On Ágnes Eperjesi’s triple exhibition, Colour Matters
translated by Adele Eisenstein
In my opinion, which I will expound in detail further in the text, Colour Matters is a composition that is complex, combining various media, often transcending their limits, frequently questioning and overwriting structurally the traditional notion of the artwork, also a compound from the perspective of the relationship with the viewer – comprised here of static, there of interactive artworks, that are open, self-reflective and interpretable in a number of ways, and that in some places, in a certain sense, can be conceived as scientific research, transcending the limits of art.
Beginning with the fundamentals, what in fact is Colour Matters? One exhibition, or a series of exhibitions; one work of art, or more? What kind of relationship is there between the structural elements – is there a relationship at all – is it one structure at all? The positioning, definition and decision is facilitated by the fact that Colour Matters is accompanied by a rather substantial and precise auteur text, concept statement and description of the work, and analysis, i.e., on the one hand, the thing stands before us transparently, and it offers itself for further interpretation. Naturally, the auteur text itself must also be the object of interpretation and not blind acceptance, nor recitation or imitation. It is noteworthy that while we could view three different exhibitions, each furnished with its own title, the author comprised and linked them under a single title, thus proposing and conceiving of them as an artwork – comprised of several parts. Also interesting in the threefold structure is that, since the three exhibitions were in three different locations, and they were not numbered, there is no precise order for viewing/reading, nor narrative: we can advance by way of any of its elements, and then we can formulate our own interpretation. The different parts can be arranged as a puzzle, so that various correlations can be constructed and produced, depending upon how I place the elements, and how I read them, side by side. The structural units that are not fixed evoke a continual rearrangement of context. The auteur text/press material suggests, however, a model for interpretation: “The works are divided among the three locations according to the body-spirit-soul reading”, but on the one hand, this is merely a suggestion, and not a prescription; and on the other, this is not fixed either: it does not determine the order or the method of reading; furthermore, since the artist interpolates one of the largest and perhaps now emptiest topoi of the Western European Christian cultural sphere into the context of the exhibition, it can also be interpreted ironically.
The threefold structure thus hovers as recipient-friendly, as there is no fixed order or structure. For those for whom the more abstract, experimental, scientific, systematic, or simply a sensory, passive, contemplative, or more strictly photographic approach is attractive, they may consider the exhibition Nothing beyond Colours as both the starting and endpoint. For those for whom the more personal and ironic, but less media-based, the farther removed, and here and there, more easily integrated into the context of Eperjesi’s artwork, and from there more familiar approach, they can begin with There will always be more laundry. And for those who rather desire a relatively simple work of art, i.e., one composed of relatively few elements, and/or a personal/ironic, text-based and profound spectacle, there is Small Prayer. Depending upon what we emphasise, the artwork’s internal proportions of interpretation shift, as do the face, image and meaning of the work.
The title of the work, Colour Matters, while guiding with respect to the interpretation of the structure, also avoids potential unidirectional self-interpretations. Very wisely, it does not deem in any way to close the open structure/work, or the interplay of symbols. It only refers ironically to the fact that the artwork is engaged with colour in at least three ways, and in three locations. The title, moreover, removes/relativises the gravity, and the scientific character, since, with respect to the systematic quality and latter aims , the artist might also have entitled her work pompously, freely after Goethe [whose work in colour theory also links at various points]: perhaps even as Theory of Colours.
The titles of the individual exhibitions are also ironic, as Nothing beyond Colours is a play on words, i.e., it reverses, to be more precise – and at its base, with regard to the determinant art of Eperjesi – it appropriates, makes its own, distorts a phrase for its own purposes.
There will always be more laundry conveys frenetically and humorously a fundamental and trivial, and moreover, totally empty, meaningless truth and fact, which leads us nowhere. Which, in its exquisite prosaism means nothing at all, which we have never reflected upon in this way, which we have never proved, nor even deemed worthy of attention. Which – if we make a wider interpretation – might also reflect on the subject – and choice of subject – of Eperjesi’s current work, as the artist speaks about it thus in the context of the contemporary art scene: “I think that fundamentally, no one is interested in what I am engaged in”.
