Gabriella CSOSZÓ

Gabriella CSOSZÓ

Contemporary Photography from Hungary 4.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Photos are fascinating as they can be seen from so many perspectives. One can interpret them through their motives, they can be seen as simple documents or a metaphor, they can show a certain moment of time, or if we are true experts, they can represent the art of photography itself. All these imaginary perspectives require certain layers of knowledge and context. Photos are not meant for the innocent. We often forget this and consider photos as depictions of the reality surrounding us.

Gabriella Csoszó’s present photo series could be interpreted as mere documents of reality from the motives’ point of view. The photographer discovered Radio Free Europe’s former broadcasting station in Portugal by chance. This secluded area, deserted for more than 15 years, was once an independent and self-supportive place. Csoszó did not mean to play: she spontaneously observed the landscape with her camera, and thus depicted interesting and uninteresting things at the same time. Of course, none of her motives could be considered as indifferent. Anything she chose to visualize lost its innocent landscape-view feature. If we consider that Radio Free Europe broadcast from this place for four decades, all the ordinary objects and spaces would bear further layers of meaning and context immediately. There exists an obvious link to Hungarian history at this place. What is more, generations over 35 in one way or another had connections with this outstanding place. Therefore, the photos taken in Portugal could kick off a chain association of collective memory. Or they could become the metaphors of remembrance.

Gabriella Csoszó has found almost by accident a genuine metaphor of freedom in these motives in Portugal. Through her photo series we understand that today’s generation can pronounce the word ‘freedom’ with an unbearable lightness and ease. However, this notion of ‘freedom’ becomes extremely complicated if we turn back time. For a second just imagine these photos taken in the 1960s or 1980s. The photographer would have either been charged with intelligence work, or rewarded, depending on the country of stay. 20 years ago the photo series could have been a mere documentation on the sideline of the change of the regime – and now, the Hungarian photographer, Gabriella Csoszó erected a monument of an almost forgotten but still defining moment of history: the cold war. This theme is relevant only for us, Hungarians through the photo series. In Portugal everything is forgotten and in decay. These images visualize a moment as if it were the inverse of the Iron Curtain, or more precisely the Berlin Wall. Radio Free Europe’s broadcasting station was built as a counterpoint of the Berlin Wall, and they both disappeared at the same time in history. The actual location was abandoned at the moment of the Berlin Wall’s demolition. We all know that parts of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain became relics immediately, and their remains fall under special museum protection. But the broadcasting station of freedom became an abandoned and forlorn place in which no one is interested. The Berlin Wall became the symbol of its time; however, Radio Free Europe was forgotten in history. Thus, the artist’s photographical monument is built on disintegration - it represents freedom in itself.

The more time elapses since the activity of Radio Free Europe, the more difficult it becomes to grasp the notion of the lack of freedom. “You’ll get your passport in 3 years… “You can’t get a passport…”, “Honey we shouldn’t discuss this over the phone”, “You can’t write it as it won’t get published”, “It was announced by Radio Free Europe”, “Truth lies somewhere in between…” Strange sentences… We will have to explain their meanings to our children. What we do not have to explain is we were left alone with our massive freedom. Gabriella Csoszó’s photo series tells the story of historical forlornness in Eastern Europe, and the peculiarity of our freedom. Some of her photos are the depictions of historical void and collective solitude.

The images can grasp the feeling of collective solitude as they radiate a vivid abundance of that time. For decades, people worked at these locations, presently abandoned, to transmit and broadcast information on freedom from one part of the world to another. By watching the images, one can feel the atmosphere of the time through the activities they did, including playing table tennis, writing, reading, sending and receiving radio signals, giving birth to children in this secluded but free world. Through this strange relativity, we can truly understand in Eastern Europe what an indefinable thing freedom is. Thus, Csoszó’s work becomes the monument of the Spirit of Freedom on its own right.

There is a spiritual connection between Tamás Szentjóby’s outstanding post-conceptual act, namely the wrapping of the Statue of Liberty on Gellért Hill 15 years ago, and Csoszó’s photo series. This connection does not exist just from the collective memory’s point of view, but through the interesting aspect that all of Csoszó’s images are virtually a conceptual work of art on their own. Here the forest is just a gigantic poster. There is a door made out of the tree cut in the forest that leads us inside. Or maybe it does not lead us there: it is only leaning against the wall with shadows cast on the trees. The installation of piled mattresses recalls one of the exhibition spaces of the 1990s. If the incubator were a 3D work of art, it would be premature-freedom itself. However, we can see anything but pieces of art on the images. Real objects are taken into account through a neutral glance, and in case the viewer wishes, an almost unnoticeable composition, a fine balance of colours and forms could be perceived.

