Reflective vinyl, steel, thread, pen on wood, pencil on board, plastic tube, wax, tulipwood, video: a delectable glimpse at just some of the materials presented in Abject Gallery’s latest exhibition. Five artists, linked primarily by shared Hungarian heritage, bring this room of disparately fabricated works together through a ‘varied but consistent line of questioning’.
In the catalogue, artist and co-curator András Nagy-Sándor gives an introduction to the show, and expands on the circumstances that brought this group together, and the winding origin story of each participant. The glossy booklet is a perfect accompaniment, leaving space for the work to speak for itself, while still bolstered by the text which offers ‘you, the reader, a glimpse into our transformations’.
The theme of displacement hangs as an implicit presence in the room, and is given a nod in the catalogue design, where each artist’s name is underlined with a spellcheck wiggle of red. Most white Britons will live free of these small daily reminders of otherness, and digital microaggressions, and shows like these begin to reveal alternate experiences of our shared world.
Petra Szemán embraces slippages between our physical and digital presence. Her videos make visual reference to Japanese culture (she is now based in Japan), but the style of her videos is uniquely her own. Her languidly delivered text, animation and layering of multiple illustration and photo elements makes for a distinctive experience, locked into the headphones at the wooden gamestation booth. Her words will strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt out of place, or (not to put too hippy a point on it) been human and concious.
“We endlessly tell stories about our lives, both to ourselves and others, and it is through such stories that we make sense of the world and our relationship to it – constantly making and re-making sense of the chaotic retinal flashes we experience life in.” from Petra Szemán, ‘Monomyth: Gaiden/Part 1. Departure’ (2018).
Szemán, and perhaps the others, take steps into unknown locations, and in the process they manage to see themselves and their art better, from the outside. Szemán animates herself moving through the Japanese landscape – how she acts and thinks there has become a huge part of her work.
Zsófia Schweger’s paintings use blocks of flat acrylic to depict my favourite subject: rooms. These carefully assembled shapes create charged spaces that belie the flatness of their parts. Empty chairs, and rows of uniform books recur in these images, feeling both familiar and oddly ominous. The paintings, muted in tone, imply absence; however, looking on I feel the promise of knowledge and exploration, a scene ready to be walked into.
Zsófia Jakab’s sculptures hit a sweet spot between precision and precarity. Her sculpture uses domestic language to speak to something more fantastical. Plastic tubing snakes through a bevelled wooden upright reminiscent of a standing lamp, and cotton threads splay outwards to the walls and ceiling from an insect-like spinning wheel. The origin of the sculptures’ parts is difficult to decipher, were they found or made? The ingenuity of their structure adds a lot of movement to the show.
Márton Nemes’ imposing sculptural paintings appear like pieces of vehicles, mounted on the walls. These canvases are constructed with rounded corners and cut-outs, and the gradiated spray paint is reminiscent of a petrol swirl paint job, of driving off into the sunset. The shining perspex shapes and functional glare of the emergency services tape interrupt the reverie. As with Jakab’s sculpture, I found it difficult to decide how much of these materials, if any, were repurposed, and which were crafted. And as with Jakab’s works, they feel intended for some confused other life – one I want to immerse myself in.
Nagy-Sándor uses a subtle mix of media in moves that disorient the viewer. The pairing of print and painting in ‘(return to)’ (2018) is particularly noteworthy: a small, textured work hovers over an A0 print of a slight seam in a wall. By these delicate increments the viewer is spun quietly through the looking glass. A more physical grounding is achieved with the group of irregular shaped ‘Locate’ (2018) paintings, scattered precisely like gestures along another wall.
“This project taps into a latent but fundamental aspect of a very visceral and public dialogue on migration and identity … there is a genuine need to examine and carefully unpick these questions in a cultural context.” Andras Nagy-Sándor
It would be impossible, in the current climate, to write about this project without mentioning immigration. At a time when most political dialogue is compressed to angry monologue, it is both useful and refreshing to experience the visual output of five people at the knife-edge of Brexit. The very fact of this exhibition feels like a beacon of hopeful connection.
hu-Hungarian Touring Exhibition, 11 January – 9 February 2019, Abject Gallery, 2nd Floor, Bamburgh House, Newcastle upon Tyne.
hu will complete its tour at Hungarian Cultural Centre London, 29 February – 6 March 2019.
Follow their travels on Instagram.
Grace Denton is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.