Alongside the fact that the title Small Prayer is concrete and descriptive, as the text of one of the installations, it is truly a kind of true small prayer designating/extinguishing its self-reflective self, as if with its brevity it would cancel this important element of Christian spirituality, that activity when, absorbed in ourselves, we turn toward something, offer our souls, i.e., when we in fact emerge from ourselves for the duration of the prayer. It is in that sense ironic that the text of the other installation is a paraphrase of Hegel, in other words, emphatically not some sort of Christian mystical or ascetic fundamental text. Albeit this irony is balanced by the darkness of the space of the installation, which might suggest the darkness of the internal, the soul, and call for introspection and self-examination. The text of the eponymous installation again relativises and disturbs, since the small prayer does not address (a) God, nor does it issue from the soul, since it springs forth for thoughts that have not been thought/existed or exist only as a possibility, i.e., it springs forth for a kind of empty place.
To keep to the fundamentals: the texts accompanying the exhibition are also noteworthy. Their principal characteristic [as well as that of the interview made with the artist] is their ostensibly high degree of recipient-friendliness and politeness, since the artist relates the necessary, essential information relating to the means of creation of the experimental, innovative and not trivial work with regard to its realisation/technique; furthermore, she formulates a kind of proposal for comprehension with a delineation of the concept and the expounding of her intentions. In a certain sense, the work might appear to be perfectly transparent and clear, since alongside the work, we receive the explanation of the author’s intention and the circumstances of its origin. It might appear as if the artist herself were creating and simultaneously interpreting the work, i.e., alone bridging the gap between the artwork and the recipient. Which might mean that the artist would like to clearly establish what should be considered about the work and in which direction, and how the work should be understood precisely. It can also mean, however, that there is a desire (and I think in this case, it is thus) on the part of the artist for the work to be interpreted beyond its technical curiosity and novelty. That the work should be resolved not merely in the technical riddle-solving, but that the richness of its meanings and contexts should be made visible, and its personal and/or scientific stakes. Such transparency of the work can also encumber [or, if I want to be wicked, precisely the opposite: facilitate] to an extent the work of interpretation/interpreters. If the artwork apparently tells all about itself, it renders its interpretation unnecessary, superfluous, which, it seems, is believed by a portion of its recipients, because they merely recite the work’s self-interpretation in other words, rather than finding their own. The significant artwork is characteristic, however [it is characteristic of certain significant works that I drive away the evil spirit of essentialism], in that it does not give itself easily, and the process of interpretation also confronts the analyst with the shortcomings of their tools, and the failings of their viewpoints, and compels them to continuous self-investigation and self-reflection.
To continue to remain with the fundamentals [it is likewise characteristic of certain great works that they call for the continuous revision of the fundamentals, not taking into consideration any results attained by others, nor the medium itself, as stands to reason], if we would like to define the artistic form and genre of Ágnes Eperjesi’s artwork, we again find ourselves in the density – the cloud – of troubles. In one respect, the works displayed at the three exhibitions seem to fall under photographic art , since there are, if only in a small number, images made traditionally, with a camera [of course, used differently]; and moreover, in a larger number, and with more emphasis, those made without a camera: photograms; and finally, video and other installations. Even the works that appertain to photographic art rather step in front of and/or back from it, towards a more original, simple basic relation, that of light and the paper, and with the video installations, they transcend photography, towards the moving image. Eperjesi, visibly from her career until now, creates, not only relying on a chosen medium, in her medium, and employing its existing means without problems, but her works perpetually seek their own basis and that of their media, explore them, render them problems and the object of analysis and reflection. For Eperjesi, there is no given. She has to investigate, re-examine everything, dismantle it all, go down to the fundamentals, take apart and put back together, after which, of course, nothing remains what it was. With a Hegelian prank, we might also say that photography as medium by way of Eperjesi’s investigations will be truly itself and awake to consciousness [or on the contrary: will disintegrate, and/or will become fine art]. Of course, since this is art, there is a personal stake, and taste; thus, the photography awakened to consciousness is not Photography, but rather photography according to Eperjesi.
With Colour Matters, Eperjesi has once again put her hand to the research of art, and not only art, but the fundamental elements and conditions of perception, which also possess an artistic, i.e., personal stake, as she has stepped back to a problem that is generally little reflected upon or researched: colour. We might consider the exhibition-ensemble/artwork a special kind of work over a period of years, or perhaps an interim [since we cannot know whether and how this artwork-corpus/experimentation will further develop] synthesis of a manifold and systematic investigation, which, in fact, since it is art, does not conclude or formulate statements, but opens problems and presents them. She questions and experiments in such a way that she meanwhile not only employs her mind and grey theory, but her complete personality, thus her interpretations analyse herself, and her questions are also directed to herself.