The photos show delayed reality; as if dust has been accumulating on the objects just for the sake of being taken. The motives are time-prints made up of dust, decay, fading, exuberant flora and fauna. Photos themselves are often referred to as time-prints, and Gabriella Csoszó creates classical photos in which the sublime border between neutral documentation and subjective viewpoint can hardly be distinguished. Could it be traced in the composition or in the elegantly distorted objects, or in the light darkened by some of them? Maybe it is just the viewpoint. One of the best things in Gabriella Csoszó’s photos is that they are so real and can be seen in so many different ways.

I hereby open the exhibition.

József Mélyi
16th March 2009, Budapest

Lívia Páldi: You have mentioned in other interviews that your works are in connection with some moments of your personal life. Could you explain
this in more detail?

Gabriella Csoszó: My works are self-reflexions. Every theme and topic is coloured by my personal moments. As an example I could mention the photo series about my foster-siblings, my closest family members or parents. At other times, my photos were about the history of a relationship in pictures. Besides my works originating from my personal life (Including Prefaces, Map, Without Regard – with My Family, Missing Images, Tie a Tie) I have got pieces that reflect on major issues of the wider community and society (including, Part, Way of Cherry Trees, Free Copies, Retransmission Timeout).

I am currently in a phase of my life when it became inevitable for me to formulate and understand these questions.

LP: You not only make your audience walk, but you draw them into a certain sensual game. Part, which starts as a hobby and ends up as a serious photo diary, is a tempting walk and at the same time an inner monologue with an unnamed partner. Connected to this, I would like to ask you about the starting point in your creative work.

GCs: Every exhibition is the result of a long process of contemplation and maturation. Most of my works were created from some ordinary activities, a need for communication, an everyday reconnaissance, a discovering inquisitiveness, or the desire for being close. A good example of this are my works entitled Part and Map.
Back then, I made long walks every single day: it was a spontaneous, irregularly recurring activity. My daily walks were part of a game where me and a close friend of mine could navigate each other from a distance, and could share our experience. In these works I preserved this gesture; I monopolized and capitalized on it. And when I shared it with others, I focused not only on the surroundings but on the questions that arouse in the meanwhile. Thus, a work of art reflects a process: it is made up of the preliminary dialogue, the walk, its documentation and finally the exhibition. For me, importance lies not only in the images or in the installation but in the accompanying lines. The process of creation starts with the first gesture and finishes with the exhibition.

The series then models the states of walks, the experience of the view, and the problems of spaces - let is be either a space depicted, or a space for ideas, or a kind of inner path, or even the existing space of the exhibition room.

In the exhibition room the flow of images and the accompanying lines add up to a complete piece. They carry the meaning together.

The long walk by Richard Long or Hamish Fulton took place in a landscape without humans. Their pilgrimage turned into a rite mixed with the so called ‘walk-exercise’ meditation technique. Contrary to them, I did not retreat. I walked in urban surroundings, which is the scene of my everyday life. My aim was not to retreat or create rites, but to have direct experiences and participate in the world around me. My photos are rather models of the desire and process of getting in touch with my environment.

LP: In some of your photo series a partner emerges with whom even the viewers could identify themselves.

GCs: I wish to involve the viewer into the artistic experience of uncertainty. It may seem as if I addressed the viewer in person, but at the same time they become intruders peeping into the personal correspondence of strangers. By addressing and involving the partner I can create a psychological link between the work of art and its viewer in the realm of human relations.

LP: It seems that words, hidden speech or letters are important for you. You offer conversation on diverse levels. What do you want to show the viewer when providing written texts as well? What is the role of words?

GCs: The accompanying lines create a multi-layered
context. By using images and accompanying texts I intend to create a unity where the true meaning lies in inner correlations. The complexity of combined forms, letters, texts and photos represent the beginning of a dialogue where I, the artist can address the viewers directly and intensively. In most cases it is the accompanying lines that carry a lyrical tone, personal narration or intimacy. My photos that often have a documentary-feature are made lyrical through my accompanying letters.

LP: Following this path, together with the short and precise descriptions you incorporate the images of the ‘partner’ in your Way of Cherry Trees series. You connect several threads and layers of time; the work process surfaces and the viewer understands that
one of the motivating features of your photos is expectation.

GCs: The Way of Cherry Trees shows the uncertainty of social, political, historical remembrance of our time. The series was inspired by walks along the demolished Berlin Wall where nowadays cherry trees blossom. Right from the beginning it was a joint work with a co-artist whose name remained almost hidden. Two walks are intertwined in the photo series. I could discover the cherry trees with the help of the co-artist’s descriptions, preliminary studies and draft-photos. I received the images and descriptions of this preliminary walk, and finally I created my own version of this topic. Thus, the two walks ended up as a long series of images accompanied by description.
The suburb locations of Berlin, the haggard and sometimes uninteresting landscapes seem to locate the memorial place of a long forgotten past. This section of the former Berlin Wall became an ordinary walking path.

