translated by Paul Salamon
You gave three shows almost simultaneously, and one was more exiting than the other. I especially liked that your work could be relevant/interesting for the uninitiated as well. Your topic was colour that you treated in three different ways at three different venues. Your first show, There will always be more fresh laundry, opened in Mai Manó House.
I am glad we managed to open with this material; it gives the right upbeat for the entire series. However, the images were created in a different order: the material shown in Nessim Gallery was done first. When I started working with colours and their transformation on photographic material, initially I obviously made many experiments. The results of these initial experiments were presented at Nessim. These are abstract pieces and actually I had no plan to show these separately.
Because of my relationship to abstraction. Pure abstraction, if there is such a thing, in and of itself is not terribly interesting for me. Even works that start with abstraction are given additional layers of meaning as I go along.
Of course, basically I have an experimenting nature; my works are not the imprints of a preconceived interpretation, a visual rendering of an idea or emotion, but the analysis of specific issues. Issues are closely related to experimentation as process, although this process merely covers the technical and practical aspects of my work. If, by coincidence, it meets an idea or feeling preoccupying me at the time, something with relevance for me - mostly very personal things - a work of art emerges.
While this added meaning makes interpretation more difficult, this method of working is truly mine. In the long term my own questions related to abstraction become boring, at the same time, I often find direct self-expression heavy-handed. That’s why I need both and if everything falls into place, they meet half way.
You are a distinctly feminine artist. This is seen even in your abstract pieces, for instance your photograms using kitchen appliances. I would imagine it’s not very easy to express yourself in this genre.
The photogram is part of the history of photography and my interest in it has nothing to do with the fact that earlier I had worked with kitchen appliances. In other words, I don’t think my femininity is expressed here. On the other hand, it is no accident that Moholy-Nagy and Kepes turned to quasi kitchen appliances, objects in their environment reacting to light in interesting ways. Often these objects are perforated, either transmit or reflect light. For the most part, my interest goes back to that tradition.
What is wonderful in abstraction is that, instead of direct means, an aesthetic value emerges through the process. It is extremely important for me that I don’t create that value by myself. However, I am not fully satisfied either by the birth of an aesthetic value (regardless where it comes from) or the operation of a system for its own sake. Yet I still face the real dilemma whether one can do without abstraction, whether it is possible to talk about abstract concepts through non-abstract means.
Is it possible? Where did your experiments take you?
For me the important thing was to give it a try. The dichotomy of abstraction and a personal touch, where scientific and the mundane concerns overlap, is strongly present at the Mai Manó show. It is an illustration of colour theory through a daily chore, doing the laundry. In other words, the early experiments led to a new territory – to another show.
What came first: the issue of colour or the washing machine? Is the washing machine an iconic object for you? I, for one, love to watch the laundry spinning in the washing machine.
The connection between washing and colour theory has occurred to me some time ago. I have been collecting pictograms on laundry detergents and powder, i.e., I have had a stockpile to work with. Then I set aside the whole topic while I was preoccupied with the problem of colour. I was considering alternatives, but doing the laundry offered the broadest perspective covering the topic from many angles. At the same time, the show at Mai Manó included exclusively works that are not simply about colour but move in different directions and go beyond that. These are the non-abstract pieces where I managed to bring out the colour topic. The three shows and the venues have evolved somehow simultaneously.
You mean you didn’t plan three shows from the very start?
Not for a long time. I knew we were planning to mount a show at the King St. Stephen Museum, and there I planned a light installation. Initially I wanted to show the photograms and all other works in Mai Manó House. However, after a while it became clear there was too much material and it wouldn’t have made sense to mix them together; these are distinct themes requiring their own space and aura.
So, they have been motivated by different things.
Yes, so much so that they would have clashed, but this way they reinforce each other.
The audience is made up of men and women alike. The two sexes have a different approach to washing. Housework has long been associated with women. Thanks to my craze for all things mechanical, I admire washing machines. What does the washing machine mean to you? Why didn’t you use a blender?
