La memoria de los pasos perdidos-Juan Bosco Díaz-Urmeneta (26 junio 2015)

Sin ser una asignatura, el cultivo de la memoria era una práctica asentada en universidades medievales. El estudiante solía ordenar sus conocimientos en sucesivas salas imaginarias donde colocaba figuras acompañadas a veces de palabras. Así recordaba desde las reglas lógicas hasta las sutilezas escolásticas. Estudiosos hoy de tal arte memorativa creen que la relación entre la estructura de las catedrales y los sistemas teológicos hizo de cada catedral, además de una materialización de tales sistemas, un espacio de la memoria que recordaba sin cesar el orden del mundo.

Dos aspectos nos separan de ese pasado que no deja de ser nuestro: memorizar hoy es mucho menos urgente. Estudiosos, estudiantes y devotos del siglo XIII carecían de libros impresos y sólo los primeros podían ir a las bibliotecas siempre reservadas. Ahora poseemos múltiples recursos para suplir y aún sustituir a la memoria. La otra diferencia es que por suerte o por desgracia carecemos de una visión global de las cosas: por el exceso de información y sobre todo, porque el saber se ha hecho transversal, las doctrinas se desvanecieron, las ideologías son sólo estímulos del pensamiento que es libre para ponerlas en duda y la pluralidad de culturas nos ha enseñado a mirar con los ojos del otro.

Pero algo queda algo del arte de la memoria: el afecto. Cultivar la memoria exigía figuras vivas, percusivas, capaces de agitar. Nuestra memoria hoy es fragmentaria pero sus fragmentos siguen cargados de emoción.

Así ocurre en este ejercicio de la memoria firmado por Dénes Farkas. Farkas, aunque vive y da clases en Estonia y representó a este país en la Biennale de 2013, nació en Budapest hace 40 años. Sus padres eran traductores de literatura latinoamericana. Los textos que aparecen al pie de las imágenes quizá sean resultado de una doble traducción: del castellano al húngaro y de nuevo al castellano por un lector centroeuropeo. Son pues fragmentos viajeros de lengua anidados en la memoria y anudados por el afecto. Sobre ellos otros fragmentos, ahora de espacios o figuras. Su indefinición y la del texto pueden ser gérmenes de una breve narración, pero también son una invitación: incitan a recorrer enclaves que la memoria hizo suyos y sobre todo elaborar el propio mapa de pasos perdidos que no es ajenos a lo que hemos sido y somos. Imágenes y textos, sencillos, contienen un posible cultivo de la memoria.


When a Melancholic Becomes an Export Article - Andreas Trossek (enero 2014)

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Andreas Trossek writes about the exhibition “Evident in Advance” by Dénes Farkas.

  1. I–11. V 2014
    Kumu Art Museum, 4th floor, A-wing, graphic arts cabinet

Three years ago when Estonia was in the midst of adopting the euro, a fine art photography fair was held in Tallinn showing, among others, examples of work by Dénes Farkas, an artist approaching his forties. Installed in display cases, these black and white analogue photographs of delicate paper models were suggestive of quiet, staged interiors, exteriors and objects. Legend has it that the works were not sold, despite the fact that due to a careless typo the prices had been listed in kroons rather than euros.1 In other words, the visitors all missed the chance to buy artworks that will remain in the art history of Estonia of the 21st century at giveaway prices. Indeed, this may be declared with some certainty now that Farkas has represented Estonia at the 55th International Art Biennale in Venice and his work is being shown at first-class art fairs like the Armory Show and ARCOmadrid.

Glocal v. local

Dénes Farkas belongs to a generation of artists who were too young in the 1990s when global interest in Post-Soviet regions was at its highest. Clearly, nothing has come easily to this generation. When they started out in the 2000s, standing in their way were not only the “artist-dissidents” who had emerged triumphantly from the Soviet era but also their own teachers, who had met with moderate international success and continued attention from curators abroad. It was therefore somewhat predictable that, compared to their forerunners, this generation developed their author positions in the Estonian art scene over a significantly longer period of time and in the process of a much larger flow of information relying on (glocal) evolution rather than (local) revolution as the key word. Indeed, why should a 21st century artist in Estonia be occupied with “patricide” on the scale of some local village brawl if they can think bigger instead? So “Evident in Advance”, last year’s Venice project now on display at the Kumu Art Museum, is also a result of thought processes that originated in and around 2006 or 2007 when the artist, of Estonian and Hungarian roots, began to photograph his series of paper models, which were mostly accompanied by quotations and textual fragments in multiple languages when displayed at exhibitions.

