Revealing Intuition – Immanence Catches Transcendence and Thereby Determines Himself, Óbudai Társaskör Galéria, Budapest

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Untitled, Young Artists’ Club, Budapest

Revealing Intuition – Immanence Catches Transcendence and Thereby Determines Himself

Revealing Intuition –
Immanence Catches Transcendence and Thereby Determines Himself

Óbudai Társaskör Galéria, Budapest


“Given: 1. Birds of paradise 2. 136 bamboos”. A given, a piece of contingency: there was given a garden in which the bamboo was proliferating and had to be cut. And there was given an experience about the dancing birds of paradise in some documentary film. The idea of Tamás Komoróczky’s new exhibition stemmed from the encounter of these two. There were, however, other things given: four previous exhibitions on Sartre’s oeuvre which had already been there as accomplished ‘givens’. Tamás Komoróczky was therefore forced to take a distance towards them so as to make further progress possible. Revealing Intuition – Immanence Catches Transcendence and Thereby Determines Himself – the title of the exhibition, definitely sounding sartrien, as it indeed is a literal quote of sartrien idiom taken from Being and Nothingness and also included in the video Appearance. With this idiom evoking Sartre’ time one cannot help recalling that, which spontaneously pops up in everyone’s mind hearing the word ‘given’ in the context of art: the work Given: 1. the Waterfall 2. the Illuminating Gas by Marcel Duchamp. The Étant donnés is usually interpreted in art history in lacanien terms drawing on the latter’s 1964 lectures[1] in spite of the fact that Duchamp had started working on it almost twenty years earlier, in 1946, and it seems fairly reasonable to suppose that he must have been under the influence of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943), its chapter on the gaze in particular. And as regards the mise en scene of the new Komoróczky installation we may easily find similarities with Duchamp’s Given. Its fence-like edifice built of bamboos also encircles a woman in the same way as in Duchamp’s work, there also being an outside place belonging in both works to the man. The relationship between the two persons is, however, diametrically opposed in the two. Whereas with Duchamp the woman is exposed to our gaze as some passive object akin to the peepshow situation (which was, by the way, the paradigmatic model in both Sartre’s and even de Beauvoir’s theory of intersubjectivity) in Tamás Komoróczky’s installation the situation is completely reversed: it is the men who become the objects of the gaze showing up as birds of paradise in a video taking place outside the fences, and it is the woman who is hidden.

And if we refer this reversion of the elements inside the situation back to the era in question we suddenly come across a further given: namely Simone de Beauvoir’ figure and the situation in which Sartre and his companion found themselves right after the war so different from the preceding times during which Being and Nothingness was written. This situation and the changing of it can be characterized briefly as follows: we think of war as a genuine intersubjective relationship, as did Sartre and his friends, only to find out in retrospect that it had been no less than its opposite. The action-image, the face-to-face relationship was only given in the abstract structure of the opposition. In reality, however, the two sides proved all too homogenous and their confrontation all too impersonal for any kind of face-to-face meeting to take place. There was a common enemy out there on the other side which neutralized all disagreement on this side. The presumed enemy lacking any recognizable personality, was in no position to address or access the personality of his adversaries on this side of the frontline. Sartre and his friends could not experience the war as a real battle since they never participated in any form of physical combat and the enemy, far from being the evil person to be confronted, remained for them no more than an imaginary Other.[2] After the war everything suddenly changed. A fever of political action and commitment overtook everybody. Participants got fast personified and individualized, the process soon leading to new oppositions and conflicts creating new enemies and disagreeing fractions. And what was Simone de Beauvoir, the former object of the gaze, doing in the meantime? She stepped back from the turmoil to take up a safe viewpoint and kept a close eye on the rivalry between Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Koestler, Malraux and other members of the intelligentsia. She was keen to observe how these ‘heroes of the time’ were gradually becoming no more than pathetic exhibitionists, jumping before each other and making clowns of themselves. Then in 1954 she brought out a thick novel entitled The Mandarins depicting and narrating all these events from the end of the war on. The novel was both critically acclaimed and also so popular with the readers that it was awarded the Goncourt Prize.[3]