Colour Matters, as Anna Gács described at the opening of the exhibition , is a certain kind of empirical colour theory, in connection with which the reference to Goethe is by no means arbitrary, as Eperjesi herself also refers to him. With respect to her Prism-Pictures, she writes: “At the first encounter, my pictures might even be illustrations for the Second Phase of Goethe’s Theory of Colours.” However, while with Goethe, his research in colour theory are kept separate from his artistic work with relative purity, meanwhile Eperjesi succeeds in pursuing art and her scientific research together, simultaneously, realising artworks in which they mingle, and influence each other, relativising each other and overwriting the personal, artistic and scientific contexts and elements.
Even with its title, the exhibition, There will always be more laundry also renders the unquestionable seriousness of the scientific research, its objectivity and the verifiability of its scientific pronouncements, and the claim for truth the subject of irony. Problems of colour theory here become the subject of debate (also) in a personal, feminine and even housewife context [from which Newton, Goethe and Johannes Itten would probably fall upon each others’ necks sobbing]. The washing machine/dryer as field for mixing of colours, as scientific tool of research, as equipment of every housewife [despised to a certain extent because of the dirty work], as foundation stone of every household, is the wonderful and complex metaphor of Eperjesi’s original and profoundly ironic, subversive art. Eperjesi sensationally combines the seemingly distant contexts and human vital functions, making them crash into one another, undermining them in confrontation.
In one part of the 3-channel video installation, entitled Over and Beyond Perception, for instance, we can watch as the artist in the iconic white lab coat of the scientist, the researcher, slowly unpacks a colour wheel from her own [and/or her family’s] articles of clothing. We are witness to a certain artistic, private and feminine scientific act, or action, which in its naturalness is absurd, as in actual fact, it is an accident of the mind, with mind understood of course as the traditional phallogocentric and scientific mind. The further parts of the installation, meanwhile, proceed along the sphere of colour theory problems, though using colour mixing as an example, as a subject, shows the limits of human perception. We cannot see simultaneously in front of us and behind our backs: taking in the installation, we constantly have to turn around, so that the installation also rotates the receiver. There is also the speed of our perception, and that which is too slow or too fast in accordance with it is in practice imperceptible, which also holds as translated to colour theory, as we can only perceive colours of a certain wavelength. Drawing attention to the limits of perception, just as the critique of science, refers to the limits of human omnipotence. And to the fact that, though we believed to the contrary for quite some time, we are not the masters of nature or creation. No matter how certain, objective and precise we believe our tools to be, and thus our declarations of reality to be facts: they are not. No matter how much we would like to, it is impossible to remove the perceiver from perception; s/he will interfere and get mixed into the perception. No matter how much s/he would like, the perceiver does not perceive a world independent of her/him, nor record from a certain absolute viewpoint. With her/his perception and research, s/he constructs a world [and not merely perceives or discovers it] – her/his own world, with her/his own facts. Eperjesi’s Colour Matters is just this way: her own theory of colours. Whose conclusions and results, nevertheless, might be much more exciting than many scientific theories and hypotheses.
We can view the abstract and inventive results of the experiments of this personal theory of colours, in their captivating richness, immediately enjoyable and receptible even only on a sensory level, in the rapid images and photograms of There will always be more laundry, and in the material of the series Prism-Pictures, Secondary Densities, Colourful Shadows, Relay, and Contact of Nothing beyond Colours. As a kind of internal quotation, Prism-Pictures could allude to or echo Eperjesi’s former, early works: to a completely different usage of the prism in the works Rolling and The Prism’s Systematic Rolling in Every Direction. The objects and motifs of the Colourful Shadows photograms continue Eperjesi’s oeuvre artistically appropriating the everyday, kitchen, housewife context [though naturally, they also evoke a photographic tradition ], as graters, glassware and other kitchen tools provide the terrain for colour theory experiments.
With its structure, Relay excitingly recalls the structure of Theory of Colours, as the work is an ensemble comprised of 10 pieces that can be varied at one’s discretion. In the Nessim Gallery, we could see a variation of 7 elements. It is obvious that at the other exhibitions, if the aim is variation and permutation, we could not encounter this arrangement for long. The interesting problem or question is: where is it here, and what is the artwork? Which variation/combination? Or is it the aggregate of all the possibilities? From this perspective, Relay can be interpreted as an open work of perpetually changing structure and meaning. The work, incidentally, is enthralling also technically, as photograms of such dimension [each piece is 70×100 cm] and execution have either never or very rarely been seen in Hungary.
