The speech was written and delivered by Zsolt Petrányi on 2nd December 2004, at the opening of Zsolt Gyarmati’s exhibition, Subfactor, at the Menü Pont Project Room of the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle, Budapest.
We are launching an open rebellion! The opposing forces are the institutional system of contemporary art and the visual world of the subcultures. Street art demands its due place; it is not as if it had not existed before, in its own authenticity, on urban wall surfaces, in the form of graffiti and stickers, or other forms of intervention.
Nothing has really changed, except for the fact that from this point on we cannot pretend as if these visual signs were merely acts of vandalism, left behind by the “plebs” in the peripheries of our cultures. For quite some time, this has not been the case; such a phenomenon demands a more profound explanation.
The visual signs left in streets are symbols of identity for a generation, expressing their perception of life. Their images, with their manner of execution and subjects, deserve attention because in the law-breaking activities of these young people one can notice the sensitive reagents to the issues of our times.
All that I am about to say during this opening is, of course, not a timely issue. But what else could one do, seeing that in this part of the world it was so late that we had the opportunity to meet with this art form, with several artists having hit upon the fertile land of public art independently of one another?
Art is confrontation. It is a vehicle of communication that lends itself to debates and analyses among recipients of diverse ages and backgrounds. From this aspect, street art is not exclusive: it speaks to everyone, it is conspicuous and provocative. I believe that in terms of an artistic manifestation, it should be rather judged in this perspective than through supporting or rejecting concepts on cityscape preservation.
The rebellion, in this particular case, means that within the elitist view of art, there is a populist way of thinking emerging, which is not driven by concepts but by a compulsive desire for expression. Its presence irritates the art world, since the signature-like, serial nature of its applied motives liberates the spectators from the pressures of puzzle solving, setting them at ease, prompting them to face the fundamental meaning of such a sign system: a skull is for death, a pair of eyes is for vision, letters are for words, and the words have literal meanings, nothing more.
Zsolt Gyarmati’s exhibition is an imprint and reinterpretation of the layers and symbolism of street art. Such “laminated” presentation, based on pictorial surfaces, might as well be considered as a form of present-day archaeology, relic preservation, the act of passing on or creating new signs.
The artist’s invention, in this context, is his thinking in terms of panels. The surface units he has formed lend themselves to be placed in infinite combinations, creating countless variations and surfaces.
Zsolt Gyarmati has been collecting subcultural visual motifs for years. He has made stickers, copies, and catalogued them, through which he has recorded the activities of graffiti makers. At the same time, he has not interpreted the collected signs and motifs as an outsider, but as an insider, as he is actively involved in a subcultural life-style himself, that of extreme sports.
The result of his work is a group of motifs, which is only characteristic of him, nobody else. Borrowing from the areas of gesture painting, Manga culture, graffiti and graphic design, he has transposed their sign systems, fusing and superimposing them into mutually contradictory layers.
The system that we are witnesses to here is an installation made for an occasion, with all the meanings of the visual symbols found in street art, and their various systems, being compressed into one artwork. The pieces on view here, however, do not evoke a location, but rather an idea, with all its prerequisites presented in the form of a compact texture. The cordon encloses spaces and directs your movement, while the surfaces join into a unified and complete entity. What you see here may also be termed an idea, because it is an arrangement of easel paintings made up of visual elements that are normally not meant for easels. This transformation of street art is exactly about the potentials of confrontation and dialogue. Depicted on a confined surface, and thought through within a finite creative process, it presents us with the visual manifestations of punk and techno, which are not antagonistic on the wall surfaces.
In short, Zsolt Gyarmati’s exhibition is about the possibility of dislocation and juxtaposition. His panels lean against the wall on top of trestles, at random, suggestive of a sense of accidental placement, while those viewing the exhibition may recognise a sort of potential bond in the reoccurring presentation of the elements. The artwork itself is born in the street, but through a process of transcription it is transformed into a painting, so as to define a vision of subculture in a gallery setting. Therefore, the external image turns into an internal one, and the internal image into an external one – in all the possible senses.