Exercises in Self-portrait
02 • 02 • 20György Cséka
With Passport, Gáspár Riskó has created a remarkable photo book. Published in 500 copies by the Swiss Innen, the book comprises 114 pages of images, without any written explanation. Varying in size, with the format of the classic ID photo, the pictures show the artist himself, in front of a neutral background—in different stages of digital degeneration or destruction.
The work is constructed from pages, or sequences, that comprise one, four, or sixteen portraits. Each is marked by a different degree of pixellation, starting with a completely “realistic,” undistorted image, and ending with the complete disappearance, blurring, or dissolution of the subject. The book, however, does not present a progression, with a start, a middle and a finish, though the book does, in a sense, have a beginning and an end; what it demonstrates is the ceaseless emergence and dissolution of the portraits, the face—its breakdown.
Like getting to know yourself, the series – which seems more like a radically reedited film than a sequence of photographs – is in equal measure a self-portrait, an exercise in self-knowledge, and self-destruction. Rather than merely sitting in front of his own camera with a neutral expression—as would be suggested by the title and the genre of the passport photo—the subject displays a wide array of grimaces, and thus, emotions. He looks left or right, bows or raises his head, shuts his eyes, sticks his tongue out, shouts, laughs, grins, pouts and makes many other, decidedly grotesque, faces. It is as if someone looked into the mirror for the first time, and tried out different faces—at which point Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne’s series and experiments may spring to mind—, hoping to get to know themselves, and to practice. Yet, the Self is impossible to grasp, is dispersed, fragmented—in these photos literally, into pixels—, because which expression is the true one, which expresses you the most completely? How can you tell the moment or period when you are who you are, or who you would like to be? How can you get to know yourself if you need to see, simultaneously and indivisibly, the person you are, the one you would like to be, and the one you imagine yourself to be?
Since the Self cannot satisfy the desire to know by considering itself from the outside, objectively, it must continuously be involved in itself as it sees, observes. In some of the sequences, Riskó presents himself with his hands on the back of his head, which is a trenchant metaphor for the Self held hostage by itself, and hence barely open to its own scrutiny. What is more, this Self photographs itself, and then modifies the images because it is unsatisfied with the results, or wants to carry out further self-experiments. It keeps damaging its own face. The modifications are highly painterly, and embody an elemental rage directed at the self; the face is not beautified, as is the case with most selfie-takers who turn to image-editing software, but is damaged, dissolved in pixels.
The style of Riskó’s pictures brings in mind both Thomas Ruff’s famed jpeg series, and Francis Bacon’s paintings, in particular his Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953). That is because this photographer paints not only with colours, but with pixels as well; the damaged face or figure blazes, screams, as it disintegrates into magnificent pixels and contours. It is the pixellation right of the head that makes the portrait “blaze,” suggestive of tongues of flame or smoke, and eerily reminiscent of photos of 9/11, among them Ruff’s.
Like a digital Arnulf Rainer, Riskó damages and corrupts his own (digital) face with amazing virtuosity and a faultless aesthetic sense, experimenting with his own self, with its deconstruction, and then hurls his faces and their defects in our face, in a small, black, grim and very disciplined volume that is all the more expressive on the inside. (Translation: Árpád Mihály)
Riskó Gáspár: Passport. Zurich, Innen, 2019.
Available for purchase at Mai Manó House Book Store, ISBN books+gallery.