MODEM Modern and Contemporary Art Center

Debrecen, Baltazár Dezső tér 1.


Project Genesis

11 March – 20 June 2010

Curator: Gerda Szeplaky


Zsolt Berszán (1974, Marosvásárhely) is an artist living at Csíksomlyó, editor of the art journal Bázis. He had individual exhibitions at the Brukenthal Museum at Nagyszeben in 2008, and in Kolozsvár, at the birthplace of King Matthias in 2009. His works, which are so characteristic of using industrial materials, can be found at several Rumanian art galleries. His works were present at the MODEM’s exhibition of contemporary Transylvanian art called Természetes körülmények között (In natural circumstances, 2008) and also at Messiások (Messiahs, 2009). Project Genesis is his first independent exhibition in Hungary.

Project Genesis
Western Civilisation is strongly influenced by the discourse of science. At the beginning of the 21st century one is hardly capable of conceiving the world as an untouched natural unity, as people of previous historical times could. Instead of universes, Western man beholds microcosms, broken pieces of a disintegrated whole. These new worlds are usually not even visible to the naked human eye: they can be perceived only through microscopes and other technological instruments.

Zsolt Berszán’s project aims to reconstruct this invisible historical process during which the human being, previously conceived as an organic unity, has fallen to pieces and turned into a heterogeneous collection of tiny organisms, and became ex-centric with regard to his/her human essence. The pieces of art displayed here show the radical transformation during which the human being becomes another type of being: a multiplicity of life forms, a being showing previously unseen qualities of life. When one enters the body, goes under the skin and the flesh, into the bowels, one encounters those tiny organisms that condition one’s life, organisms difficult to face as they call attention to the transient, vulnerable nature of one’s existence. The human body is eaten up by maggots from the inside: a process that leads to the ultimate destruction of the complete body after death. As Edgar Allan Poe put it: „…the play is the tragedy, “Man,” / And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

But Project Genesis unveils the other aspect of this process of devastation by maggots as well: it also shows the way death leads to new life. In the micro-world of maggots (that one can visit thanks to art, leaving our human macrocosm behind) one may wonder at the powers of genesis residing within demise, at the breathtaking circle of the reproduction of life. Within this microcosm the instrument of genesis is the maggot, but when one dives into the invisible worlds of the deepest recesses of the body, one meets microscopic organisms like bacteria and viruses, beings on the margins of the thinkable that live in symbiosis with the human body, organisms whose function is sometimes precisely the regeneration of life. The world-view of humanism, which placed the human being at the centre of divine genesis, collapses in this artistic reinterpretation of the production and regeneration of life.

In his “rewriting” of genesis Berszán uses industrial materials: concrete, asphalt, poliurethan foam, aluminium, and most importantly silicon. As it is well-known, modern science regards silicon-based life as an alternative to carbon-based life. Using silicium-silicon therefore may already point towards the possibility of an “alternative genesis.” This aspect is further strengthened by the presence of water (which is used in case of many works of art here), by the material needed for life to spring. In the “trough-pieces” the black silicon forms rise from the smooth surface of water; but, on the other hand, this smooth, motionless surface does not swallow anything: it only reflects everything as multiplied, rootless, fake images.

Almost all the works of Berszán are painted completely black: concrete, foam, or silicon alike. This strategy of the reduction of colour is connected to the approach in painting that wishes to return to one of the basic colours of our world. Berszán follows the tradition of Malevicsian reduction, which the maker of Black Square invented and elaborated as a theory of the economism of colour. Within this theory, which Malevics employed within his art as well, black signifies the point of origin that stands for the limited nature of the world, as opposed to the limitlessness of white and the lightness of the immaterial world. In 20th century fine art there were many who followed Malevics, giving the colour black a privileged role for some time – one may think of Gerhard Richter or Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko as outstanding examples. Others, artists of monochrome painting, completed what one could see as the perfect pictorial abstraction, reaching the “heart of darkness” – Ad Reinhardt for example, possibly the most outstanding artist of them. Following these trends, Berszán gets from the minimalism of black to remarkable complexities of meaning: in his works black does not simply signify death and impermanence, but also talks about the dark powers inherent in creation.

Project Genesis
involves about thirty pieces, arranged in three spaces that represent different qualities. One goes through a narrowing corridor that leads to the hall that contains “trough-pieces” that use water and are laid on the floor, panel paintings hanging on the walls, and monumental pieces of art hanging in the air. In the “crypt,” which is separated from the hall one may see three open aluminium boxes that resemble coffins. Within these coffins that are hanging in the air one may witness the different states of the transformation of the human body after death. From the other end of the hall (dominated by the atmosphere of the sacred) one may enter another installation that looks like the inverse of the other exhibited pieces: a piece of art inside out. The visitor stepping inside this space may feel like entering the cavities of the body of a “triumphant maggot.” The invincible power of this black genesis swallows the visitor, who stops being simply a spectator. Through the creative forces of art one gains access to this unknown micro-world invisible to the naked eye, and gets a chance of actually experiencing it from the inside, becoming a part of art.

Gerda Széplaky

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