As an art historian I have categorised Dénes Farkas as a post-conceptualist.2 No creator likes categorisation, but there are several reasons in the background in this case. First, Farkas combines images and words in his work so that the text is never reduced to mere caption nor the image to mere illustration. This kind of artistic thinking only becomes possible in the second half of the 20th century when conceptualism declares the idea to be more important than the execution and modern art museums across the world fill with texts, books, archives and other such textual installations by artists that place verbal information in the foreground. (True, before that cubists and Dadaists too had cut up fresh newspapers and glued together collages, but the result in one way or another was reduced to a part of the composition.) Second, Farkas’ handling of the material and retro aesthetic of the image also indicate a conceptualist legacy: we see here an artist who, in our current digital age, continues to work with analogue technology and exhibits a series of black and white photographs which inevitably leave a nostalgic impression and are essentially not far removed from, say, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s architecture photography of the 1970s. Third, there is also the historical background because traces of conceptualist thinking, which subsequent generations of artists were in one way or another compelled to critically relate to, were also to be found in Estonian art of the 1970s and 1980s.

The legacy of conceptualism and methodology of deconstructivism

Alongside conceptualism, Farkas’ laconic pictorial language has also drawn on the minimalist tradition, which necessarily adds a certain “commerciality” to his works––especially in the Estonian context with its collective habits of consumption, where for decades Nordic modernist design has been considered a sign of good taste. Still, the artist’s fragmenting approach suggests destructive rather than affirmative primary impulses: he does not believe; he does not hope; he does not really engage in anything but sowing doubts.

Also noticeable is the artist’s reliance on deconstructivist philosophy, or at least its methodology, which is often associated with conceptualism. Like Jacques Derrida before him, Dénes Farkas too seems not to believe that it is possible for him to tell the viewer his whole story since some connotation, a trail, a translation error, a différance always remains somewhere “around the corner”. It is therefore hardly surprising that as a literary text Farkas’ project “Evident in Advance” leaves the impression of an intentionally “failed” interpretation of Bruce Duffy’s book “The World As I Found It” (1987), which in turn leaves the impression of a “failed” interpretation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’ biography and so on.

The failure, therefore, is programmatic. A failure that always takes us back to the logocentric prison of language, speech and writing; one that is inevitably inscribed in this chain of communication from the outset. What cannot really fully be uttered cannot fully be thought through beforehand either. There is no way out. And after the failures, we are left with only silence.

The marketing effort

“Evident in Advance” was the 2013 Estonian Pavilion show in Venice and is therefore yesterday’s news, as it were, for the professionals. However, the subsequent fate and marketing efforts of the show within Estonia have been remarkable. While most of the previous Venice projects have been shown to the local public in the Tallinn Art Hall block or the Estonian Artists’ Association Hobusepea Gallery (either before or after the Biennale, depending on the circumstances), this year the whole Venice project was hurled into vans, basically on the closing day of the Biennale, and brought straight to Kumu Art Museum – as a newcomer to shine in the Parnassian glory amidst the classics of art history. This gesture can be read as an institutional compliment extended by the national museum to the Center for Contemporary Arts Estonia, who has been producing the Venice projects since 1997, but also as a desire on the part of Kumu to museumise as quickly as possible each contemporary artist who has poked their nose outside of Estonia. Lest it happen, God forbid, that a Venice artist should end up receiving more recognition outside Estonia, as happened, for example, with Mark Raidpere in 2005 or Kristina Norman in 2009. On the other hand, the facilities in Kumu are always neat, clean and well lit, so why not.

* A shortened version of this article was published in Postimees 21. I 2014. This is the author’s full version of the article.

1 As always, different versions of this legend exist. According to one version there was simply an extra zero in the price list, according to another version the works were exhibited without a fixed price. (As always, the truth is out there, however, let us admit that the legend is always more powerful than the truth.)

2 Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia, online database (2012), see http://www.cca.ee/kunstnikud/denes-farkas.

Andreas Trossek works as editor-in-chief of KUNST.EE.

