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Symphony of incapacity, or The time of small people

Andreas Trossek (3-4/2010)

Andreas Trossek writes about the solo exhibition Let’s play, the game is over by Dénes Farkas
 
I’d like nothing more to do
Than to watch the desperation on your face
I might send you straight to hell
Like it's worse to end up in this place
 
Jim O’Rourke, “Get A Room” (2001)
 
September 2010, Tallinn. A few seasonal remarks. Rising trends: social guarantees, emigration, sexual minorities, Sõprus Cinema, Michel Houellebecq, Toyota, meta-art, ferroconcrete, PVC clothes, laptop computers, Buddhism, Lady Gaga, institutional critique from people who work in different institutions and have too much free time (see also: ‘institutional critique for the sake of institutional critique itself’). Falling trends: converting fees, nationalism, Solaris Cultural Centre, Michel Foucault, Honda, art revealing the backstage of the art world, Gyproc walls, weblogs, CDs, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Islam, institutional critique from people no institution would dare to hire (see also: ‘eternal intern’, ‘hippie infantilism’, ‘new bohemianism’). Stable trends: Cultural Endowment of Estonia, identity (see also: ‘me and the world’), iPhone, Rotermann Quarter, Michel de Certeau, Nick Hornby, Mercedes-Benz, suspended ceilings, LP collections, art revealing the backstage of the financial world, jeans, Facebook, kabala, Madonna, institutional critique in the style of the radicals from the 60’s generation (see also: ‘lasting classics’, ‘permanent values’, ‘best stylistic examples’).
 
September 2010, Tallinn. At the same time, Dénes Farkas, an Estonian-Hungarian artist in his thirties, has compiled an exhibition imbued with the impotent threat that this will be his last. I am interviewing the artist for Sirp, the weekly newspaper published by the same publishing house as this magazine. Inspired by the bilingual and aggressive title of one of his earlier exhibitions, my proposed title for the interview is: On the possibility of life after death, or Get the fuck down off of my obstacle. However, the English reference to Stanley Kubrick would probably be too long for the cover of Sirp. In any case, next to the ‘official portrait’ of Dénes looking like a melancholic rock star there is only the Milan Kundera-esque title On the possibility of life after death, and it is much better that way, because obscenities in a foreign language might seem too juvenile and pretentious. Under the guise of an interview, I get to ask a series of questions I have wanted to ask about Dénes Farkas’ solo exhibitions in Tallinn Town Gallery during the past few years: ideal.total (2007, with Neeme Külm) and How the fuck are you tonight? (2009). Looking back, the latter was clearly one of Farkas’ strongest shows ever.  
 
Let us first look at the technical side of these works and how they are executed. This is actually quite tricky to define. Farkas photographs miniature paper models of chairs, tables, sofas and other man-made objects while maintaining a consistent lighting and colour scheme. He crafts the tiny paper models himself and creates a spatial mise-en-scène, but this is only the beginning – even the subsequent processes of photographing and naming the scene, and writing a preface to the work, do not bring it to an end. For example, in his solo exhibition of 2007 he presents wooden pallets on top of which he has piled hundreds of A4 printouts. These ‘leaflets’, with their cryptic-critical messages, are also ‘works of art’ and are intended to be taken away by visitors. The same motif of the paper miniature or model could also be seen in his solo show of 2009, where the form of small Polaroid-sized photographs hanging on the wall generated an ephemeral feeling, thus opposing the timelessness evoked by the symbolic models they depicted. From there he moved on to using large light boxes that play with the same paper model motif (they have by now been exhibited in many venues). Eventually, we arrive at his solo show of 2010 and its book with ‘empty’ covers, presented with only the minimum of explanation: ‘first revised edition’. Things have come full circle, so it seems.
 
Very well, but still, what does it all mean? Farkas has quoted what is surely the most famous line in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1977) as the title of one of his photographs, but it seems to me that another Hollywood tough-guy movie would provide a more appropriate atmosphere for delving into the artist’s photo installations from recent years. I mean Fight Club (1999), which combines a smart critique of contemporary trends and consumer society with the spectacle of brainless fist fights. In short, the action in Fight Club appears to anticipate some kind of pre-revolutionary world, and the entire movie looks back to all sorts of processes preparatory to a possible revolution. Likewise, Farkas’ solo exhibition Let’s play, the game is over seems to require the same retrospective gaze from the viewer: the artist filled the upper level of Hobusepea Gallery with copies of his photo album – a cheap black-and-white publication that includes the bulk of material Farkas has been working with during the last four or five years on the Estonian art scene. Visitors were permitted to take a copy of the album home with them. As Farkas admitted when describing the concept of the exhibition, it was a summary of one stage in his artists career. However, at the same time, it was not a classical catalogue equipped with curatorial texts and/or statements from the artist himself  something to determine the matrix through which Farkas’ work would be received, listing his accomplishments and asserting his status, as well as positioning the artist in the aftermath of some more general direction in thinking. There is no verbalised solution, only a suggestion that all of this is only a part of some larger, more insidious chain of development that seeks to undermine the existing hegemony. Dénes Farkas was – and in a way, he still is – a ‘mute’ artist in whose body of work we can sense an -ism which may be even more important than critical conceptualism and post-minimalism: nihilism. There is only a hidden rage and incapacity, eagerness for change and conflicted understanding of the pointlessness of counteraction; the eternal defeat of small people against social structures that are – and ‘always will be’ – larger and more powerful. These light boxes of his – these are not bloody exit signs, indeed.
 
Andreas Trossek works as the editor-in-chief of the KUNST.EE magazine and art historian at the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia.
 
25.08–6.09.2010
Hobusepea Gallery
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