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Analytical Spaces - the Installations of Péter Forgács

László F. Földényi 2004 0 0

Can one take a slice out of space? 

Yes. Or maybe not. 

Can life be divided into pieces? 

No. And yet, it is by dint of consisting of smaller “pieces” that it is made whole. 

The installations of Péter Forgács are life-spaces. In them, things evolve into space that in theory are uncircumscribable. Objects are brought to life which at first sight are completely inert. These installations are spaces of the soul. They make the invisible visible. Yet in the meantime life falls into pieces, and its elements, far from being “put together”, are carefully spread out. These spaces are alive. And yet: whichever of them I stepped into, I was filled with a deadly sort of numbness. Or it would hit me right in the face. Péter Forgács’s installations are disquieting; some are outright moving. Even in those that are more noteworthy for their irony or humour, there is something I find unsettling. Yet their most unnerving aspect is the keen stare that is concentrated on me the whole time I am in these installations, these spaces, but which, the whole time, I am unable to place. Someone is watching me, but I know not who, or where from. 

This stare accosts me, but I am unable to reciprocate. This is the most unsettling of all. For all stares await a response, and while I listen to my stomach and my heart, I also feel the need to answer. Forgács’ installations demand painstaking, circumspect attention: their space is there to be occupied, step by step. Like so much spiritual space. They are distributed with precision: the objects create a logical as well as emotional web. There is a system I have to grasp. I have to reconstruct the will that built this space. Within my head, I have to design the collection of items anew. It is only then that I can allow myself to listen to my stomach and to my heart. And by then I see them with the same expression that was previously focussed on me. 

Rousing, analytic installations. They have “taken life to pieces” in order to construct a new “parallel” life out of it. In Hungarian Kitchen Video Art, for example, the process of deconstruction produces a new space that becomes natural by way of unnaturalness. This byroad is reminiscent of an infinite spiral. The floor is covered with natural grass, which here, in an installation inside a museum, is far from natural. But on the screen of a TV in the corner, where it appears not as an element of an installation, but “as grass”, it will be. Yet the image relayed by the TV loses its naturalness precisely because of its relayed nature, like everything that appears on a TV screen. The television set, as a domestic object, is nevertheless a natural part of our everyday lives. The installation – as a slice of life space – brings this naturalness into question. And so on, for eternity – an eternity that appears thematically in the endless alternation between the “relayed” grass and the yoga routines that, again and again, interrupt their broadcast. 

“Natural” gains its quotation marks thanks to its relayed nature. But the term “relayed” awaits a similar fate, also falling between inverted commas, almost perversely becoming natural. In the installations of Péter Forgács, so-called “reality” and the “simulacrum” enter a unique symbiosis. What makes his art unique is that neither is sacrificed for the sake of the other. He does not insist on perpetuating the illusion of “reality”, for reality – to mention what since psychoanalysis and Wittgenstein is a cliché – was never neutral, but always full of relayed components; it is precisely this relaying that makes it reality. Yet his installations do not demonstrate the recent view, of which Baudrillard is a key exponent, that reality has long been a sheer illusion, and that the process of imaging is more true than what is imaged. In Péter Forgács’ video installations “reality” and the “simulacrum” are realised at one and the same time; neither attempts (with the help of irony) to pull the carpet from under the other; it is the two together that produce a combined unit that is theoretically inconceivable. This lifts both reality and the simulacrum to a higher power, generating a “third” whose genre it is not simple task to assign. This is what makes Forgács’ work art. For art is the place where everything is allowed. More precisely: everything that is suitable for the evocation of an experience that rids the world of its naturalness in such a way that light is poured on an as yet unimagined focus of its viewer’s own existence. 

The approach to this assumed focus appears thematically in a number of the installations. Dream Inventory, for example, takes psychoanalysis as its starting point. While the armchair, the couch, the carpets and the pillows evoke the fin de siècle atmosphere of the Berggasse in Vienna, the video technique used, together with the monitor itself, put this atmosphere in inverted commas – without quenching or destroying it. In this instance the quotation marks do not throw their subject into doubt; rather, they help us to approach it by distancing us from it. This analytic method is what suggests the procedure of psychoanalysis to the spectator. As so often in art, that which is depicted, and the nature of the depiction generate a tension, to which the viewer in the foreground can also succumb. This allows him to experience the layering of his own being. (This work was one of the most important items in the Psychoanalysis and Viennese Actionism section of the 1996-07 exhibition Beyond Art, together with Miklós Erdély’s installation Similis Simile Gaudit (1985) and Hermann Nitsch’s 1990 statue Oedipus Partitur.) Dream Inventory is part of the wide-ranging exhibition Inventory, which literally dismantles the soul, opening its drawers, providing the viewer with a kind of descent. The darkness of the exhibition in its own way pours light on the inner gloom of the soul. The visible becomes invisible, while what was previously out of sight comes unexpectedly into the limelight. It is two diametrically opposite movements that provide enlightenment – just as in the case of the pig in the exhibition, which can watch its slaughter taking place in reverse on a monitor, dead in life, alive in death. 