Failure as Means of Achieving Happiness: Dénes Farkas - Magdalena Kröner (2013)

Estonian artist Dénes Farkas, born in Budapest in 1974, represents his country at this year’s 55th Venice Biennial with the work “Evident in Advance”. “An engaging way of failing”, he described the pavilion’s concept as we discussed it in Tallinn. Located in the historic Palazzo Malipiero facing Piazza San Samuele in the city’s San Marco area, Farkas’ minimalist installation evokes a multitude of questions, just to the artist’s liking.

Magdalena Kröner: I would like to learn more about the experience building Estonia’s national pavilion. How does one plan and execute such a large production? What were the biggest challenges?

Dénes Farkas: Luckily, a production like this is never a solo enterprise but in this case an international group endeavor. I worked with Tallinn-based curator Maria Arusoo as the project’s commissioner, Washington-based Adam Budak curated the pavilion and the office of Berlin-based architect Markus Miessen designed and built the structures, – to name just a few of the many people involved with this. In the beginning I found it really difficult to work in such a historically laden space with all kinds of architectural and cultural references in it, so it was important to build a structure that would work against all these connotations.

Tell me about the concept of “Evident in Advance”.

I wanted to create a variety of rooms to be entered from the central room in the building, based on the concept of a library, an archive or a classroom. So the central room, adhering mostly to the traditional concept of what an “art exhibition” consists of, contains a library with around 10.000 books at the time, each with a different words from the novel inside printed on its spine. Each book contains sentences from Bruce Duffy’s 1987 novel “The World as I Found it”, a semi-fictional story based on a person’s life called Ludwig Wittgenstein who is not actually Ludwig Wittgenstein but something like his alter ego, alongside my own drawings and photos.
Initially, I wanted the visitors to take a book and wander the rooms guided by the words and images in it, but the people were mostly too afraid to even touch the books. In another room, I installed a registry of more than 30.000 index cards containing knowledge of the British Oxford Dictionary. Initially, the index cards were not meant for the visitors to take away, but obviously people felt tempted to take some with them, so the total number of cards would gradually diminish. Each card tries to explain the 10.000 words on the spines of the books in the big room and collect all the knowledge there exists around this word. I wanted to create a massive failure, illustrating the human desire to know and to explain everything, but what you get in the end is a completely self-referential situation.

A lot of people reckoned the pavilion to be one of the most “hermetic” of the whole Biennial. I would like to learn more about the concept of “failure”. How did you create that tangible sense of failure and futility one experiences throughout the whole exhibit?

The whole exhibit tries to deconstruct Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and create something new out of this. Basically every room deals with the notion of philosophy and its relation to human knowledge. I liked Wittgenstein’s idea of grasping the whole world through sentences, which of course is and absurd concept in itself. It is impossible to cover the whole world in sentences. Language and the world are two fundamentally different things, so they will always be separate. In one room I try to develop a play based on Bruce Duffy’s novel, but all I show is the props and sketches for a possible play and not the play itself. I wanted to work against the expectation to present something readily consumable for the viewer, but at the same time I do want to give them something; enable some kind of experience. But baiscally, it all harks back to failure and ilustrates various ways of failing. Also, there is a room with an image of greenery, an in one there is a plant called „Baby’s tears“ or „Mind your own business“. It is a reference to Wittgenstein who was also a gardener. I liked the idea to have a plant in the middle of all this, because it does not fit the rest. Later, people told me that they liked the plant most, as it disrupts the whole installation and got them thinking.

Were you succesful in creating the perfect failure?

I guess I was. I hoped to create something nobody understands, not even me. (laughs) The books, texts, images, notes and index cards won’t create a congruent image. They won’t add up to one piece of knowledge, even if you try very hard. In the end you just witness everything referring to itself.

I like the idea to develop a body of work constantly hovering on the limits of language and cognition. In his „Tractatus“ Ludwig Wittgenstein talks about language as the ladder that you have to throw away after you have climbed up on it. Why did you choose Wittgenstein?

Bruce Duffy wrote his novel about this crazy man called Wittgenstein doing all kinds of outrageous things and I liked that from the beginning. I only started reading Ludwig Wittgenstein’s texts later and got involved in his thinking about language, understanding and logic. I am not a philosopher, so I guess my way of looking at his work is much more personal. I was always interested in the reasons why I do not understand something and I sincerely believe there is no such thing such as understanding per se. I guess Wittgenstein was absolutely right about the impossibility of understanding. I agree with him in the way that it is impossible that two people in a room will understand the same thing if they hear it or mean the same thing if they talk about it. I guess I always liked the dysfunctionality of Wittgenstein’s concept. I liked how he wanted to describe the world in all possible objectivity, but in the middle of these descriptions there are these bouts of total subjectivity undermining the whole concept. In its unique way of failing, the work makes total sense.

