Katalin Aknai: A Little Retrospective

Műértő May 2001

His biographers like to refer to Rudolf Pacsika, who for many years has been shuttling between art academies, projects, and alternative realities in the Netherlands, France, and Hungary, as an urban nomad. So the diverse interests that are revealed in the documentation about Pacsika’s exhibits is, if not unexpected, but nevertheless surprising. To start with the simpler arrangements, the straightforward ideas: a photo with a burning candle casting a shadow on a wall, but where the flame does not cast a shadow (Fotó, 1966); a Dutch gulden to be had by linking coin-operated shopping carts in a circle (Alternative Means of Making Money 2, 1996); or, with less forward symbolism, two bicycles transporting and balancing a heavy plate of glass (Transformer [Trafó], 2000). Artistic tradition could just as easily assign his precariously balanced pieces to the genre of mobile sculpture as to cheeky gestures in the vein of Duchamp (Untitled: Chairs and Mattresses Wedged in an Arc Between Two Walls). Land art and conceptual game of words meet in the sculpture Brain [Agy] set in the gardens of Kerguéhennec Castle (1998). Only the photographs capturing the various stages of the work testify to the engineering precision with which this piece was assembled and, evoking the suspended sculptural structures of the Russian constructivists, it resembles the convolutions of a brain. By now, overgrown by sprouting sods of grass over the wire, only the external surface of the two hemispheres is perceptible. All the while Pacsika draws, comments tirelessly, and the myriad sketches coming out of this hyperactivity he explains as the imprint of his – he uses the French term – “risomique” way of thinking. At the Institut Français, he put together a wall’s worth from watercolors, found photos, his own (re)mixed works, which show a glimpse of the phases of risomique thought (i.e. diverging thought that evokes broad associations, reminiscent in European art of Joseph Beuys, Fabrice Hybert, or Bruno Peinado). Apart from the Brain, Pacsika’s newest exhibitions carry the title Rolling Up [Becsavarodások], one of whose subset is the Soul-transformer project. In a nutshell, it is about Pacsika asking his Hungarian artist friends, known figures in the art world, to light a cigarette, then he lights a cigarette from the smoldering ashes of theirs and takes the flame to the Zoo Gallery in Nantes so that his friends there can partake in the profane ceremony of mystic union. Grace Spreads in the Form of a Circle, Balázs Beöthy said in the title of his exhibit at the U.F.F. Gallery. Ildikó Petrina offers a light to Pacsika, and from the shielded flame Bruno Peinado prepares to light a cigarette, from which flame someone at MAMÜ Gallery is able to light a cigarette. This can go on – da capo al fine – as long as the fire, the cigarette and the art world last.

Translated by Christina Rozsnyai

(details from an interview - 2006)

....At any rate, I like the critical attitude of the thing and that it does not disallow the strategy of pop. Rhizome, a kind of fuzzy logic that was trendy in the nineties, the research on networks and the chaos theories, do not scrimp on or tone down radicalism – which by its very nature has to be sharp and pure – and there is nothing enigmatic about it like you see with so many other things in Hungary. In this sense, it is more like Thomas Hirschhorn, Matt Mullican, Keith Tyson or Ernest Neto.

Because of all this, I am interested in semiotic chains. In the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, I saw a good example for a representation of this idea: a shaman, a gnome, a dwarf – a dwarf from Disney’s Snow White, that hat of his that looks like a mushroom, a mushroom that drugs you, and the dots that took me to that red baseball cap with white dots. I really liked it. Because, with their oblivious existence, semiotic chains have the possibility to break through the system of exterior and interior lies and manipulations.

When I set objects into analog relationships based on their morphological features I am actually imitating this semiotic method, and if you have the time you can think about whether there is any relationship between objects other than the formal one, or else it is just total craziness and it just cracks up about it all. Csontvári’s Moroccan teacher and Bin Laden. Just a hint of the theater of the absurd.

I deal with things that seem useless to most of society and go against that utilitarianism that they profess to. Actually this whole consumer thing contains a lot of irrational and absurd elements, and advertisements are also directed toward feelings. Our desires, idols, cultural and action models that develop this way cannot be explained by rationality.

I enjoy seeing things for which others have blind spots. That I like what I do is criticism enough in today’s world. The word freedom is long out of use, many people are unclear about what it means, but that is really what it is all about. You can pose the question this way, What separates me from what I am? And that I am sometimes paid for my work in the form of a scholarship or less often through a sale is something I have for a long time considered a gift.

In reality, the function of money and the art market should be to integrate our activities into the capitalism we live in. Or else it segregates. In contrast to a romantic artistic strategy par excellence you can try “to make capital dance” (Funky Business): to play with institutions, processes, money in a creative way – but that is also a narrow pathway.

The question is, Are you able to remain genuine?

At the same time, it also is a narrow pathway when you have all this information coming in and you have to decide which ones to believe and which ones not to. There are such strong manipulations and distortions happening in the world that it is pretty difficult to see through it all. There is no language fit to describe the events we experience. I saw that exhibit about the RAF in Graz and was stunned reading that sentence one of the Schleier killers had said, “A problem was that the enemy was invisible”.

So that vacuum I mentioned is a creative situation and maybe that is where an artist can play a small role.

A few years ago I made a Conspiracy Theory Generator that deals exactly with this type of absurdity. It is a montage machine.

