FRANZ KAPFER / KAMIL VARGA
from 04.03.2003 to 02.04.2003
Franz Kapfer, Kamil Varga
Franz Kapfer utilizes extremely simple means in his performances, videos and photo installations. In their simplicity these means correspond with the empty gestures, rituals, symbols and monuments which Kapfer takes up, in order to transform them, and with them, himself. Such an artistic program has tradition in that it links with the history of body art of the 1970’s, though one must differentiate here. Kapfer’s indifference towards the use of the body as a stylus –as a writing utensil (reminds of Bruce Naumann) is characteristic.
Yet the body – his body – does not appear as a surface (reminds of the sado-masochistic contributions of the actionists).
Kapfer works with dynamic pose, masking or staging his own appearance. Precisely this aesthetic decision moves him remarkably close to the practices of feminist body art, which not only revised the sexes against a wall of resistance, but also re-invented social mythology.
Kapfer takes up this attitude and passes it on, which not only lends his art an astonishingly independent note, but at the same time, and rather subtly, political weight. The bulk of heterosexual men know very well that “manliness” is a masquerade. Yet they cannot embody, let alone live, this knowledge.
The monument of manliness is not the only matter that releases Kapfer’s work from its frozen state. The artists’ prop room also includes national and catholic-Christian symbols and/or rituals. All these monoliths are pushed to re-performance, are updated, whereby Kapfer’s re-performance differs from the original. (Nobody will claim that the staging of the language of political or church representation is strange). The difference between Kapfer’s performance and the representation of the powers that be lies in the direction of the motion, because power representations are still images by character, they seek to freeze time and serve an aesthetic of death. Kapfer looks for a direct, physical entrance to the utility value of these attributes. Because their utility value is zero, a more or less grotesque situation develops. The production of the artist appears grotesque at first sight.
A second look reveals that the actual and truly grotesque part lies in the requirement for validity of any attributes of power.
The Foro Italico in Rome, Mussolini’s attempt to establish a link to a history felt to be glorious, is the setting and resource for Kapfer’s "BIG GYM – of Roman summers in the Foro Italico ".
The work consists of two elements: a video documentation of the place and its current use, as well as a multiplicity of small format perspectives of the artist in athlete’s poses. Identical with antique still images he acts out the different athletic disciplines in front of a blue screen. The video approaches the Foro rather quietly, from which loud music soon sounds towards us. This patchwork of sound is accompanied by sharp whistles and the commands of a demonstrator (gymnast), under whose direction a collective of fitness-aware Romans slog away and sweat.
The “peoples’ body”, which keeps itself fit here, is not, the “peoples’ body” which Mussolini had in mind. It would be also too obvious to interpret the play as a mere allegory of modern power, whose total development rests on busily managed (and expensively paid) self-optimization. No, Kapfer points to a parallel between an episode of true life and his own aesthetic strategy. Equally, like the fascist antiquity was “wrong”, a psychotic pretension, the current re-opening and usage of the stadium is “right”.
But Kapfer’s role as an artist is not to make a judgement: in the reincarnation of the stone athlete he stages the synthesis of right and wrong, of still images and running men, of universal validity and situational statements, of fascism and democracy.
Roger M. Buergel
In Kamil Varga´s photography there is certainly not a great deal of aesthetics but, on the other hand, an enormous amount of personal commitment and play which intertwines with pain and scrutiny which knows no bounds and beyond which one simply cannot go. In his exceptional and consistent output which is dominated by luminography seen right through from his cycle ´My friends ´/1987/, and ´Autumn psycho-therapy and other experiences´ /1988-9/ right up to his most recent collection ´Metabolism of fire´ /1996-7/, the enormous photographs ´Christ’s years´ /1993-8/ can seem an exception. It is not true though.
The first connection is that Kamil Varga opts for a technique in luminography as well as in his photograms, which is specifically photographic and does not relate to the theater nor to painting nor to other art forms (unlike his contemporaries such as Tono Stano, Miro ?vol?k, Rudo Prekop, Vasil Stanko where these links can be noted). It is also impossible to ignore the matter of dematerialisation, which bring closer Varga’s photograms to his inclination towards abstraction. (To call Varga’s ´Christ’s years´ a photogram is only a simplification as Varga uses in his work a combined technique. Apart from a photogram we see in places an In enlargement of prior taken negatives, contact copying from prepared large format planfilms, specialised work with lighting as well as with material and structures.) Further, in ´Christ’s years´ we find his thinking in terms of pictures, which is sometimes, so, consistent that he creates conceptual new forms or instead of words draws signs. .
The cycle ´Christ’s years’ whose title relates, for example, to the famous film by Juraj Jakubisko of the same name is a little mis-leading.
The cycle does not tell the story of a 33-year old individual at a crossroads but, rather, that of a civilisation at a point of no return. It’s paradox lies in the realisation that future is not viable without individuals but, at the same time, is, in a way, an independent force, which controls those that form it. .
In previous Varga’s cycles the fusion of beings with the universe intensified the abstraction of testimony; in ´Christ’s years´ he attempts to define substance linked to the principle of montage thus constructing fragments into a whole in which each and every counter-point, every little change in the angle of a viewpoint is of importance. There is no difference between the shimmering of the water surface and the "the big bang" from which everything was created.
´Christ’s years´ denied the illusory space of a work of art in order to open space for ideas, dreams, metaphors.
The viewer enters here into the "thirteenth chamber" in which the fairy-tale beautiful princess can be hidden as well as the realisation that the "thirteenth chamber" also possesses it’s own enchanted door. .