Tell me more about your penchant for failure…

I am an atheist and do not really believe in anything; but I make art anyway which is quite a contradiction if you will. I knew I would fail in my attempt to create this exhibit but I did it anyway because I was interested in the process. In the end, I did come to any conclusions, but while creating it, the whole work changed and that is what I appreciate about it. It felt really meditative. For one and a half year I was collecting material and the outcome was a whole lot different from what I expected.

Tell me more about your earlier work…

I have a degree in photography and worked as a photographer and printmaker. Initially, I wanted to study architecture, but my grades weren’t good enough. My interest in architecture turned into building minitiature paper models that were also part of the Venice show. I build small paper models and photograph them or arrange them in lightboxes, as I did for the series „Superstructure“ in 2009. I was always very much interested in Joseph Kosuth’s work and his desire to really define things in the world: A table is a table. A chair is a chair. So I wanted to build these things in a way that their definition, their essence would shine through. I wanted to build them as simple as possible, but then I realized that they are not things but paper models representing things and that they have their own history and cannot solely function as objects.
In 2006 I build a series of miniature works out of white paper called „Green Diagonal“. One is a spatial situation I built along a quote I once read from Watergate Journalist Carl Bernstein: „We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and stupid and the coarse are becoming the cultural norm, even a cultural ideal.“

To illustrate the quote, I initially wanted to recreate the Washington Post’s newsroom, but it proved to be too much of a hassle so I just built a couple of desks and chairs as stand-ins for the newsroom.The last work of the series is called “White Cube”. It might evoke images of a horizon, but is really just the edge of a blank, white sheet on paper on the wall.

Some works confront seemingly intimate texts or quotes with rather generic furniture or rooms, like this one of a couch, called „Before the Taxi stopped“…

This actually is a very peculiar story, because two friends of mine would break up because of this work. My friend and I used to teach together and we would always hang out afterwards. He and his girlfriend used to watch a show called „Married with children“ on TV. Usually, at two or three in the morning his gilfriend who worked the nigtshift at the newspaper would pick us up in a taxi. One day they saw my work and realized „This is just like us: we sit on the couch every night and watch that show when we get home and there is nothing to really talk about anymore.“ So they broke up.


I guess l like to repeat the same things over and over again. Maybe I shoot for Beckett’s way of failure where you try something over and over and never succeed.

The Game of Communication - Elīna Zuzāne (5 abril 2013 )

An interview with artist Dénes Farkas, who will represent Estonia at the 55th Venice Biennale

Today Dénes Farkas is known for his photographs that speak to the viewer in a laconic visual language. His large and small-scale images of inexpertly formed paper models are often contemplating social structures, which he never avoids to accompany with captions. During our conversation, Dénes Farkas leaves an impression of a serious artist, which is why it is surprising to hear that just a few years ago, he was determined to leave the art world. Since then, his artworks have been included in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia, as well as in numerous private art collections. This summer Dénes Farkas, together with curator Adam Budak, will take over the Estonian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.

Born in Budapest in 1974, Dénes Farkas moved to Tallinn fifteen years ago. In a way, it happened by accident. Determined to live and study architecture in Helsinki, Dénes Farkas had to rearrange his plans when his application for the university fell apart. So instead, he decided to visit his grandmother in Estonia. Soon after, Dénes Farkas enrolled in a printmaking course at the Academy of Arts in Tallinn and extended his studies with a Masters Degree in new media and photography.

How did you first become interested in art?

After high school I was interested in music, but I couldn’t play any instrument. I didn’t know anything about music. I just felt that I wanted to do something. So my grandfather told me that before going to the university, I should work. I decided to build church organs. During that period, I became more and more interested in architecture. I started to draw and study mathematics and physics, but I never tried to pursue it in Hungary. I knew I wanted to go to Helsinki. I had lived there during an exchange year in high school. I really liked it and I spoke the language, but it never happened. I don’t know how I chose printmaking. Maybe it was because it runs in my family – my father and my mother are printmakers.

And how did you become involved with photography?

