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Maja & Reuben Fowkes: Father`s Name

Time Out Budapest, English Version, Issue March 2012


Csaba Nemes: Fathers`Name:Cs.N.

Csaba Nemes: N.Cs.-N.Cs., 2012, Oil/Canvas, 30x30 cm

2. February - 31. March 2012.

Vernissage: 2. February, 2012., 7.p.m.

Opening speech: János Szoboszlai

Questioner: Erzsébet Pilinger, respondent: Csaba Nemes

Concerning the title of your continually developing painting series, it has something to do with those typical statements one can find in official documents. What was your intention with the title 'Father's Name: Csaba Nemes'?

The title stands for an obvious connection so one can easily figure out that I did receive my name after my father's. Formerly it was quite common to give the first born boy child his father's name though in my case the situation was different: while being pregnant my mother was confident about having a little girl (sic!)... You could not ask for ultrasonic testing as something like that did not exist by that time so one could just guess if it will be a boy or a girl. So basically, when I was born everybody was quite surprised and when the doctors asked for the name of the child my mother could not say a word. When they asked her what the name of the father was she just answered – Csaba Nemes. This is how I was given my name. (We have to note that the father could not be present during birth and that the closest hospital was in the nearest city, in Kisvárda.) I listened to my mother to tell me this story several times though she could never explain why she was so sure about me becoming a girl.

Talking about my works, the most recent painting series is based on photographs taken by my father. Back in 60s and 70s my father, the elder Csaba Nemes took quite much photographs though having a hobby like photographing meant something really different than it means today, for us. (I spent much time in the bathroom with him when he was developing and enlarging the negatives, this was something I really enjoyed.) What is important to note is that beyond taking photos of his family he tried to catch every important moment he experienced by that time. I grew up in a middle size village next to the river Tisza, in the near of the Ukrainian border, in Tuzsér. My father was working first as a primary school teacher, then as director of the local cultural centre and finally as councilor. Therefore he had an active public life and attended several events in the village.

Could you tell us more about the way you decide to pick given topics from your father's archive and the way you start working on the paintings?

We talk about more hundred or even thousand negatives which I requested years ago but was not sure about the way I should turn to this heritage. It can be worth to recall the first time I decided to reprocess the images. The first large format image shows a gipsy family standing in front of a 10 square meter house, something typical in the countryside in the 60s in our village, Tuzsér. By the time of my painting we are living in 2009 when innocent Romani people have been murdered due to racist reasons in Hungary. This is when I saw clearly that the unprocessed heritages of our fathers reached us implacably.  I was looking at this picture for many times and felt that something was not right about it. The story the picture reminds us of did not start recently, my father's generation inherited this “picture” as well which means that they had quite similar issues to the once we have currently, something in their own past which has been chasing them.

This was the very first definite choice of mine though got lost in all the photos and because I wanted to reflect all on these impulses I started to choose instinctively which ended up in a group of quite different pictures. This method did not change so far and don't really think might change at all. My relationship to the pictures changes continually since the first painting which reassures me that there is much more freedom in this process than I could think of at the beginning.

Due to the technical possibilities one could have that time the photographs of my father are all square and black and white. Both of these characteristics provide a strong framing to my works and because of the fact that my approach is conceptual (just think about the connection with the “switching names” project) this kind of bleak greyness of the photos ended up to be very well.

There is something more I have to add to this which is that we should not forget that these photographs have not been taken by a professional (though the documentarist style of the 60s and 70as had seemingly a great influence on them) which means that all the technical amateurism evoked mistakes provide even more aesthetic possibilities for me while analyzing them.

At first I insisted to figure out what the photos were really about which meant that I did not add anything plus to the stories just tried to imagine I was experiencing the same situation. Later on I started to play with colors which became somehow obvious just like with some previous works where I really enjoyed to over-paint the greyish surfaces with different grey gradations. This process provided new ways of approach. From this moment on I entered the pictures myself what happened to be simple as I was familiar with everything the photographs captured. While applying the first imaginative colors to the surface the happiness of drawing in my childhood came to my mind. (These colors are not unreal though can not be regarded real at all. The imaginative colors are created in the exact opposite way when trying to reproduce a given visual impression.) Recently I changed my approach to the photographs once more. From now on everything is allowed: I can easily play with the order of the photographs, I create pairs and highlight some of them. I do not let myself captured within each picture, despite I try to reposition them with providing titles for them etc. What is more, I started to integrate some private photos into the series which creates again, new approaches.

Photographs played an elemental role in the earlier works of Gerhard Richter as well – who was taught painting along the norms of socialist realism, and – who wrote about this the following: “...I was surprised by those photographs which we all watch, experience and use in a huge amount in our everydays. I suddenly started to see this different: as a picture which I connected without any conventional critic to the arts and which meant a different approach for me. There was not a word about style, composition or justice and it relieved me from the required personal empathy as it was just a clear picture first, nothing more. This was which made me want to possess, to present it – and not use it as a tool of painting but reverse, to use painting as a tool for photography.“ Taking this in account, how do you define the role and necessity of photography in your own series?

The work of Gerhard Richter is a point of reference which help to define my own coordinates though as it becomes clear from the quotation he was more interested in the relationship of painting and photography. At first sight he subordinates painting for photography and while painting he behaves cold and reservedly, almost mechanically. At the same time he is quite tricky and does not try to compete with photography as a medium as do most of the hiperrealists who almost make a sport out of painting as photorealistic as possible.

As for me, photorealism was never elemental but true, if I work along a photograph it will be seen on the painting for sure... Moreover as I see nowadays photograph based painting is not concerned with the questions and observations of Richter anymore (as they have been answered and acknowledged) but apply them as a linguistic turn within 'painting-communication'. But in case I have to recall intellectual familiarity I would rather mention certain works of Adam Adach, Wilhelm Sasnal or Anri Sala. What interests me nowadays is the political potential of paintings. (Not that it would not be an important factor of the paintings of Richter as well but it seems like he picks politically filled images for his own works if they are part of the photo-universe.) Concerning this particular series the politics of identity is what interests me. To continuously question the images I inherited. Though we have to admit that I am not the first artist to work with topics like how to process political past within art or integrate private and personal stories into the public discourse. What can be interesting is to see that at a given point several issues cross each other which help us to get to know more about the period I was brought up and of course for myself to get to know even profoundly who did I become. On the whole, to figure out how to approach the politics of images today.

My father captured a time period within his photographs – even more important, in images – and I am about to understand them. The language of painting provides a great space for this self reflective process – maybe due to the genre's eventuality (manual style) and slowness as well.

How would you position this series in today's dynamic and continually changing everyday-political climate?

This is a really important question. Eventually why I started to work on the paintings was due to the need for a wider interpretation of everyday political events, a demand to look at them from a more global horizon. It is important to note that it is not about nostalgia but about the possibility to critically reflect on our current world. I grew up in a leftist, liberal family in a modern culture (at least as modern it could have been by that time) but the greyish and passive everydays of the Kádár regime pissed me off even though I was young. Today's political climate on the other challenges all of us in ways where a new ideological commitment is something almost impossible to avoid while the different ideological approaches are seemingly trivial and/or have been compromised. We have to dig even deeper to be able to have the possibility to build up again. This is why this series I have been working on since years has a new meaning for me. As I have answered your question in the beginning of our conversation I started to integrate my “own” Csaba Nemes photographs into this series recently. These are documents of our current life but while working on each painting I try to recall my father's aspect as well.