In the introductory remarks it was mentioned that the washing machine's porthole resembles an optical device. There are so many analogies between the process of washing / the visual and formal potentials offered by washing and colour theory that I could hardly have opted for anything else. It definitely involves revolving motion and optical mixing, just as in the Nessim Gallery show substractive/additive colour mixing acted as the conceptual foundation of colour theory. Optical colour mixing is best illustrated through revolving motion. This is how the washing machine entered the picture. True, there is some sarcasm in the fact that it has to do with housework, which makes it feminine. From the point of colour theory I could just as well have used a blender or anything else. For instance, there are these paint mixers; paint is splashed around the edges of the drum, creating Pollock-like images. Nothing short of abstract expressionism … But that was very far from my intention; if nothing else, I would much rather go for Damien Hirst's cynical/mechanical spinner-generated painting products. In other words, washing was not necessarily the point; I didn’t choose it because it was feminine. I’m not concerned with feminine things because I’m a woman, but …
That’s hard to believe. Statistically, in a similar situation a male artist would be much less likely to work with a washing machine. Perhaps a concrete mixer …
…there is a social consensus that everyday objects I work with are feminine and, undeniably, I am a woman who likes to play games with these quaint conventions. It is suspiciously simplistic to believe there is a causal relationship between using feminine themes and being a woman. What counts as feminine is not defined by me, but by society. I give a deliberate twist to all this. I believe lifting the washing machine into the context of colour theory is rather ironic.
As I entered the gallery, I had the strong feeling the show was inspired by daily routines. I believe this also holds for the pictograms.
The pictogram came about when I started to collect packaging materials and illustrations, and these generated the themes themselves. I believe that if, instead of cooking and household chores, these images illustrated car repair or fishing, I may have worked with those topics. These packaging materials hold up a mirror to the society that uses these products. The collection evolved around this specific household topic – and since I did not find it objectionable, I took the challenge... In other words, my motivation is different from what you may see at first sight, but it’s great fun for me. I wouldn’t deny that in the least. If someone wants to call me a feminist based on my work, I feel perfectly comfortable with that.
Are you a feminist?
Yes, although here in Hungary the term has a rather bad connotation. To this day, feminism is associated with the ideological movements of the 60s. While I consider myself to be a feminist, I don’t follow a dogma. I do not see a direct link between public / community issues and the artwork I do. Although I may be active in the struggle for minorities and equal rights, from there I find no direct feedback to art. Art raises questions and it is something more nebulous – for the most part it has no unequivocal answers.
Let’s get back to optical blending. Are your revolving images photograms as well?
The large ones are made with a camera, the small ones are photograms. I made these in Hungary, so there was a definite size limit. I projected a static light composition on paper and spun it around.
I see. What do letters have to do with colours and the washing machine? There are texts on two revolving light boxes – were they on the package itself?
No, I added them myself. I often use texts (the Short Prayer exhibition is based entirely on texts). Here the letters and texts serve as a link between abstraction and meaning. Just as the revolving light box is a transition between the static and the moving image. Incidentally, Duchamp had texts written on discs; I saw them spinning around two years ago at a large and comprehensive dada exhibition. I also had these in mind when I made my light boxes.
Were you attracted by the familiar?
I was sucked in, like you were by the washing machine.
I realized that when two letters of different colours meet, they become grey as they converge. How does this work? I wasn’t aware of this law of physics; one doesn’t often make such experiments at home.
I project letters with complementary colours on the wall in two layers from a single source of light. When the two layers completely overlap, the two complementary colours render each other achromatic. This holds for all colour mixing. Whether the outcome is white, grey or black depends on the type of blending. Adding more pigment you deepen the colour, and add more light and you make it lighter. To make a perfectly neutral medium grey, you may want to use computer modelling.
Let’s talk about the video installation. There are two wall projections and one monitor. On the monitor the viewer sees as you arrange a colour-wheel using garments. On the two side walls there are video projections showing the washing machine in operation. The plunging clothes are shown once in low- then in high-speed motion. What do these effects signify?
