pictures, photos into objects, images into paintings. There is one things he lets operate freely: cult, the worship of beauty.
Yet the longing for completeness, the wanting of style, drives him to move beyond the mechanic perfection of reproducing the vision. What we see is illusionism, whilst nothing has remained of the origin and authenticity of the photograph – they are scatted while the image is transformed and gains the qualities of a painting. This art is a kind of resurrection, with marked characteristics of death. It is attracted by, besides the cold matter-of-factness of representation, the classic skillfulness of painting. The resulting works are characterized by frozen time schemes, the motionlessness of stills and the arrested narratives of still lives. Often forceful theatricality is involved, as this kind of artistic modelling has a masking effect on reality.
Perhaps it is no exaggeration to see the works as an apotheosis of the artist’s sense of beauty. Which is by no means the end of the story: the pictures and objects have more to say. Let us then enumerate shortly the possible meanings of the set exhibited.
There are three extended image-friezes on the walls, consisting of three picture tables each (Garden [Kert], Stage, Frise). Amidst lavishly decorated antique features and classic fasciae naked human figures appear. The scenes are worked out in great detail. Even at a cursory glance it becomes obvious that formal sequences, a limited number of elements, are varied. The same figures appear on many occasions, often copied to pictures with a different theme (like the bald man in Stage, who reappears, photographed from the back, in Susanna’s Dream). In pictures within a sequence practically the same elements of architecture and landscape are repeated, mirrored, placed in a row. We are pleasantly relieved to see images produced by common tricks of the computer, to realize that the beautiful, lush, Arcadian vegetation of the Garden is the permutation of only a few trees and shrubs; that bodies seen in different perspectives were bent into poses by the computer; that the figures are often distorted from the postures they were originally photographed in. In Creation [Teremtés] the figure lying on the ground is flinging its legs about because originally it was photographed in a sitting pose, and the man with the eye-patch must have been transposed from a standing position into the present hovering one. The renaissance stone reveal, as well as the geometric-ornamental pattern of the floor emerge from a Caravaggiesque blackness. This foil-like homogenous background creates an unrealistic and distinctly artificial location for the scenes.
The series has a programmatic message: life on Earth starts with Creation, proceeds on the Stage of the world, to return to nothingness after the last phase, The Fall of Romans [A rómaiak bukása]. Csíkvári reveals a lot (about himself too: this is how I came, this is what I am), tells much (about, among other things, the androgynous nature of man), and denies something – which may be what is on those canvasses turned with their faces to the wall.
The tableau-like representation of events of life and the harmony of the bodies and limbs depicted brings the aesthetic to an intimate closeness, suggesting that by entering this refined world, we can be completely at one with ourselves. We are in there, summoned, yet see ourselves from the outside, as themes. One’s own life becomes represented as something external. The represented perfection of being is at the same time the illusion of harmony, the image of an ideal world. This Paradise on Earth is a static vision of mankind, where the phases of human life, the rhythm dictated by the order of nature, the continuous progress of life, are transformed into a pure static state. Nothing happens, one is simply present, surrounded by an eternal presence which is not divided from past and future. While the individual phases of life – from creation to decay – are simultaneously present, one knows neither momentariness nor transitoriness. One’s life is rolled out before one as a frieze-like scroll of cartoons. One can see oneself as an actor on the stage of life, acting a role. It is a tableau of human presence, in which individual lives are subjected to a large, general law, the event horizon of birth–life–decay.
Most mythic tableaux have only one temporal dimension, eternal youth. In Csíkvári the Technicolor wide-screen “life movie” allows the representation of ages, the motion of progress. He is not alone: tableaux in the form of horizontal completeness (the border of our world) belong to a series from Courbet’s realistic allegories through the panels of Max Klinger, Merées and Hodler, to contemporaries like Balázs Beöthy. The liberty of visual thought and the formal density make his art a relative of Seurat’s. As in Seurat’s monumental pictures – especially in Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – so in Csíkvári’s work formal correspondences, the complete covering of the surface and the representation grid stretching like a homogenous foil on the surface make the difference between the organic or original and the artificial disappear, under the aegis of a grand idea of form.
Péter Csíkvári’s photo-based pictures present the naked reality: the male and female figures, or the mannerist body fragments (as in Mannerist Picture [Manierista kép]) bear no costumes or clothes. Bareness has an intellectual significance, besides being a state associated with the ideal. The figures are represented without the accessories of their identity, free of their ego-fixations, as all that could be used to identify them seems unwanted. They alone play the roles, and perhaps some picturesquely arranged draperies. Which we should consider the apotheosis not only of aesthetics but also of the computer.
Csíkvári’s classicism is the world of aesthetic desires. An artificial Paradise on Earth, with a perfect landscape, naked people: all you need. A monumental realist dream executed with formalist realism. To be true, it is a harder dream than the pre-Raphaelites’ soft pining. A true image of man – where he come from and where he goes. Where he is heading is quite clear: towards an absolute grade of aesthetic perfection, where he no longer needs to die, never having lived. He has been a mere virtual character – and the vision a mere illusion of the user.