Attila Csörgö (*1965 in Budapest) is among one of the best-known Hungarian artists whose work has featured in prominent international exhibitions. His works explore the relationship between a plane, space and time. He uses art as a means to accompany the viewer into the world of science. Inspired by perspective, geometric shapes and applied mathematics, his works combine fantasy and curiosity to represent various physical and mathematical phenomena, thus creating a new perspective on a reality of which we are no longer aware. Csörgö creates complex installations which upon first glance appear to be bricolage, but which provoke dynamic visual experiences.
During his residency at the Atelier Calder from March to July, Csörgö continued his study of optical illusions generated by the combination of light and movement. He conceived of a meticulous device that combines a moving geometric structure with the projection of images. Contingent on the placement of the projected images of objects on the wall, they appear different, even transformed.
In the interview, Attila Csörgö talked about his project in Atelier Calder and his artistic practices.
Sache, July 2011
AC – Attila Csörgö
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine
Clock Work, 2011
ST: In the structure, we see an irregular shape “sculpture” with a tickling arm programmed by a device that synchronized with the actual time second by second. At the same time, two projections on the wall show the sculpture from two different points of view, producing two one-arm clocks: one circular, the other in the form of an infinite sign. It’s a very interesting approach in telling time in the sense that the images are very metaphorical while there is mathematical precision.
AC: It’s a little game playing on the concepts of time. The clock is of course the tool for measuring and presenting time, whereas the images work on a more abstract level. There are different representations of time. One of these is the circular motion, which implies a repeating cycle in time. Another is the concept of time as infinite, represented by the infinite sign. I want to play with these concepts. There are also two opposing ideas, the movement, which is relative to time and change; and the geometric figures, which are amongst the most static objects created by man. I like oppositions: moving and static, abstract and concrete.
ST: How did you conceive the irregular shape of the sculpture that works for both images? Was it based on mathematical calculations?
AC: I did sketches and I imagined how it should be like. Sometimes I tried to see it through a glass jar as well. At the beginning, I just wanted to make a funny irregular clock but it became more complicated as the project grew.
ST: I remember reading Milan Kundera writing somewhere that the most concrete expression of time is the pause between two musical phrases, which means time is more tangible when time is suspended, kind of being isolated from the last and the next. I like very much this concrete description of something as abstract as time.
AC: Artists such as Marcel Duchamp were fascinated with the fourth dimension and it’s an interesting question, because the time element is something that we can’t see. We can only detect it from signs, shapes, movements, etc. But these movements actually belong to other entities. It’s an imagination. Recently, I just saw a film by Alain Tanner, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976). There is a scene in the film where a History teacher came to the classroom with a big box, and inside was a very long sausage. He took it out, made a knot, and said to the class, “this is History”. He then asked a student to cut it and he took one slice of the sausage and said, “now, this is the History lesson, we are going to observe sections of history”. I like the idea of the continuity of time in a knot, yet we can see it “sections by section”. This kind of simultaneity might not be detectable at the first glance, but if we cut it into sections, we get specific images. Here the cutting and the projecting are equivalent. We can see the images and the projections as simultaneous.
ST: Paradox in the simultaneity. There is another paradox in the sense that the materials, the geometrical shapes are concrete but the mathematical theory is very abstract. Mathematics is purely abstract.
AC: Yes, but it’s also a problem for the scientists. Werner Heisenberg, father of the Quantum Physics, has written about this. It’s shocking for them that the calculations and scientific research showed totally different things from what they could describe by language. They couldn’t describe their theories to people outside of the field because the elements of the language are meant to describe the reality that we are living in, which is the naïve realty! [Laughs] The quantum reality which we can’t see is totally different in ideas and approach. So it’s another problem that we can calculate and somehow go inside the territory of the unknown, the abstract, but then, how can that be shared?
ST: Is it a question that you are concerned with? How do you adjust when making works for a public that may have little knowledge of science or mathematics? Would their difficulties in understanding your work be a consideration for you?
AC: I think art has many layers of interpretations. It’s not necessary to know the scientific layer. For example, kids like my pieces in general. They like motions, light, something moving in front of us. The scientific question today is not like what’s the platonic solid, etc., they have very specialized questions and different theories. My questions are more like “matter questions”, such as what this shape is, how they came into being, etc.
ST: I have read some of your preparatory notes, kind of explanation of the system. Do you show these notes with the work?
AC: Before I showed it but now less. Another concern is that my works are kinetic, but once presented in a publication or a catalogue, they became static. Sometimes you could hardly imagine the movement from one single photo. So I need to add a little description. But it’s not necessary for the audience to read when they actually see the work though it can give additional information. I don’t write all the ideas. It’s more like a research process that I have to deal with in the creative process. Sometimes it’s just very technical things, other times when I am in a more poetic mood, I would write poetic or metaphorical texts too. [Laughs]
ST: I agree with you that these works are very empirical. You don’t actually need to understand the structure but you can just feel it.
Art and Science
ST: Why do you always insist on using primitive tools and objects created by your own hands?