Good question. (Laughs) During the printmaking course, we had to study photography – and I hated it. I didn’t like photography at all. I think I associated it with the kind of photography that I still don’t like. I’m not really interested in it.

What kind of photography are you talking about?

Nice photography. Good quality photography. Technically, I know very little about photography. Now I know more, because I have worked with it. I develop my own negatives. I started doing it just six months ago, but now it’s my biggest worry. For me, photography is just the easiest way to achieve what I want to achieve. I cannot draw and I cannot paint.

I understand that you started making the paper models, because you wanted to learn how to draw. Is that true?

Yes. It was a long time ago. In Hungary, I took drawing classes four days a week. I was the only one who wanted to study architecture. Everyone else was drawing models, the nudes, which looked like real drawings. But I was sitting in the corner and focusing on the space. I started to build the models because I wanted to learn how to draw objects. I really liked it.
Then I finished the photography course and I did my first exhibition. Back then I was mostly interested in portraits. I was interested in people. I was really naïve. My final work consisted of portraits of women who were living alone. It differed from the traditional Estonian photography, in which old masters are still fighting over who was the first one during Soviet times to show a nude in an exhibition. They were heroes. I just wanted to show that women are human beings. But now I know that in reality, it was quite naïve and it didn’t work at all. They were just beautiful images of women. I didn’t achieve anything.
Afterwards, I wanted to show myself through photography. I wanted to express who I am. I had been in Estonia for almost 10 years, but I suddenly realised that I had no history there. Everyone else, my friends, could share memories, but if I talked about my childhood, it was very different. No one really understood me and I didn’t understand them. That’s when I decided to visit Hungary, to visit the places I remembered. It was a self-portrait, but it only looked at the spaces that I wanted to show. It was also very naïve and made a funny exhibition. Soon after that, I realised that it was not working.
That’s when I finally started to think about the responsibility of an artist – that I have to say something. I had to prove that I’m not just drinking red wine at nights. It doesn’t make me an artist. There had to be a reason to do art, otherwise I should just go to work and do something reasonable. That’s how I started to focus on political and social issues. Not everyday politics, but how our society works. I was looking for questions, but I didn’t want to give answers, as I didn’t know how to change the situation. I just wanted to see how we could simplify things and how we could start a discussion. It worked quite well. That’s how I began working with this theme, to build these scenes.

Are you still working on these questions?

For a while, I was, but now it’s different… In 2010 I wanted to quit and that’s when I made the exhibition “Lets Play. The Game is Over”. I felt that I couldn’t continue. All that I was doing as an artist in Estonia seemed very stupid. So I collected my works within these little books and put them on the walls of the exhibition space for everyone to take a piece. I really thought that it was the last thing I would do as an artist.

Why did you want to quit being an artist?

(Thinks for a while) Because I thought that no one really cared. You make an exhibition, you spend a year or two years working really hard on it and then 200 people come to see it. But 180 people out of those 200 don’t even know how to see art, how to read it and what to do in an exhibition space. For some years, I used to teach at the Academy of Arts. I had this feeling that I could change something, that I could try to teach people how to communicate, but actually the problem is much deeper. It is a really long story. I think you can see it everywhere.

So how can you change the way people read art exhibitions?

I can’t.

Why? What is this deeper problem?

I think it starts at school, or even at kindergarten. People who are supposed to tell the children what is art and how to communicate with it, don’t know it themselves. So they don’t know how to teach it. I think it is the easiest way to describe it. I don’t know where the problem lies, but I know that if you say “contemporary art”, people immediately associate it with something bad. As if it is a crime. I think it is really hard to change this attitude. There is always an underlying notion that artists are using good taxpayers’ money for nothing. I think it is the basic attitude and it builds on that.

How would you want the audience to treat contemporary art exhibitions and act in an exhibition space?

They could at least try to understand what I am trying to say. I once saw that people came into my exhibition, realised that these are photographs of paper models, and went out. They didn’t find it interesting. I understand that they can be seen as boring, but you cannot really say that if you haven’t looked at them properly. Maybe they didn’t like the fact that these models were not built very well. If you only hear that art is something executed in a superb way, it’s hard to understand art that looks badly done. But that’s not what it is.
In 2010 I was really angry and I wanted to quit, but then I realised that this is the only thing that I can do. Soon after, I received an annual prize from the Cultural Endowment of Estonia for this very same exhibition, which I thought was really funny.