The blurry images were made with stop-motion, the slow-motion ones with a camera capable of taking 250 frames per second. If you replay this at normal speed, you see a sharp and seamless image in slow motion. For instance, explosions are filmed with similar cameras with much higher resolution.
The way the clothes keep tumbling is gorgeous - I spent a lot of time in the video room. At one point in the video you open the door and throw in a piece of cloth with a specific colour, blue for instance. What’s your purpose? Does the introduced colour have an effect on the final, mixed colour?
Yes, that was the idea. One after the other, I keep adding colours to the colour wheel over white sheets. Its title is, “Over and beyond perception”. It operates in a time dimension beyond our visual ability – it’s either too fast or too slow. Just as we are unable to perceive our own life from a distance, we cannot recognize laws generated by inertia. In fact, the whole thing takes on a completely different meaning beyond the issues of colour theory.
What is the function of the clothes-arranging video? I watched through the end and wondered what the point of the whole exercise was – you laid out the colour wheel.
There is really no punch line. It is a real-time connection between the two other time dimensions. And it provides a “chromatic explanation” for the two other videos. I wanted to lift the colour wheel into the show in some form. This is the show's logo (all three shows have their own logo), and I wanted it to return somewhere. However, in itself the colour wheel is rather boring, unless I reinterpret and make it more personal by introducing actual clothes. That’s exactly why there is no trick and no punch line. The contrast between the personal character of one’s own clothes, the content of the laundry basket, the routine of folding clothes and the lab setting lend tension to the exercise.
Did you simply open your closet and find the right colours?
I also went through my daughter’s closet. I got the green pantyhose from one of my girlfriends. I borrowed it for the shooting, and then she gave it to me. Eventually, they are all personal, well-worn items. Of course, one finds in the closet clothes with different colour tones, but I wasn’t looking for perfect colour temperatures. Instead, I scanned a wide range in colour definitions and colour perception. In each section, I inserted clothes of different hues that we describe with the same word for colour.
Why didn’t you hang the clothes in real space?
It occurred to me, and I thought it would be a good idea to nail the clothes to the wall. Gyula Várnai has a work on that theme, called Aura. He attached clothes to the wall – it would have been a great reference to someone whose work I highly appreciate. In his work the word ’aura’ was spelled out by the wall surface itself while the negative space was filled in with the clothes. Eventually, I used the video instead, because objects placed on the wall would have had to be lit and that would have killed the other two projections in the room. Not to mention that video has its own dramaturgy. When I walk in with the laundry basket there are no clues what the whole thing is going to be about. The colour wheel emerges gradually, as part of the process; otherwise it is always seen complete. That always has a sense of something finite and washed-out - text-bookish. As for video installation, I find it important that the viewer have the opportunity to join in at any moment without having to wait for the tape to rewind. If the piece has a narrative, it should be simple and immediately available. I am definitely viewer-friendly in this respect.
I’m glad to hear that as a spectator. Tell me about Székesfehérvár – the sun was out and children were running around in the darkened banquet room.
Yes, there was a cold and darkened room for projections, and a sunny and warm garden for the opening reception.
It was a wonderful contrast. One saw projectors projecting texts on the wall. One was moving and the other two were still images projected to overlap. Kids running into the beam of light blocked out part of the text, which helped me to interpret the work. I bet the kids were not there by accident. It would not have occurred to me to stand in front of the projector; first I tried to read the two overlapping lines, with little success.
So, you needed the help of those children.
Yes. It was great; art is usually for adults. One needs a lot of training and experience – kids are rarely present at these events.
I don’t think you need training to appreciate good art. It must stand on its own. I hope words like “colour theory” didn’t scare anybody away. If you believe the opposite, it would be a huge disappointment for me.
I don’t, although your show raised the number of questions and dilemmas.
That’s how it should be. It’s good when the work can be approached at different levels, from different angles. Even the viewer with no desire for professional understanding may get something that carries meaning for him, and that doesn’t necessarily have to involve issues of colour theory. For instance, irony may be a potential opening and it may suffice on its own.