AC: At the beginning it was out of necessity. I was making things without any budget, so I started to build systems with very simple tools and poor materials. Later on, I realized that it was an interesting game in regard of the nature and function of the objects. For example, when I need a motion system, I will get a record player or an electric fan which is built for sound and music. In the process, I will have to intervene, to modify the system and make the object perform for me. Of course, there are a lot of struggles, trial and errors experiments. So, I have to solve a lot of technical problems.
Another concern is the duration of the exhibition. Sometimes the objects can’t stay performing or functioning for a long time, so the fragility of an object made in a very particular circumstance increases the temporality of the work itself. You would expect a car to perform for many years because it’s produced in a factory under a certain system. But if you just combine materials and parts with your own hand, then the work becomes far more fragile, and this gives a more poetic nature to the work.
ST: One interesting thing is that you have always been working in the scientific field which is associated with the ideals of high-end advanced technology, but the materials of your work stays very primitive.
AC: I like to use these oppositions. Human mind is never stable; it’s in a state of ever-changing. Maybe the mathematical, geometrical theories are the most elaborated and stable ideas. These geometrical shapes in my work can be considered as the polished, advanced human ideas. On the other hand, there is the use of poor materials. These paradoxical positions create conflicts and I like such combination very much.
ST: How do you approach the aesthetic aspect of your work?
AC: I think it must look poor. [Laughs] All these have an advantage. The materials suggest that we can do it from our own surroundings. If it’s produced in a super-factory, then it became an alienated position and process. It came from somewhere far away, not from my space. So there is no intimacy, between the art and the artist, and audience.
ST: Since when have you been combining science and art in your work?
AC: I studied painting in the Academy of Fine Art in Budapest, then enrolled to the Inter-media programme that focuses on photography, digital art, theories, etc. Then in the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, I was in the sculpture department.
ST: At which point did you turn to science?
AC: As a child, I liked very much to construct things and made wood structures, etc. I liked to work with my hands. I drew a lot as well. I loved geography, and I hated physics. But it’s a very interesting subject just that it should not be taught in the way schools do. It should be about experiments and making things rather than writing notes. I wanted to be a painter in the 1980s. It was the death of painting at that time…
ST: What kind of paintings were you doing?
AC: It’s a funny question, because I was actually painting pretty futuristic paintings of space and movement, a little bit figurative though. [Laughs] But I have problems feeling the good and the bad of a painting. At the same time, in the art school, I realized I had an affinity with geometry. That was also the first time I started constructing and sculpting things…
ST: Going back to the childhood…
AC: Exactly. And I found a way to judge good from bad… if the structure stands, it’s good, if it collapses, it’s bad. [Laughs]
ST: You found a precise answer in science!
AC: Yes, it somehow has a more stable grounding.
ST: Was that the moment when you started making your 360 degree panoramic camera?
AC: [Laughs] It’s a camera that takes images of almost the entire space. It’s an interesting example because it shows some typical things. The idea was from the early 1990s when I was in the Rijksakademie, at that time the idea wasn’t so clear, it was just a vision. The realization of the project started 10 years later.
ST: Why are you interested in producing this kind of images, like images in totality?
AC: It’s a good term, images in totality. [Laughs] If you take photos with a regular camera, you know that it’s a little part of the reality that is subjectively chosen with a certain composition. It’s very frustrating in this sense. If you can take images in totality, it’s then no longer a question.
ST: Is it the first camera in the world capable of capturing a total image?
AC: I am not sure. In this way, I think perhaps yes. There is a kind of images that can create a total view of the space but it’s consisted of two circles. What I did is to keep the photo special. The photographic point is from the middle of the sphere, and the space is along us, it’s an embracing space, which means normally, we can’t see it from outside. So this kind of image is very different from our experience. I know only one kind of image that is similar to it which is the celestial globe showing the stars from an outer space.
ST: Since the sphere is convex, we see the image as if from an outer space, like an observer rather than someone from inside. Just now you mentioned the subjective selection and composition of a regular camera and the more indifferent approach of a total image. I would like to link this idea to the tradition of subjectivity in art creation. Do you see the total image as creating a distance, an objective position for photography?
AC: All these concepts of subjectivity and objectivity are very confusing. I think I am just trying to give another vision of the space, another point of view. But at a certain sense, it’s very subjective too. Somebody has the vision to elaborate the system and make possible such images, I think that’s very subjective as well.
ST: Thank you!
About the artist
Attila CSÖRGŐ was born in 1965 in Budapest. He lives and works in Budapest.
His recent major solo exhibitions include Clock Work, Atelier Calder, Sache, 2011. MUDAM, Musée d´Art Moderne Grand Duc Jean, Luxemburg, 2010. In 2009 : Ludwig Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, Hungary; Domaine de Kerguéhennec, France ; Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin. 2008: Wurfelbahnen und Raumkurven Museum Folkwang im RWE Turm, Essen, Germany. 2007: Platonic Geometry, Galeria Arsenal, Bialystok, Poland; Szent István Király Múzeum, Székesfehérvár, Hungary. 2006: Galleria Contemporaneo, Mestre–Venice, Italy; Skin of Space, Galerija Gregor Podnar, Ljubljana, Slovenia. 2005: Gallery Van Zoetendaal, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (with Gábor Ősz).