Zsófia FRAZON: The Kitchen is in Hand, the House is in Hand.

Translated by Petra Bakos
published in Hungarian: Tudatos vásárló magazin, Winter 2011-12

Uniquely designed, hand-crafted artist’s books are fairly rare in Hungary. The book as an object and in particular the artist’s book as an artwork is a singular piece of art just like a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, an installation or an exhibit. It is a subjective collage, within which images, texts and thoughts correspond with the author’s inventions. Ágnes Eperjesi’s book, Szorgos kezek – tennivalók a házban és a ház körül (Busy Hands – Chores around the house, 2004) belongs to this genre. There were altogether three pieces made of it, one “knit” and two “purls.” There are more than three hundred pictures in the book organized in thematic units, supplemented by texts and captions. Let`s take a closer look at this workaday and artistic world we’ve entered as readers; also, let`s find out what the one “knit” and two “purls” are about!

Blow-up of tiny hands

In harmony with their title, on most of the pictures in the books we see busy (female?) hands doing household chores: cooking, cleaning, in gloves or without; sometimes in motion, sometimes in awkward positions. Some of the hands belong to a torso or a whole body: to shopping, dusting, mopping, housecleaning or harvesting women, time to time the hands belong to a baby or to a man with a paintbrush. But more often it is nothing but a hand, a hand with a pot, with some pasta, a rolling pin, a knife, a measuring cup, fish, vegetables, fries, sushi, stuffed cabbages, then with all kinds of cleaning rugs, and always in rubber gloves. Each image is an action. Busy household work. The question arises: what the heck is going on?

The book’s visual material is familiar and unfamiliar all at once. Familiar, because it is something that we see all the time; yet unfamiliar, because in its original scale we pay no attention to it. Perhaps we do not notice it at all, although it enwraps us as packaging does the pasta, cellophane the dish sponge. In the books these mundane objects, especially their details are the main protagonists: the images and icons printed on the transparent wrappers of commercially available items. Ágnes Eperjesi started to collect these small icons over twenty years ago: she cut them out, organized them then began her work on them. This is how the Újrahasznosított képek /Recycled Images (1999-2003) were born, which were more than just pieces of art: they established an artistic process and worldview. By using the images as photo negatives (the cut-outs were placed into the slot for negatives in the enlarging equipment) their hidden dimensions emerged. However, it was also during this process that the distinctively unified visual world of the collection started to take shape, not all by itself of course, but due to the artist’s interventions. The heart of the process and the artistic concept is zooming in and blowing up, by which details that would go otherwise unnoticed become visible. By bringing the small pictures so close to our eyes, the process paradoxically creates critical distance by means of approximation. From up close a world that seemed coherent from a “distance” falls apart into pieces, into “lines;” still, due to this artistic concept visual crudeness appears as artistic refinement. This scale and perspective delineate the busy work done by the kitchen table and in the household, as well as the artist’s work and actions. Ágnes Eperjesi translates her own perspective and critique into a visual language and presents the visual “shabbiness” of off-the-shelf wrappings with their amiably surrealistic world together with the graphic logic of an almost invisible segment of popular culture. She elevates inaccuracy onto an artistic level: lines appear as if having material consistency, uniformity falls apart onto refined differences. There are as many images as icons, and even the seemingly identical ones radiate their own characteristic distinctiveness.

The work of creative hands

The idea, the concept and the icons were turned into exhibition pieces: full-color photographs printed on 1x1.5m aluminum sheets, with texts accompanying them. This approach offered a fresh take on the topic, i.e. the world of invisible creatures busy with household chores, and the form and technique as well (Szorgos kezek [Busy hands] 2000-2003, Semmi vész [No worries] 2001, Heti étrend [Weekly menu] 1999-2000, Asztal [Table] 2002, Önkiszolgáló [Supermarket] 2002, Főzési tanácsok [Cooking advice] 2002; more on Ágnes Eperjesi’s website). But there were also re-made objects: kitchen tiles “decorated” with the images of busy hands, and fridge magnets with the icons of candy wrappers with a strawberry pattern. This way certain details of the wrappers, these mass-produced, invisible commercial items, may live on in unique objects: ephemeral existence re-embodied in lasting works of art. Ágnes Eperjesi marked out a new place for them in the ceaseless circulation of images and objects.

Lastly the books were made: one “knit” and two “purls.” The images collected and processed over fifteen years were put together, complemented by edited textual excerpts from Illendőségtan (The Study of Good Manners, 1854), A magyar úrinő (The Hungarian Lady, 1909), A kis háziasszony (The Little Housewife, 1942), A mindent tudó nő (The Omniscient Woman, 1943) and A főzőkanáltól az estélyi ruháig (From the Wooden Spoon to the Evening Gown, 1964). A very enjoyable read. Full of humor. The contents of “knit” and “purl” volumes are the same (Cooking advice; Domestic advice; Let`s share work; In front of the mirror) as well as their visual order. All three books were manually bound by Tibor Lukács. The cover of “knit” was made of an IKEA hot pad, while the “purls” were covered with a double protective layer made of a checkered tablecloth and a plastic shower curtain (Bubblan, also by IKEA). The cover of “purl” has the name of the author and the title embroidered on it, and among the pages there are tablecloth and dusting rag samples – like tissue paper among the pages of a family photo album. A new household management book was born in which our contemporary visual world was placed side by side with our grandmothers’ and mothers’ domestic expertise and advice. Just like in our homes, our personal knowledge and experience is complemented by tradition. And with a fair amount of artistic invention.