The central topic of the exhibition can be identified at the very first glance. It is simply the problem of subjectivity (and that of intersubjectivity) treated at the same abstract level as those of the previous exhibitions’. The problem of subjectivity is reduced to its utmost abstract foundations of depth and surface, inside versus outside. Since the encounter with the other fails, the unfolding that is supposed to constitute his/her contingency, i.e. his/her sheer givenness, remains but an unreal wish. The encounter simply doesn’t take place not even in the deficient way of the act of Sartre’s famous voyeur, who at least does face the existence of the other even if only through his own shame. Watching the video on display we do sense some hilarity and playfulness there, which – once again referring back to the era of liberation – evokes Matisse’s joie de vivre, but the installation as a whole mainly exudes melancholy and sorrow. For what we can see is definitely not an encounter between two depths but only between a surface and a depth. No matter how joyful and playful the surface may seem obviously evoking Matisse’s cut outs, it is doomed to remain but a mimicry preventing the depth from revealing herself. The surface is but concrete nothingness whereas its female counterpart an abstract one. The former is trapped in its form on the surface defined by its externality. The shape thus defined rules over him, can even detach itself from him to the point of replacing him in the video. But the female other is no less trapped in her materiality and empty depth.

Considering the total context of the exhibition, it may be the case that subjectivity as such is not to be looked for merely in the relationship between the male and the female, surface and depth. There is something more ‘given’ left unexamined so far: the fence-like grid made of bamboos. This grid has already undergone a number of transformations over the years in Tamás Komoróczky’s works. It had been moved in all sorts of ways, gotten distorted and folded up, but this time something qualitatively different has happened to it: it has incarnated, for once, in three-dimensional physical space. And this incarnation has not only carved out a transparent space manifesting thereby its own rival, the depth,[4] but as a consequence of physical existence it was given over to material irregularities, and accidents and glitches following therefrom, all the way to the eventuality of falling apart. And last but not least, as a rigid frame it can hold different objects hung upon it, as well as provide the opportunity to be hiding or hiding objects. This is where subjectivity can really be found in the exhibition in the form of indexes, imprints, traces and the like. These signs are no less abstract than the overall structure (the oppositional situation of the bride and the birds of paradise) neither do they refer to any concrete subject. This does not, however, prevent them from pointing to subjectivity as such. They are only capable of this because they are totally stripped of any situation, not involved even in such an abstract one which is the lot of the bride and her grooms. Being inside the fence we spontaneously turn away from the spectacular video and the bride watching it, and start discovering those tiny little things randomly attached to the grid easily overlooked at first: a piece of ceramics holding someone’s footstep, another one with the print of some object, a third one carrying possibly the fossil print of some animal, a fourth one with a form we have never seen before, then a paper silhouette of a bird of paradise seeming to be mislaid there and forgotten about, a text full of spelling mistakes, pieces of different soaps collected by someone for who knows what purpose. And finally, a click clack toy which must also have belonged to someone. It teaches a whole philosophy of subjectivity and intersubjectivity no less relevant than the one proposed by the overall framework. The two, however, happen to be in total opposition.

Tamás Seregi

[1] Jacques Lacan (1973): Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. Paris: Seuil, pp. 65-109.

[2] Sartre served in the war, thanks to Raymond Aron, in a military company responsible for the weather service and when he had been taken war-prisoner at one point he just walked out of the prison „as the gate was always open” – as Simone de Beauvoir put it.

[3] Its first edition in english: Simone de Beauvoir (1956): The Mandarins. New York: The World Publishing Company.

[4] At this point we may detect another reference to the era in question. One of Merleau-Ponty’s central insight being the qualitative difference between depth and surface: the one cannot be mapped into the other in the way that modern mathematical geometry (the foundation of pictorial perspectivism) envisaged to do it.