Contemporary Photography from Hungary 3.


A man in swimming shorts sits on a rock, on the shore of a lake encompassed by trees, his back turned three–quarters to the viewer, looking into the landscape. While his attire might indicate that he was preparing to swim, his posture is static: he is not preparing to dive just yet. In the central portion of the picture, there is a sizeable white field outlined in black. The composition of Gábor Gerhes’s (1962) large-scale photo, entitled Man Longing to Be Absorbed in His Own Belief (2004)−or rather, vice versa: the photo of his composition—reveals a typical gerhesian situation. With this title that very concretely expresses the content of the work—it is as if he would like to exclude every conjecture, every possibility for misunderstanding — he introduces, “documents” a situation that is constructed from elements of reality, familiar from personal experience concretely or in part, to each and every one of us. The form of presenting this situation, however, is objective, and the individual depicted is serious. The tension between this absorbed activity or position and some sort of strange, in the present case abstract element truly renders it grotesque, absurd. Incidentally, in the image—as in many among his oeuvre (Doppelgänger pictures, 1997 ΔΔp.96; I Plant a Letter T, 1999 Δp.66; Everyday Activities—Genesis, 1999 Δp.75; Second Hand pictures, 2000 Δp.94; Dancing Peasant, 2001 Δp.94; Encounter with the Little Fawn, 2002 Δp.74);—he himself (also) appears in a role—in one sort of role, or in one reality. There are few Hungarian contemporary artists whose oeuvre so characteristically does not split the public from the experts, which is so uniformly popular and recognised, as Gerhes’s. The artist who has exhibited since the eighties in Hungary, France, Finland, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, from the USA to Romania, from the Czech Republic to The Netherlands, has been awarded numerous Hungarian and international scholarships, and in 2005 he received the Munkácsy Prize. Alongside his photography and installations, Gerhes also designs for the stage, as well as exhibition interiors, as well as doing graphic design work. The work described here by the artist represented by gallery, as well as his work entitled Reposing Mothers, also from 2004, Δ p.14; (together with works of Hajnal Németh and Tibor Hajas, deceased in 1980), have been included as the first Hungarian pieces in perhaps the most renowned commercial photo collection in the world, that of the German DZ Bank. The compositions of Gerhes and the other two Hungarian artists have finally taken their place among those of Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Tacita Dean, Ilya Kabakov, Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, Seydou Keita, Olafur Eliasson, Robert Rauschenberg and others.


Ladies and Gentlemen!
We don’t know anything.
Do not be alarmed by this rather cliché, and yet slightly worrisome pronouncement. I suspect that our knowledge about our lack of knowledge facilitates our existence, since we would desperately crumble under the weight of even the simplest of our activities, if we could clearly imagine all their potential consequences. Moreover, this knowledge encourages us to be capable and receptive to irony. It would be difficult to relate ironically to the statement that the square of the hypotenuse of every right–angled triangle equals the sum of the squares of the two sides: that is, we have a knowledge that would seem certain of the truth of Pythagoras’ proposition. The proclamation, however, that, “electrification plus Soviet authority equals Communism”, as Lenin declared, or let’s say, “to love madly, but to be refined”, as they sang in the old hit song, awakens not only ironic, but downright malicious thoughts, because these are far from being propositions based on knowledge, but simply some sort of vague approaches to some sort of even more indistinct thing. But by no means should you fear that I would like to raise the “we don’t know anything” allegation to the ranks of some sort of epistemological scepticism. As your luck would have it, I have no philosophical erudition, with whose bland, flavourless morsels I could stuff you in the moments to come, until you were bored to tears. Let us rather consider the works of Gábor Gerhes! Let us take, for instance, the one entitled Blurry House! Those who are not familiar with Gerhes’s pictures might become confused by what they see.
That is, a blurry house. If you like, rectangles and triangles, and nothing else, or to be more precise, also a withered sapling, whose purpose is perhaps to mask, or to slightly balance the irritating asymmetry of the façade. The title of the picture holds the beholder for a while: how strange is such a blurry house, its clumsy, lopsided orderliness less depressing somehow than those tens of thousands we have seen with their own sharp outlines. To live in cheerful, calm haze in a blurry house – we might almost take a fancy to the blurry adventure; it’s only that we strongly suspect that the blurriness is not a characteristic of the house that is photographed, but rather of the picture, which is either simply not sharp, or Gerhes has intentionally, with some sort of sly technique, blurred it, in order to trick us, thrusting our sense of security into confused drifting. To agitate our complacent composure, which derives from our conjecture that it is the dishearteningly simple and definitive outlines that comprise the most typical attribute of such a pitched roof square house. (Of course, it is possible that for Gerhes, the square house is such for completely different reasons – don’t know if he would be happy if we ask him.) Or here is the picture entitled Wave-grave. Ocean and sky, the endlessness of nature itself. We cannot see whether this section of surface truly conceals prior tragedies; the title, however, compels us to populate the world beneath the water now with savage storms, sunken ruins, and screaming–rattling drowning men. Reality has doubled, and we have been swept into the darkness of no–knowledge. But let us take another work, The Detection of Lying (Polygraph Test) . It is obvious that the structure visible in the picture is not real, but made of some kind of cheap, makeshift cardboard, styrofoam or chipboard. But if the machine appeared more authentic, then could we be more certain that we actually are seeing lie–detection? Is it possible that it is simply we who examine whether what the title alleges is a lie? Or by chance, is it in fact Gerhes who examines us: to what extent and how far are we capable of lying to ourselves, so that we believe his lies about the ostensible lie–detection? Mere enigma and confounding manipulation; we might even think that they trifle with us, make fun of us, perhaps even play a dirty trick on us. But of course we don’t fall for it, since we know that these pictures are rather fanciful meditations in two directions, on the inner and outer human nature, on the limits of both, on their relationship. Namely, Gerhes tampers with our perception and those things supposed to be evident, related to its mental condensation. To be more precise, the opinions we form lounging in the comfortable armchair of habit, with self–assurance, about naming, with the gesture of acknowledgement, we take possession of reality. Strange viewpoints are discovered in the borderlands of rationality, where the waves of recognition that cannot be captured with words, or rather sensations lick or rather nibble at the idea, the coast, arranged and believed to be untouchable, of things domesticated by way of their naming. He invites us on an adventure tour, but we should not be frightened: it may be, though, that looking at his pictures, within eight days, the healing sprain gives a jolt to our thinking; perhaps we also suffer scratches upon stumbling into the mysteries of the pictures. They are not, after all, evil conundrums concealing traps, but rather gentle reveries; furthermore, they are replete with humour and refreshing irreverence. I propose, therefore, that we accept Gábor Gerhes’s invitation. Let us relax a bit the discipline of our thoughts, and muse a bit together with him. And we should not want to be overly clever, nor should we seek clear answers, or cool unambiguities. We should shake ourselves into easy daydreams, and ultimately we might even return to our own world, where it might be that little certainty remains, but the playful contingency has increased, from the softly prickly mental adventure.

Opening of the exhibition by Gábor Gerhes entitled A Lot of Nature. Raiffeisen Gallery – Budapest 1th September 2008.