In Zurich I once happen on a Mayday bash thrown by the Kurdish and Turkish Communist party. I was quite taken by the Coca Cola banner and the hammer-and-sickle flag fluttering side by side. All of them are red (and the Swiss and Turkish ones next to them were red too). The experience was amplified by the fact that I never had anything to do with all this, there was a huge scuffle with the cops and my African friend Elmo (who, by the way, speaks perfect Hungarian) nursed me for three days because the tear gas had made me sick. Since then I have accumulated a small collection of red flags from the multinationals. So these flags are also part of this collection of objects.

I have never pondered whether or not I am a conformist. It is pretty difficult to talk about rebellion where even the scabbiest things are sold through scandal management. But there is a saying from Neil Young, It is better to burn out than fade away! I turned that around and next to the portrait of János Kádár I changed the meaning this way, It is better to fade away than burn out! You can choose what is stupid to whom. I believe more people would consider the latter version the wisely pragmatic one: pre-rock and roll has won!...

On a Knife’s Edge

INTERVIEW, in Új Muvészet, July 2000 Q.: Could you assign yourself to any specific trend? Which Hungarian or foreign artists are closest to you?

A.: My life has been sort of nomadic in the last few years, that is why I have joined none of the local artists’ colonies. I was moving between various cultures, was able to see the same things from various aspects, so my experiences are most likely different from those who work in their accustomed environment. But I feel an intellectual affinity with many artists and am able to pick up the dialog where we left off.

In Holland and France it was English sculpture that roused my interest most of all, but I also discovered a New York artist named Tom Friedman. I like to the work of Fischli and Weiss, and feel an affinity toward Andreas Slonimski, who changes the function of objects in a way that has nothing to do with pragmatism of any kind. You see, I also set up a complete heating system in a gallery only to use the rising air to make a fan spin.

Q.: Are the pieces you exhibit at U.F.F. Gallery completely new, or do they have a history?

A.: My art keeps gushing forth again and again like an underground stream and is constantly renewed in time and space. One precursor is the installation I did in Vienna ten years ago (Dam-working by electricity, WUK), then there are my installations that use pipes, pumps and water. And my piece with the candles moving a twelve-kilo fan belongs in this category too.

Q.: Do you have a persistent creative method? Do you conceive of the form or the idea first?

A.: I don’t know if I have a creative method. My friend Fiona Tan said recently that my works emanate an intangible lightness, as if things were put next to each other by chance but still give rise to a new and functioning quality. She asked me whether my creative work really comes so easily. I was reminded of Chaplin, who would retake a complete scene if he didn’t think the details looked effortless enough.

Q.: Like in the Blind Flower Girl.

A.: Yes. I probably haven’t reached that degree of consistency yet, but I fuss around with some things for years, I forget about them and then take them up again. I often think that there is a single solution so I always want to change it, especially if one adapts one’s concept to the context of the exhibition and not the given space.

That’s when I’m walking on a knife’s edge.

But I don’t work with the medium or against the medium, I am really interested in the space between the mediums.

You remember my photo of a candle whose flame does not cast a shadow, which I have recreated many times. Looking at an earlier version someone suggested I should look at the candle photos of Richter. He does it differently, though, he makes a model, a photo, on which he heaps layers of various mediums. I can’t get around this sort of meditative process with all the lessons it provides, but I am more interested in how you can get down to the essence most directly. It doesn’t matter whether the idea of form was first, they are both the same.

Q.: Your objects are closed systems, almost all of them display the completeness of the circle and the problem of balance. Does your work convey a moral, philosophical message, beyond the strictly artistic problems it solves? What are the leading motifs with which you intend to hold your exhibition together?

A.: Maybe it comes through in what I said before, that I don’t assign my art any direct content that could be expressed in another way, the pieces don’t mean anything. What I try to do is to create such a void or situation which is thought provoking. So if I show circular shapes or closed systems, that is not interesting for the very rich semiotic message of the circle-which it inherently has anyway-but because of the context into which I am able to place it, how it appears, how I can generate a situation in which anybody can discover his own story, what happened to completeness, how we ruin it, how hopeless our relationship is towards holistic things, and so on. How you can make money without working by locking coin-operated shopping carts into each other in a circle (Money-make systems 2): with its UFO shape it draws your imagination to the sky, nevertheless. The pipes and pumps are also falsification tools, with which I want to underline the “metaphysical frailty of objects.” That I don’t have a utilitarian purpose in making my fans move is again something that can be seen as a gesture on my part, which calls every-day logic into question. But my candle photo I made with a Platonist passion, and the piece has since taken on its own life. So much so that I am able to look at it objectively myself and think of new meanings all the time.

I could also tell you about my screwing tables-which act in Hungarian is called “brushing”-and they actually owe their existence to the cultural differences between Holland and Belgium, but that’s another story.

Q.: How deliberate is the puritan, unfinished quality of your objects? Does the fact that your surfaces are unfinished bring you closer to the ideas behind the objects?

A.: I recently saw a Pistoletto, two tons of rags and a sculpture of Venus facing the wall. Well, that was slapped together. I could polish my board that pushes the ring against the wall, I wouldn’t mind the time, but I don’t see why that would make it any better. I worked a lot on the two tables. I struggled quite a bit with the proportions and the movement of the smaller table. When it finally rocked the way I wanted it, well, that was as good as an orgasm.