Analysis originally meant dissection. The installations of Péter Forgács are analytic in the literal meaning of the word. This is helped by the very nature of the genre, as looking at his installations we can always find some eventuality in the collection of various articles, which is all the more evident the more united the effect of the work. It is as if Forgács’ passionate preparation creates video installations that induce onlookers to the most conflicting actions. The installation entitled The Case of My Room, for example, divides one single space into two rooms reminiscent of the two halves of the brain. But as the video prevents any fast or immediate identification (direct – sentimental – involvement), the viewer is forced on a “tour of the soul”, whose final destination is a differentiated self-understanding. In the installation Hang Man Ship! (A kaszt o!) the one is split into three: the members of the family, who should belong together, find themselves the furthest apart from each other. Yet the work as a whole nevertheless reinforces the feeling of togetherness, which in this instance refers not to familial bonds, or to relations between mutual (or conflicting) interests, but to a sort of existential interdependence, which – as a powerless force – suggests the monotonous yet tragic nature of life itself. 

Péter Forgács cuts to pieces, takes to pieces, dissects, analyses. And at the same time he puts something together. What there is (the visible), he dismantles, in order to make visible the foreground of things. What would otherwise be invisible. In the same way that it is not simply the originally immortalised images that give his Private Hungary films their real power, but the invisible scratches Forgács himself forces onto every frame. It is thanks to these scratches (acts of “defacement”, “manipulation”) that something appears on the film screen similar to what Freud called the optical subconscious (“Optisch-Unbewußte”). This is invisible, but at the same time highly perceptible. The films, rather than remaining simple documentaries, come to life. As I watch them, it is not only a lost world that I see, I also penetrate my personal layers I had thought lost. I continue a dialogue with myself – and as a result what is long gone (history) suddenly becomes present and private. Just as the spaces of the video installations are alive and personal – partly because the monitors often leap into action from the presence or movement of the visitor, by which the installation is also turned into a stage, and the reception of the work into the evolvement of a performance

According to Freud, the objective of analysis is the deconstruction and dissection of dreams. The unity of the world is self-evident, he wrote, and thus there is no need to give it special emphasis. “What interests me is to separate and take to pieces that which would otherwise blend into one in the primeval sludge (Urbrei).” In the end, though, this procedure means we have to ignore dreams: as the elements of dreams become conscious, the images disappear and are replaced instead by words – something Lyotard argues can be traced back to Moses’ suppression of images. Freud brings into the light was would otherwise be locked away in the darkness. In other (Greek) words: the mystery (which is locked away) is brought out in the profane (the visible). 

It is at this point that the analytic techniques of Péter Forgács’ installations break away from the methods of psychoanalysis. Their undoubted foreground allows us to conclude that they have an aura. It is important to emphasize this, because it is precisely since the spread of media and technical “reproducibility” that it has become a cliché to quote Walter Benjamin’s conception that the aura of a work of art disappears in the age of technical multiplicability. There is, however, a fundamental difference between a duplicated work and duplication itself as a technique. Benjamin is right that in the course of duplication a work loses its aura, the “authenticity” brought to it by the “here and now”. He makes no mention, however, of whether the technique that actually brings about the reproduction can bring about a previously unimagined aura all of its own. The “here and now” of Forgács’ video installations are capable of creating that very aura. It is evident that the oil stains on the wall of Hungarian Kitchen Video Art, and the furniture on its floor, brought directly from its original surroundings, do not have their own aura. But objects robbed of their own aura are still suitable as elements of a new aura, one composed not of the objects themselves, but the nature of their arrangement. Duplicability and multimedia are also capable of producing their own “here and now”. In the installation Pre-Pro-Seca-Tura video and computer techniques create an overall effect not so far removed from a Baroque Passion: the viewer is simultaneously introduced to suffering and punishment (demonic whipping), and to mortality and immortality; the experience of entry (tunnel, cave) and passage (bridge) is as much aroused as that of arrival (sunset, beach). 

At first glance, the elements of this Baroque Passion resist any kind of aura. And yet, once they leap into operation and interaction, they produce a mysterious, closed foreground. The viewer, on stepping into the installation, while directing its movement with his own body, does not just receive, he interferes. And this is when we see what we can call mystery – the prerequisite for every aura. And this is when the word “analysis” has to be put into quotation marks. For while Forgács uses the technique of Freudian analysis - that is, he takes to pieces, dissects into elements - he does not bring the mystery out into the profane. On the contrary: he takes the profane into the mystery. This analysis makes us sensible to an account much older that Freud’s – that of Aristotle. For Aristotle, the ultimate objective of analysis is ascension: things (reality, nature) must be broken up into their elements, he argues, so that we can use these, like steps of a staircase, to rise ever higher, right up to first principles. 

It is in this sense that I refer to the video installations of Péter Forgács as analytical. He “unpicks” the world, just as Freud did the images of dreams, and he allows words, rationality, to assert themselves. But instead of exposing these images to plain conceptuality, he raises them to a new, higher level. He creates art from them. In his installations, understanding is not an objective, it a working tool. Just as in analysis the act of understanding has to be followed by something else. Coming close to the aforementioned centre of existence is more important than any act of comprehension. It is the presence of this invisible focal point that brings Forgács’ work to life. And this is what from the first moment I feel as a keen stare focussing itself on me. 

[Translated from the Hungarian by David Robert Evans