The Heel – On Márton Perlaki’s exhibition
20 • 11 • 13Endre Cserna
There are few oeuvres in Hungary that would be so carefully crafted, so reliable in quality, as Márton Perlaki’s. Its most recent chapter is his return to home turf with an exhibition at Trafó Gallery, a selection of works created since his last display in Hungary—new developments in the artist’s unwavering work.
If Bird, Bald, Book, Bubble, Bucket, Brick, Potato, on view at Capa Centre four years ago, was mystical like the current material (once you’ve seen Elemér, you won’t forget him), and directed, already with its title, the attention towards an irresolvable, association-based network of connections, complex like a crime story, it still offered more eye candy—appealed more to our aesthetic sensibilities and primary “sense of beauty”—than the images of Soft Corners. Perlaki’s visual world evidently draws on the practice of his alter ego of a fashion photographer; it is the winning, cunning character of his works that seduces the eye like a gateway drug. The same character also implies the possibility that the viewers of artistic series like this one may never go deeper than the outermost layer of the images: pleased with what they see, they go home with sated eyes and do not feel inclined to dig deeper for meaning.
The arrangement itself and the more intimate space make this exhibition at Trafó Gallery suggest a more understated, more sensitive (softer) concept. Although we are given, again, few clues, the images, whose techniques and subjects are diverse, are made to cohere in a series by a sensuousness that does not immediately prompt us to venture into the labyrinth of associations. We have a sense that it is all right to leave our experience unexpressed, unexamined, because our thoughts and the meanings will in any case congeal in a few days.
But as I was standing in the exhibition space, I began to wonder where to position the art of Perlaki, who works abroad, in the Hungarian scene? The question occurred to me because it is safe to say, without any derogatory intention, that the artist’s works are so of the day that they can work as concept art in the white cube as much as they could function on a blog, as an editorial. The dissolution of categories, or mid-cult, is a little-known (or much derided) phenomenon in Hungarian art. This passage, or transferability, between contexts provokes suspicion, not so much in me as in Hungary—because of the very position of photography, which is in itself dubious, undiscussed. That is the case especially when it is obvious that the creative methods behind the works can be traced back to applied genres. What makes fine art? Where does it start, and where does it end, being art? How is it art? And how does it relate to—how is it positioned vis-à-vis—contemporary photography, which often admits non-art into its own space? As a creator, Perlaki inhabits several worlds, and deftly balances these alter egos, yet they implicate one other in colloquial language.
Fortunately, the exhibition, whose curator was Borbála Szalai, is a good example of how a material whose formal idiom is fashionable can still be profound. The visuality continues to be trendy and professional, while new themes seem to have appeared in Perlaki’s art. He employs what are for him new techniques and gestures from the outer limits of photography, and beyond: he experiments with charcoal drawing and photogram, while, unexpectedly, the private is also accommodated. He illuminates, in their natural state, the corners that allow us, when we are held by them, to remain soft.
Introducing a personal character; the family portraits; the rank growth; the healed wounds; the last minutes before the melting; turning into contours; the sensations of softness: these all point towards vulnerability, defencelessness—and above all, towards mortality. These are, however, no memento moris to warn or scare the viewer—no kitschy reminders of the end. The artist’s distinctive, unexpected situations and connections are now subdued in the individual works, and the material operates with cleaner, more concentrated symbols; the crafty dissolution of contexts takes place in the series as a whole.
In this regard, I realized that what I was picking up was not merely the atmosphere of the gallery as I was loitering around after the opening I eventually missed—it was that all the forms in the pictures – round, peaceful and floaty – stood on the verge of bursting. I had a sense of how the photos, the compositions, and the gaps of the installation, were bizarre, when aesthetically speaking everything was so attractive, peaceful and far from surprising. Because what is new in a luminogram à la Wolfgang Tillmans, or a self-portrait with a mirror, or a bubble? What is surprising is using these and still being able to show one’s own, and everyone else’s, Achilles heel, the soft corner.
According to the government decree related to the epidemic, Trafó Gallery is closed for 30 days from 11 November 2020.
Translator: Árpád Mihály