I see. Going back to the projector: the kids blocked out part of the text making the lines legible: “A short prayer for thoughts that have never come”. I have a wish: I would like to talk and think about many things, but often these “important” things don’t come to mind. Do you hope to tease your fugitive thoughts to the surface with these lines?
Not at all. Instead, I accept the fact that one cannot think of everything. Everyone can think of ideas that one may have at least potentially – and, under certain circumstances, one could even get to the bottom of some of these. Or, alternatively, these ideas may dissipate, leaving behind nothing but a sense of void. I believe, everyone has this experience – we realise, there are things that will never come to mind. In fact, the number of ideas we have never thought of is much larger than those we have. Also, the number of things we never realize is much larger than the ones we accomplish. Our actions are decisions, eliminating all other options from our lives. Earlier, I found this realization quite painful. Surely, I will think of many things in the future, but the number of missed ideas will be much larger. By having said a prayer, I came to accept this state of affairs as a fact of life.
The letters have different colours. Does this have any significance?
Two colours are projected on each other from two different sources; one can analyze the phenomenon of pure additive mixture of colours. However, the text commands attention and becomes more important. Originally, I planned to project mutually complementary colours as to overlap. I believed I could achieve total conjunction, absolute grey colour. I thought, when viewers enter the room first they would see nothing, but if they block the path of one light source, they see one, stepping into the other, the other colour. The sentence would have been made legible through to the act of walking as well.
You said, this was only possible with a single light source.
That’s right, and it didn’t work either. So I changed the concept because I believed it would work this way as well. In fact, it is actually better this way: at least you don’t have the feeling of being in the wrong place, for you see something right away even if it’s somewhat chaotic and incoherent at first. But it gives the whole thing a special poignancy – you find meaning in chaos through active participation.
Turning your back, you see another projection – lines of a text drift upward, where the script splits in two, then merges again. As if the spirit of the text would leave its body. One also grasps the idea of complementary colours.
Being text-based, this show is an analysis of colour from the point of meaning. In this work, complementariness carries a meaning in itself. The phenomenon, the behaviour of complementary colours, is the same as with the washing machine, although in this case, instead of the phenomenon, the meaning is of more importance.
Did you write the text yourself?
Well, with some help from Hegel.
When I read the line: “the wise man paints grey over grey”, I thought it was a quote from the Tao Te King. Why Hegel?
This is a genuinely complementary sentence and, while I haven’t read it earlier (I encountered it as I prepared for the exhibition), those with some understanding of philosophy are familiar with the sentence. I looked up what Hegel had to say on this subject. I wanted to extend the “complementary” interpretation over the entire text. Since it didn’t quite work, I tried to reshape the text to my own image. The text is ambiguous, it suggests the option of direct perceptual interpretation and a much broader, more theoretical explanation.
What does this text mean for you?
Among others, it is about the variability of perspectives, about relativity. What does the perception of reality mean? Do we contemplate the object in front of us, or does our sense of reality have more to do with the way we look at things? Is it the thing itself or your perspective that changes? By changing perspective everything may change, while the thing itself remains the same. Or it may change as well. This is a system where everything is in a constant flux, while our perspective informs all interpretation. This “grey on grey” sounds very enigmatic and funny, but it came in handy for me. I domesticated this quote from Hegel for the purposes of colour theory, as I did the colour wheel when I arranged it with the clothes.
Do the split text and the phenomenon of complementary colours emphasize the mutability of all things?
Complementariness is also a symbol of fullness. A complementary colour-pair consists of a colour and its complement, which contains all the other colours making up the full spectrum. Something and everything else, other than itself. Absolute greyness is like Michelangelo’s block of marble – limitless potential. Gray may give birth to anything, it encompasses all. Not like a blank piece of paper, which is empty. Projected grey light contains all the colours. This is how Short Prayer meets There will always be more fresh laundry, and vice versa.