Eye-modules operating with instinctive shiver in compressed streets

May I propose a change of view from which you surely can only stand to benefit. This view involves you forgetting all that you know about street art, public art and graffiti, in exchange for another approach. The pictures presented here can be better approached through expressions as found in Zsolt Gyarmati’s texts: “compressed instincts”, “street operational modules”, or “eye-shiver”.

The artworks that make up this unusual space at Artpool P60 are not easel paintings, although each has canvas as its base; nor are they panel paintings, even if they are loosely related to the wall. One of their most significant features is that it is only here and now that you can see them in this form; thus, they bear similar characteristics to that of installation art in this setting.

The painting techniques used are oil, acrylic and enamel, sprayed, or perhaps dripped onto the canvas, as well as digital prints and stickers. This multilayered character, however, does not result in a collage-like diversity, but is rather reminiscent of those “communication interfaces” that we meet daily when things are superimposed upon in the form of “street activities”. Of course, the process is intentional in Zsolt Gyarmati’s case; he only gives chance events a chance when, as a finishing touch, lacquer glazing is applied, saturating parts of the upper layer and making visible the deeper strata that had originally been doomed to vanish.

With its sterile shine, the lacquer levels the unevenness within the facture, transforming at several places the surfaces into mirrors, in which now the blurred figure of the observer can appear. Next to your reflected gaze, you can at times see eyes. Thus, appearing simultaneously in the pictures, there are those which we take possession of, and those through which we possess the world; an illusion of sensation-perception-interpretation occurring simultaneously, accumulating one on top of the other, as if in layers. At this point, however, there is a more important question then that: to what extent can the eyes remain alive if they are placed outside the face? How do we react if the eyes gradually lose their anthropomorphic character and almost become decorative elements? Or text bubbles in a comic strip?

The genre of comics is indeed not too far from Zsolt Gyarmati’s visual world. This effect is reinforced by having the group of works broken up into units. At the same time, texts are absent from these “bubbles” in the same way as the artist’s picture series intentionally lacks any narrative. This might be linked to the fact that the depicted world is the consumers’ society, where everything is focused on visualizing and fulfilling demands. Since the movement between these poles gradually decreases, time is shrinking, and becomes less and less possible to structure. Everything floats in infinity, and there is no need for the thread-function of the narrative, stringing everything together. Still, some visual (although not linear) time structures can be observed, which create variations of interconnections. One of them is brought about by “sewing” the modules together, creating associations for shorter or longer periods of time; the other is built on seriality; while the third has an essential element of pseudo-division, when the unity of the picture remains obvious despite being broken up into parts, with the delay of perception being the only aim.

The term, street operational module, also appears in the titles of the paintings, and whether it relates to the groups of artworks (as the artist means it) or to the parts constituting them, it in any case denotes accord-like units that can be freely used for the sake of developing polyphony, while still leaving room for further division. Such autonomous elements are motifs, forms, symbols, and inscriptions. Due to their stylized decorativeness, the latter are integrated into the texture of the painting as visual elements, so much so that their linguistic character becomes secondary. In the same manner, the eyes become transformed and lose their fundamental character, with their forms and manner of execution evoking Japanese comics and animated films. What creates a greater similarity with Japanese culture is the method of how the chosen motifs (gathered and selected from Mangas, the world of extreme sports, and advertisements) are put together and “transcribed”. The essence of this method is in retaining the motifs’ original meaning so that they remain readable for those who understand them, yet become vehicles for diverse meanings (understood by diverse people) through their placement into a different context and as a result of an attitude of usage that is different from the subculture. (“Unpacking” the symbol, as if it was a zipped file).

The ambiguity and diversity of meanings hidden behind the closed forms, and the playing with them, are what Barthes considers one of the most important features pertaining to Japan (“the realm of signs”). This provides a degree of freedom where the signifiers become completely liberated from under the rule of the signified; hence, they become more active, profuse and replete with nuances. This trait lends significance to these paintings around us, as well: they are able to move and communicate in a wider spectrum than the environment from which their motifs take their origins.

There is a world emanating from these artworks, raiding and overwhelming our senses – this is what the artist expresses by such phrases as “compressed instincts” and “eye-shiver”. Still, we can choose a way out. This, however, cannot be achieved by locking ourselves up within notions of value pertaining to any type of sub-/elite-/pop-cultures (which can only be comprehended by the respective cultures themselves) in an attempt to take shelter from the saturation bombing caused by the shocking diversity of the world disgorged upon us. Instead, we may try to become aware of what we are surrounded by – then we can make our choice from it, we can select, process, reuse and recycle forms, garbage, or thoughts.

This is not, however, a one-sided process; it is based on dialogues. This dialogue between various strata of culture is referred to in ethnology and ethnography by two terms: folklorism (the usage of folk art elements in the realm of high art – with countless examples for it within the history of Hungarian art) and folklorisation (the process whereby folk art incorporates and domesticates elements from high culture). In our times, however, few would venture to identify the strata maintaining culture, or where folk art and mass culture begin. This complexity, this confused situation, in turn, may compel us to go round and repeatedly examine the shelter that we have built for ourselves, to notice the shelters built by others, and to assess their existing and potential relationships to one another. With a view to develop and maintain the dialogue, these artworks may lend us important assistance.

Now back to the eyes visible in the paintings. Lévinas makes mention of the unusual experience that we gain when observing the human face and eyes: albeit one may focus on the biological characteristics of the eyes, one cannot avoid being confronted with the gaze of the other person. Expanding upon this experience, one may say that we cannot turn an object that is detached from ourselves – i.e., otherness – into the subject of ontological studies, nor can we turn it into an object at all, since everything expresses something and interacts with us; and we cannot reject this interaction. Thus, I suggest that you explore these images, and under the surface that is flexed as a disconcerting envelope around us, discover the gaze, that living and breathing something/somebody that you must start a dialogue with. The exhibition as a whole, from this aspect, shows us that certain things that we think to have lost, to have disappeared, or ultimately changed, can be regained through this approach.

Finally, being aware that we are to take part in three more openings, I would like to congratulate the artist, wishing him success with his future work as well.

Zsuzsanna Kiss