Was it not difficult to pick yourself up after you had decided to leave the art world?

It was, but in that same year many other things happened. I met Adam Budak, who is the curator of the Estonian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Back then, he was doing a photography exhibition in Kumu [art museum of Estonia]. At the beginning, it was hard, but at least I had someone who was thinking with me. I could send him an e-mail and he replied. Although it wasn’t always positive, we had some really good ideas. Since then, we have done a lot. I think it’s working quite well. The problem is that now it’s all too deep. I think the exhibition at the Venice Biennale will only be interesting for the art world. My idealistic idea – to reach people from the street – is just not working. I think I have given up on that. If there is someone who can find something in my work, then that’s ok, but I’m not concentrating on it anymore. It’s quite sad. (Laughs)

So what do you want to tell with your artworks?

I don’t think I want to tell anything. I prefer to show them. (Takes out the little book from the exhibition, “Let’s Play. The Game is Over”, and starts to share details about the works). I was influenced by the Watergate scandal. There was also a movie with Robert Redford. I liked the movie, but I really loved the Washington Post interior. I wanted to relate to it. This is why I have chosen to use quotes and images of other people’s creative work.

Is the title for your artworks as important as the image?

I think it doesn’t work without the text.

Many times you have used foreign languages (not Estonian or English) for these captions. I assume that it must be difficult for the Estonian audience to understand them.

I’m not doing that anymore. Now it’s in English. It was really important to find the right language. It used to be too contemplated – the way I work. I think there were too many different things in one package. It was hard to understand. Now I don’t want to change the world anymore by raising political questions (laughs). This is just another thing that I cannot change, but there are some things that I can change.

What are these things that are in your power to change?

The way I see it… I can turn on some of the lights in the darkness of communication – in the possibilities of communication. If I say something, you will probably understand it slightly differently. I call it a game. It makes communication interesting. There are always so many different meanings. Sometimes I find it impossible to communicate at all. I don’t know how to describe it.
I want to create an installation where people could communicate with it, with me and with my work. I really like the idea of people coming in and taking whatever they want, so that after ten days or after two years, they can pick up my book and find something within it.

This is something that you already started with the “Let’s Play. The Game is Over” exhibition.

Yes, but the Venice Biennale exhibition is going to be a collection of it all – of my older ideas.

Could you tell me more about the project “Evident in Advance”, which you will present at the 55th Venice Biennale?

The inspiration and the text for this exhibition were taken from the book “The World as I Found It”, by Bruce Duffy, an American writer. He has published stories on Ludwig Wittgenstein and his connections with philosophy. It is a fictive story based on real events from Wittgenstein’s life. My aim is to link this text with my paper models, which will be based on Wittgenstein’s house. He built this house for his sister in Vienna and it is still there. I think the building reflects Wittgenstein’s idea of language and philosophy. But this exhibition will not be about Wittgenstein or Wittgenstein’s philosophy. It will look at the language and the possibilities of the language. The space will be divided into the main exhibition and smaller rooms, which the viewer will be able to use as dictionaries in order to understand what has been displayed in the “big” room. It’s very complicated, or it sounds complicated (laughs).
I usually like to work with the space where the actual exhibition is going to take place. But this time, it has been a problem as the Estonian pavilion is just an apartment in Venice. It’s not a very interesting space. It was great that we found Wittgenstein’s house. I really want to see this exhibition. Although there are still a few months left, I have already started to panic. But then I remind myself that I used to make exhibitions in a much shorter time frame. There is still plenty of time and lots of work has already been done.
You said that the artworks usually relate to the space they are in, but does that mean that when you take an artwork out of that space, it looses something?
This is quite problematic. Last year I made an exhibition in Finland and it was in Alvar Aalto’s building. There was nothing really specific about the space, besides it being very Finnish with a strong presence of Aalto, but this nothingness made it very nice. I think it also worked quite well with my images, but now I can’t do anything with them. I don’t know if I can use them anywhere else. It is always problematic. I try to keep it as abstract as I can. I don’t know what will happen after Venice, but now we are creating the space for these images. I think it’s a great solution.
For the first time in my life, I am working with a really big team. I am collaborating together with architects, a curator and even a philosopher. It has been fantastic to work with them. As an artist, I know nothing. I only have a half knowledge of everything. To be honest, in the beginning I was really scared that it would become a project belonging to other people. I was used to working alone, and that’s how I felt confident to give an exhibition my name. But now, although the exhibition is going under my name, there are 15 or 20 people involved. I think it works quite well. I share my ideas with them and it gets better and better. At least, I hope so. But it still feels strange.