At this point this series leads us to the questions raised by my latest photos series. I take snapshots of important locations, objects and archives of the recent past.

LP: The elimination of Radio Free Europe’s library in the Open Society Archive’s (OSA) aula created a unique monument from the once ‘forbidden’ literature of Cold War.

Almost 20 years after the change of the regime this library was seen as a continuously changing configuration, in which only certain experts were interested. This process could be seen in the discarding of boxes, the continuous sorting of the staff and the categorization of books into ‘take away’ and ‘researchable’

With this series a new direction emerged in your career. You have turned from the question of
‘accessibility’ to the issues of documentation.

GCs: The process unfolded in front of my eyes. By growing up in the Cold War period I could experience the sensitive nature of the ‘forbidden’ or even the secretive course of events, the ‘dichotomy’ of politics, uncertainty and intimidation.

The elimination of Radio Free Europe’s library mapped the presence of the Cold War’s heritage precisely. The image of books piled upon each other, the labels, the discarding of books and the words written on them clearly mirrored a vividly pulsating process that was unfolding. The photos I have made about this procedure depict a complete historical, political and social progression on their own right. This was a course of action that unfolded in front of my eyes in the social and political atmosphere I was living in.
My Free Copies series is not only a ‘memorial’ to recent past events but also to some unanswered questions of our society. As revaluation would not take place, these places, objects and archives end up in disintegration.
Our uncertainty finally results in their quiet decay. My latest photos visualize this condition.

LP: Way of Cherry Trees and Retransmission Timeout reminded me of Joachim Koester’s photo essays, first of all his series entitled Kant-walks where he tried to reconstruct the philosopher’s daily walks in Kaliningrad, former Königsberg. Finally, we get two
fictive paths while making a real journey in the city remnant of World War II and the Soviet area. Koester speaks about document-snapshots that exist through the tension between ‘depiction’ and ‘narration’.

GCs: The photos of the Retransmission Timeout series were made in Portugal at the currently deserted, largest European transmission base of the former Radio Free Europe. This was one of the most important centres and transmission bases of the voice of freedom in the past. Nevertheless, today it is an unimportant, deserted city scattered with decaying buildings, spaces and objects.
The sole exploitable heritage is the land itself. The question of ‘freedom’ seems already nonsense in its past form from the present’s point of view. The Cold War is over,
but it has left its mark on land, buildings, bases, objects and unanswered questions.

Primarily, this documentation creates an archive of unanswered questions and uncertainty, and not of objects or locations. At the same time my photos help to remember social alienation, concealment and unanswered questions.

Similarly to Koester’s images, I do not use accompanying lines in this series. I do not give any narration; everything is shown by the photos themselves: they are the story-tellers.

LP: Another photographer whose way of thinking might be similar to your latest works is Moyra Davey. One of the central themes of her photo-essay book is chance.

The question is whether there is room for chance in consciously composed contemporary photography.
A sentence written in Davey’s essay sets the book’s other objective: “I want to make some photographs, but I want them to take seed in words.”

GCs: My photo series and topics are not always premeditated. I have several works that were created after an interesting meeting or a peculiar moment in my life. They were not planned at all, they simply happened as a series of co-incidences, and finally the work of art was born. Walks or my father putting on his tie could be examples of these occasions. In these cases I cannot plan what will happen and how I am going to record it. I can only prepare myself for the choice of motives and the creation of a given situation. All further processes come to being step by step, and the final form and media realizes.
The sequence of images, the emerging situations and the space of the exhibition room all influence the final form of my creation. The processes, that characterise the birth and ‘sharing’ (exhibition) of these works, unify in themselves features such as determination, chance, definitiveness, and the possibility for new ideas. Another important thing concerning this question is my progression from one work to another. The portrait and movement photos taken about my foster-siblings led me to sign language, sign language led me to the question of void. Furthermore, this directed me to make portraits about people with eyes shut, and later on I took photos of my family members with eyes shut. Finally, this has shown the way to the tying of the tie and my parents’ relationship. Missing Images was made out of e-mails and photos taken in a relationship, it was followed by the foldable Map that guided us to a specific location through a walk. This inspired my Part Installation, which recorded a Danube riverside walk, and finally the Way of Cherry Trees was born. In this work the theme of the Cold War period emerged, and now it seems that this historical motif plays an important role in my work nowadays. Very often my images are not connected to each other through form. It is primarily their content and questions that guide the viewers in the labyrinth of my photos.

But I would like to return to Moyra’s above mentioned sentence. My answer to it is as follows: I create images, sometimes I accompany them with words, but and I want them to grow out of thoughts.

The interview with Gabriella Csoszó
was made by Lívia Páldi
(Kunsthalle, senior curator).

8th June 2009, Budapest