Alongside the colour theory experiment [subtractive and additive colour mixing, additive phenomenon on subtractive medium], Contact attempts to break down the fundamental definition of photography: that of the photo, the negative, the work of art being reproducible. Because the artwork contains the originals and the contact sheets, as well as further contacts, i.e., the copies made of these, too. The artwork is a unit of the original and the copy, impossible to copy further, closed into itself. The question of the original and the copy emerges here in an unusual form because the copy is not a precise copy that adheres to the original; it does not resemble it, as in the copy, colours complementary to the original appear. With Contact, Eperjesi has created a kind of photographic Möbius-strip or snake biting its own tail , i.e., an unusual form of work and idea. She has produced an artwork which is not reproducible in the customary photographic sense, but contains its own source, its germ, and its own copies, though it is true they are not identical. The originals and repetitions or copies of the work come into being as an aggregate, where the hierarchy and the traditional favour and priority of the original cease, since it arrives to one level, colour and coordinate relationship with its copies. Visually, without any author’s explanations, it is quite difficult to decide what is original and what is a copy; in fact, it is to the great merit of the work that the question of original and copy becomes irrelevant. Hierarchy, one hierarchy is suspended, dismantled. Which is no small feat [just so that I can end (but not close/finish) my essay with an empty sentence/empty place that is along the lines of There will always be more laundry].
This essay is a slightly modified/reconstructed version of my text of the same name that was published in the 2009/3 issue of Fotóművészet [Photo Art].
Eperjesi, Ágnes: Colour Matters: There will always be more laundry (Hungarian House of Photography – Mai Manó House, 30 April – 21 June 2009); Nothing beyond Colours (Nessim Gallery, 5 May – 5 June 2009); Small Prayer (King Saint Stephen Museum, Székesfehérvár, 9 May – 20 September 2009).
In an interview, Ágnes Eperjesi speaks about her long-range aim for the material of the exhibition series, and about one part of it: “I would like to summarise the entire exhibition at Nessim Gallery and the results of the related experimentation in an educational programme. (…) There will be a book with visual material from the three exhibitions, as well as texts that will assist interpretation with their discussion of fundamental colour theory problems. (…) I feel that the time has truly come to rethink the teaching of colour theory, because it is my experience that there is a much greater absence in the field of colour theory on the art scene than in the sciences, and in the teaching connected with it: the two do not meet at all. Even today, they teach according to the antiquated pedagogy of Johannes Itten, which must be updated, for instance, with the results of electronics or computer science. These are already indispensable parts of our everyday environment today, and would render education much closer to reality. I generally begin with the nature of the colours (of lights), if I try to speak about the knowledge of colour theory, because from there, one can trace it back very logically to the mixing of paint colours”. (Színről színre. Beszélgetés Eperjesi Ágnessel Színügyek című hármas kiállításáról I-II. [From Colour to Colour: In conversation with Ágnes Eperjesi on her triple exhibition entitled Colour Matters, I-II; Péter Trembeczki made the interview] http://www.fotopost.hu/interju/szinrol-szinre)
At the same time, of course, it cannot be disregarded that with the end of art history (H. Belting), and the disappearance of common references and a foundation, artists should not only construct artworks, but should also create their context and a milieu of interpretation somehow. This stands true especially for works that blaze a path through unknown territory, progress.
Though exactly what is (P)photography, I would not be able to define: it is not definable, i.e., it can be defined in many ways (unfortunately, generally: normative), which to some extent undermines/implodes some/all of my message, which nevertheless is not against it. I feel that interpretive/thinking work is not activity carried out on stable scaffolding on a building, nor is it creation or construction of a building, but rather the scaffolding and the building have to be constructed simultaneously, or moreover, sought/researched, calculating its non-constructability and/or continual and regular collapse and recommencement of work.
Or, as she formulated it in an older discussion, though in connection with another question: “…in the course of experiments, I purified the sight, until it was possible to deduce the original darkroom situation from the result”. (Maurer Dóra: Fényelvtan. A fotogramról [Light-Syntax: On the Photogram]. Fotográfiai Múzeum-Balassi Kiadó [Museum of Photography – Balassi Publishers], 2001, p.162.)