Will it be difficult to go back to working alone?

I don’t want to think about it. (Laughs) I don’t want to think about what will happen after this project. It’s quite nice to be a real artist, and that’s what I have been feeling like for some time now.

Did you not consider yourself a real artist before the Venice Biennale project?

Not really. I was an aspiring artist, a hobby artist working only on Saturdays and Sundays. Now, every morning I can go to my studio. Also, I have time to think about my things. It’s the best – having time to think, not having to work all the time.

Is this what the team of people gives you – more time?

Yes. As well as the title of a Venice artist. (Laughs) Also, every month I get paid, so that I can afford living like this.

What is the process of creating a single photograph? How do you usually start?

I draw. (Laughs) Yes, I draw quite a lot and then it develops from there. Although the models are quite small, I like to enlarge them, and that’s how all the mistakes and all the dust comes alive. The images become more interesting. I capture everything on film. It is a really slow process. I can take only six images a day, but it makes me concentrate more. For me, this is the hardest. If I have an idea, I just want to do it. I don’t want to think about it a lot. But now I really have to sit down and think. It takes a day before I see the image. It helps me a lot. But of course, technically, I can control the image much better with this technique.
Although I like to show imperfections in the prints, the final installations have to be controlled. It’s my work and it just has to be the way I have intended it to be. There cannot be any mistakes. I think it was nice that the first question that Adam Budak ever asked me (and he has been the only one to ask me this) was – why are you doing these models like a four-year-old child? (Laughs) I wanted to throw him out of my studio because of this question.

How did you answer?

I couldn’t find the words to answer him. I was really angry with him. I didn’t understand it at all. But then I started to think about it, and I recognized his view. I think it was really helpful. This question helped me a lot, because I started to think about my artworks. I started to see them differently.

Do you still allow the artworks to be imperfect?

Yes, but at the same time I am lazy. I am really lazy. I have many ideas, but, when I go to the studio, I don’t do them. I hate when I’m doing that, but that’s how I am. Now it’s slightly different. Maybe it’s because I’m not doing as complicated things any more. Or maybe it’s because I see the whole thing as a game. I have created a special game and I am just playing with the pieces.

What are the rules of this game?

(Laughs) There are no rules. Well, of course there are rules, because you are in an exhibition and, as a visitor, you have certain rules. Usually, you cannot touch anything in an exhibition, but here, if you will not touch the books, for example, you will miss the whole thing. You have to decide what to do. No one will tell you if you can do it or not.

But can the visitor touch the photographs?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think there are some rules which we all know… how far we can go. That is how the language, how the communication works. There are rules, but no one is sitting down and discussing them beforehand, before we start talking to each other. So, I really hope that no one will destroy the Venice Biennale exhibition on the first day. (Laughs) Although, it would also be fun. I think so. But I don’t know what the rules are.

And what is the goal? Is there a goal?

(Laughs) That people will like me. I guess it’s a goal for every artist – to make at least some people think about certain things. It is just a hope. But I am not that serious anymore. Now it’s more fun being an artist.

Symphony of incapacity, or The time of small people - Andreas Trossek (3 abril 2010)

I’d like nothing more to do
Than to watch the desperation on your face
I might send you straight to hell
Like it’s worse to end up in this place

Jim O’Rourke, “Get A Room” (2001)

September 2010, Tallinn. A few seasonal remarks. Rising trends: social guarantees, emigration, sexual minorities, Sõprus Cinema, Michel Houellebecq, Toyota, meta-art, ferroconcrete, PVC clothes, laptop computers, Buddhism, Lady Gaga, institutional critique from people who work in different institutions and have too much free time (see also: ‘institutional critique for the sake of institutional critique itself’). Falling trends: converting fees, nationalism, Solaris Cultural Centre, Michel Foucault, Honda, art revealing the backstage of the art world, Gyproc walls, weblogs, CDs, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Islam, institutional critique from people no institution would dare to hire (see also: ‘eternal intern’, ‘hippie infantilism’, ‘new bohemianism’). Stable trends: Cultural Endowment of Estonia, identity (see also: ‘me and the world’), iPhone, Rotermann Quarter, Michel de Certeau, Nick Hornby, Mercedes-Benz, suspended ceilings, LP collections, art revealing the backstage of the financial world, jeans, Facebook, kabala, Madonna, institutional critique in the style of the radicals from the 60’s generation (see also: ‘lasting classics’, ‘permanent values’, ‘best stylistic examples’).

