Hungary: Crash - Passive Interview
Artist: Hajnal Németh
Curator: Miklós Peternák
Emily Burke in conversation with Hajnal Németh
Emily Burke: Have you felt any pressure representing Hungary at the most important international contemporary art festival in the world?
Hajnal Nemeth: No, on the contrary, I have found this opportunity an exciting challenge and I haven’t felt the pressure of national representation, especially not during work. As for the communication segment of representation, that wasn’t really my job – at least that’s what I think. I was only interested in creative work.
EB: As the largest Biennale, and one of the world’s most important platforms for the dissemination of contemporary international artwork, do you think that the Biennale participants have a social obligation to represent their various countries in a certain way?
HJ: I don’t think that in case of the Biennale or any other occasion, the artists would have social obligations, just as art cannot have social obligations when we’re speaking of nations and representation.
Dedication is also a kind of obligation, but it operates according to a special system of values and measures. I think art is free, and probably most artists like to socialize.
EB: Did you feel you had to monitor or change your approach to devising your own work in order to reflect this?
HJ: No, never.
EB: Are there particular aspects of the Hungarian culture that you feel need to be expressed through art? Or do you disregard these?
HJ: I don’t think that anything “needs” to be expressed in art, only “can” be expressed. Even if someone is inspired by the culture of their immediate environment, and perhaps they express this in their work, that doesn’t mean they can’t pursue a general, overall, universal meaning.
Speaking specifically of Hungary, I, for one, don’t take it as a point of departure – regarding my work – as I’ve been living in Berlin for 10 years now. Of course this doesn’t mean that my works express German culture. This is not a question of nationality.
EB: Do you think that artists in general have a certain social responsibility to represent their country, or in the modern culture that we live in do individual art practices take precedent over ties to our culture?
HJ: Social responsibility is a friendlier expression than social obligation, but I still don’t think this is country related. I think most “modern people” feel at home in, or by, similar people, especially with regard to the spirit. The spirit of a country can’t be identical to the spirit of an individual, as the former is an abstract notion of political (cultural political) and economic positions, and the other inherently stands for free will.
In this sense, art obviously belongs to the spirit of the individual, but individual art practice is still not capable of carrying through modern projects without assistance. In most cases, voluminous and complex installations such as mine require teamwork.
EB: How do you expect your audience at the Venice Biennale, being such a wide and diverse range of people from all areas of the world, to react to your work here?
HJ: I expect them to react in a wide and diverse way. (But I hope they all like it.)
EB: How important is audience participation in your work, and are you influenced depending on where your work is exhibited?
HJ: Without an audience these works don’t even exist in some sense, since they are (re)born through the audience, so their presence is very important. The sounds, colours, narratives, etc. adapt not to the expected audience, but rather to such physical characteristics as the space, the lighting, the duration of the exhibition; these factors have stronger influence on the presentation of the work.
EB: In an age that is so dominated by that of the socially networked Internet, how influential are the genres and forms of popular culture in your art practice?
HJ: To me, the Internet is just a communicational base, it doesn’t inspire me. It is too narrow. It can’t replace real experience.
EB: Could you give us an insight into your work here at the Hungarian Pavilion? What are your aims here in Venice whilst representing Hungary at the Biennale?
HJ: The installation is practically made up of a found object – as it happens, a totalled car wreck –, opera dialogues recorded in video and audio formats, plus their librettos. Another important element is the strong red light flooding the wreck – basically natural light from outside, coming through coloured windows.
Despite all appearances, this work is first of all not about the car crash: rather, it poses questions about chance and its validity, about the possibility of determination, via the example of the car crash. In fact, it literally poses questions, as the librettos sung and also printed for reading are built on yes-no questions. Most of the librettos contain detailed stories of car crashes, based on stories related by the survivors. In this respect, the work considers the temporality of memory prevalent instead of real time.
EB: Do you have any relation to the car-crash victims in your videos that you will be exhibiting in your work?
HJ: The videos feature opera singers performing the dialogues.
The – almost – victims of the car crashes, the sources of the stories, are my friends and acquaintances, with most of whom I have an informal personal relationship. However, their representation is completely impersonal – they are displayed at the exhibition in a black and white photo series, with their backs to the camera.
EB: In your work the viewer experiences music transcending its own role as music, becoming visualized as an integrated part of the expression. Do you feel that music as an art form is stronger than visual art? Do you think that music is more appealing to the general viewer than certain forms of visual art?
HJ: I don’t think that any art form would be stronger or weaker than the other, and so their comparison doesn’t make sense to me. I think these forms of expression can be characterized, or assessed, in terms of similar features. A still or moving image has rhythm just as a sound can have colour or a sequence of notes can have form. Visual and audio pieces can be similarly abstract or difficult to interpret, or easy to apperceive and thus popular. Additionally, I think that these forms of expression don’t exist without one another, and I especially like the play and tension in the way they complement one another.
As regards the viewer, it can never be general, and I think that art intends to communicate rather than appeal.
EB: Crash, the work that you will be showing at the Venice Biennale, from what I understand is the manifestation of a frozen moment when the car was deformed into a wreck. When approaching this piece, do you aim to shock the viewer by the car’s displacement in a new ‘reality’?
HJ: To shock? This is not my aim. The possibility of death is manifested in the work, but it is present in all of our lives. What does indeed shock us is the fact of our own death, which we spend our lives trying to prevent.
EB: Do you see the car crash as a form of political statement?
HJ: Perhaps. The possibility of crash is inherent in everything. Perhaps this is “destiny”.
EB: Surely the content of this piece has changed due to the different setting at the Hungarian pavilion? Did you change the piece in any way because of this new setting? Do you think this will be detrimental to the message of the piece?
HJ: Crash was exhibited previously, at the Municipal Picture Gallery of Budapest, at the Kunsthalle Budapest and in Modem also. At the Hungarian pavilion I added a new element, a video featuring opera dialogues about car crashes recorded on the “stage of life”. So there is the wreck in red light, the sound, the librettos on music stands and the video. In fact, this is the most ideal setting for this installation so far. Not only has it not deteriorated, but it has reached completeness - both in terms of form and content (or message).
EB: What relation do the three spaces of your exhibition have to each other? And what is the significance of colour in your work, specifically black, white and red?
HJ: Perhaps the best description would be that the components presented in different spaces are linked as a chain. During the design stage, I thought that it could be approached from anywhere, that we could start the tour in any room as the components are of equal significance, without any hierarchy. However, even if there is no hierarchy, a narrative does exist, and later I realized that the most ideal strategy is to first catch sight of the car wreck bathing in red light – here we can already hear the singing of the dialogues – and crossing the passage we can skim the stories on the music stands – silent witnesses – and finally in the video room we get an insight into the recordings of the opera performances.
Colours are always significant, but their task is very easy: red is intended to highlight; black and white represent minimum and maximum contrast.