Art Lying Down
19 • 07 • 01György Cséka
On 1 May 2019 (Labour Day), Zsombor Pólya lay in the sun for a full hour at an art camp. In itself, this was a private deed rather than a piece of news or an event within the art circle. Each summer all of us do it at some point and in some form. Pólya, however, lay motionless on a piece of photographic paper for sixty minutes, so that the light could do its work – exposing the theme, which in the present case was the artist himself.
Pólya’s action photography amounts to a witty and catchy answer – and solution – to the problem that for most of us is no question at all: what happens if we do nothing? And if we do nothing, then under what circumstances and conditions can something come about, for instance, an artwork? How is it possible to use the least effort to create an artwork? For, notwithstanding all the romantic myths, the artist too works and goes to work because it is his profession, his job.
Of course, art is a question of imagination and decision. That is to say, in the present case, it would have been sufficient to call the artist’s act of lying on the ground art. Indeed, even without the photographic paper, it could have been so, although it would have been less interesting.
The picture created is the imprint of a paradox action; the artist worked hard for sixty minutes for art while doing nothing himself, other than placing his tool – the photographic paper – on the site. In other words, he entrusted the lion’s part of the work to someone (something) else. And he did so, with a view to coming upon an exhibition opportunity, thus putting it in front of the recipients and the potential clients, placing it in a hermeneutic and economic context. For if he were not to create art or were to do so only for himself, it would be as though it did not even exist; it would be placed in a vacuum, for the result and aim of his work is the combination of varied interactions of the artwork, rather than some kind of autonomous entity that turns in on itself.
Through his deed, Pólya went against the spirit of Labour Day, while also paradoxically accomplishing it, for we do not work on Labour Day; rather we celebrate it by doing nothing. We celebrate the fact that we slave away for money so that we can survive and then slave away and then celebrate that we slave away, ad infinitum.
An artist too slaves away, doing so merely in a different manner – when she paints, makes photographs, builds, carves, writes, and thinks about art. And when she is seemingly just living, doing nothing, eating, drinking, resting, smoking dope, protesting, picking her nose, playing chess, collecting pissoirs. The making of art does not begin or end with a specific material or focusing on a specific object. Both before and after, art is happening – without becoming an object.
Zsombor Pólya’s lying on the ground or, more exactly, his action of doing nothing subjectively slowed down the speed of life to little more than zero. Broadening the dimensions in this way, the act can even be understood as some kind of meditation, or, in addition, a jump forward to experiencing death. A motionless body lying on the ground inevitably reminds us of a corpse. Death, meanwhile, is the most radical slowing down – or indeed freezing – of time and action. A snapshot, a living trace that proves that something did exist, that it was there. Photography is the relative of death, but also the evocation of resurrection and eternal life. For, in a spiritual sense, a photo lives eternally; the viewer of a photo raises to life the person who is depicted in it and who is no longer with us every time she gazes at it. Pólya’s photograph has something reminiscent of necromancy – and of the 19th-century photos that showed such apparitions. It is as though the clothing and the hair of the figure is moving, and since his sole does not reach the edge of the picture, it could even be floating in from another dimension.
The artist, in order to have his work exhibited, does not present some new object but rather constituted and exhibited himself – as if he were being an artist in his head. That is to say, he does not bring into being something manually; rather he does it inside himself, forming an idea of art. The form of that idea is made inside his body, and from his body. Thus, we see the most object-like and most tangible thing – the imprint of a shape of a human body on photographic paper, yet it is more like the appearance of an idea, or of a thought, the ghost shape of a thought.
According to Pólya, there is nothing new under the sun; it is as if we were living in an eternal return when we reformulate that which others have already formulated – albeit in a different way – before us. Everything has its prefiguration, its antecedent, even if we cannot locate it precisely. But we continue to create art because we are formulating ourselves and making ourselves, and by doing so we change the meaning and context of earlier artistic deeds and gestures. When the artist reflects upon the fact that there is nothing new under the Sun, he is already moving on and creating something different and new, simply in view of the fact that he is showing the trace of himself, the body, that is of his thoughts and, not incidentally, he is offering it/those for sale.
Concurrently, as a portrait and as a still life, as something living and as something dead, as a non-actor and as a slave.
Zsombor Pólya: If I do nothing, they won’t exhibit me. There’s nothing new under the Sun
18 June – 2 July 2019
Photo data: Zsombor Pólya: If I do nothing, they won’t exhibit me. There’s nothing new under the Sun. May 1st, 2019, Luminogram, RC paper, 206x104 cm. Photo: Mátyás Gyuricza