September 2010, Tallinn. At the same time, Dénes Farkas, an Estonian-Hungarian artist in his thirties, has compiled an exhibition imbued with the impotent threat that this will be his last. I am interviewing the artist for Sirp, the weekly newspaper published by the same publishing house as this magazine. Inspired by the bilingual and aggressive title of one of his earlier exhibitions, my proposed title for the interview is: On the possibility of life after death, or Get the fuck down off of my obstacle. However, the English reference to Stanley Kubrick would probably be too long for the cover of Sirp. In any case, next to the ‘official portrait’ of Dénes looking like a melancholic rock star there is only the Milan Kundera-esque title On the possibility of life after death, and it is much better that way, because obscenities in a foreign language might seem too juvenile and pretentious. Under the guise of an interview, I get to ask a series of questions I have wanted to ask about Dénes Farkas’ solo exhibitions in Tallinn Town Gallery during the past few years: ideal.total (2007, with Neeme Külm) and How the fuck are you tonight? (2009). Looking back, the latter was clearly one of Farkas’ strongest shows ever.

Let us first look at the technical side of these works and how they are executed. This is actually quite tricky to define. Farkas photographs miniature paper models of chairs, tables, sofas and other man-made objects while maintaining a consistent lighting and colour scheme. He crafts the tiny paper models himself and creates a spatial mise-en-scène, but this is only the beginning – even the subsequent processes of photographing and naming the scene, and writing a preface to the work, do not bring it to an end. For example, in his solo exhibition of 2007 he presents wooden pallets on top of which he has piled hundreds of A4 printouts. These ‘leaflets’, with their cryptic-critical messages, are also ‘works of art’ and are intended to be taken away by visitors. The same motif of the paper miniature or model could also be seen in his solo show of 2009, where the form of small Polaroid-sized photographs hanging on the wall generated an ephemeral feeling, thus opposing the timelessness evoked by the symbolic models they depicted. From there he moved on to using large light boxes that play with the same paper model motif (they have by now been exhibited in many venues). Eventually, we arrive at his solo show of 2010 and its book with ‘empty’ covers, presented with only the minimum of explanation: ‘first revised edition’. Things have come full circle, so it seems.

Very well, but still, what does it all mean? Farkas has quoted what is surely the most famous line in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1977) as the title of one of his photographs, but it seems to me that another Hollywood tough-guy movie would provide a more appropriate atmosphere for delving into the artist’s photo installations from recent years. I mean Fight Club (1999), which combines a smart critique of contemporary trends and consumer society with the spectacle of brainless fist fights. In short, the action in Fight Club appears to anticipate some kind of pre-revolutionary world, and the entire movie looks back to all sorts of processes preparatory to a possible revolution. Likewise, Farkas’ solo exhibition Let’s play, the game is over seems to require the same retrospective gaze from the viewer: the artist filled the upper level of Hobusepea Gallery with copies of his photo album – a cheap black-and-white publication that includes the bulk of material Farkas has been working with during the last four or five years on the Estonian art scene. Visitors were permitted to take a copy of the album home with them. As Farkas admitted when describing the concept of the exhibition, it was a summary of one stage in his artist’s career. However, at the same time, it was not a classical catalogue equipped with curatorial texts and/or statements from the artist himself – something to determine the matrix through which Farkas’ work would be received, listing his accomplishments and asserting his status, as well as positioning the artist in the aftermath of some more general direction in thinking. There is no verbalised solution, only a suggestion that all of this is only a part of some larger, more insidious chain of development that seeks to undermine the existing hegemony. Dénes Farkas was – and in a way, he still is – a ‘mute’ artist in whose body of work we can sense an -ism which may be even more important than critical conceptualism and post-minimalism: nihilism. There is only a hidden rage and incapacity, eagerness for change and conflicted understanding of the pointlessness of counteraction; the eternal defeat of small people against social structures that are – and ‘always will be’ – larger and more powerful. These light boxes of his – these are not bloody exit signs, indeed.