The quotations and references form a nice round dance, with Eperjesi in her Small Prayer interpreting a later often quoted text from the preface of Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right [“When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated, but only recognised, by the grey in grey of philosophy…”.] and the setting of the text, making variations on it, mastering and appropriating it, and using it, while the text excerpt itself is a paraphrase, namely from the well-known lines of Goethe’s Faust: “Grey, my friend, is every theory, but green is the tree of life”. The fundamental metaphor/colour appears here, which she uses continuously in the exhibition-series and in practice, and varies, and this is what comes from the mixing of colours, which is strictly speaking, non-colour: grey. The grey here is as if it were some sort of infinite potential, a storehouse of possibilities, where they can return, take a rest, and from where the colours will come undone. It is not by chance that when, e.g., the text from the interactive installation in There will always be more laundry becomes legible, it is grey. But just for a moment, because it is in perpetual motion, metamorphosis; or as in the longer text of the Small Prayer installation, as it transforms from grey to colour, and from colour to grey, as the words and letters move towards each other, cover each other, and then again move away, as if we were watching the eternal circulation of reality – birth and death. That, which, and as it is [cf. the text from the Small Prayer installation, with Hegel-paraphrase: "It is good to contemplate reality just as it is. As to how it should be, in any case, we arrive too late for that. It would only be detrimental to manipulate it or move it, because in the end it will shift on its own. Neither is our own countenance immovable, because it moves together with that which it reflects on. The sage paints with grey upon grey."].
Anna Gács: exhibition opening, There will always be more laundry. www.eperjesi.hu › articles ›
Combination is one of the fundamental metaphors of Colour Matters [and naturally, experimentation, the entirely empirical method of creating artworks], which however is a self-reflective metaphor, since one of the basic characteristics of Eperjesi’s art is the combination of diverse contexts, especially those extremely distant from each other, as well as, in a certain sense, contexts that are alien to art [such as, e.g., the commonest activities of the everyday, housekeeping operations, apparatus and pictograms] lifted into – grafted onto – art. Whose direct consequence, however, is not that everyday life would rise to some sort of elevation of art, or would be sublimated, and/or that its aura arises, but simply that the status and meaning of both art and everyday life become questionable, as do their artificial autonomy. Combination as optical colour mixing appears in the There will always be more laundry exhibition and in the Small Prayer texts, and as subtractive-additive colour mixing in Nothing beyond Colours.
A nice example of this is the Small Prayer interactive installation, when we can only see clearly and read one-half (!) of the projected text, if we stand in the beam of light of the other projector. If we don’t interfere, we don’t see. If we would like to remain outside the observation and objectively observe, we do not perceive anything, well only details and parts of the view, but not the whole.
This is similar to the way, it seems, colour theory researchers increasingly discover, assess and research, and not, as they did previously, show contempt for Goethe’s theory, deeming it an amateur, dilettante fad.
These works can be found as illustrations in Dóra Maurer’s outstanding, pioneering volume, Fényelvtan. A fotogramról [Light-Syntax: On the Photogram]. (Magyar Fotográfiai Múzeum-Balassi Kiadó [Museum of Photography – Balassi Publishers], 2001, pp.162, 180–181.)
“It is not by chance that Moholy-Nagy and Kepes also reached for quasi kitchen utensils, since these are the objects in our environment that react interestingly to light. They have some holes, allowing some light to be transmitted, yet they often reflect. I would like to reflect primarily on this tradition”. (Színről színre. Beszélgetés Eperjesi Ágnessel Színügyek c. hármas kiállításáról I-II. [From Colour to Colour: In conversation with Ágnes Eperjesi on her triple exhibition entitled Colour Matters, I-II; Péter Trembeczki made the interview] http://www.fotopost.hu/interju/szinrol-szinre)
“…a posztmodern kelgyó enfarkába harap…” (Péter Esterházy: Bevezetés a szépirodalomba [Introduction to Literature]. Budapest, Magvető, 1986.)
Allow me to quote at the actual end of my essay, going after my own head, or as a self-reflection and perhaps as an apology, Eperjesi’s nice text [which, according to the artist, is a quotation from Stanley Cavell] from Small Prayer: “Small prayer for the thoughts that have never come”.