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Layers of time
Interview with Andreas Fogarasi

Flóra Kőszeghy

Andreas Fogarasi lives and works in Vienna, but he is also involved in the Hungarian art scene. With his video installation Kultur und Freizeit he received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale in 2007. His work has been featured in group and solo exhibitions at renowned institutions from Mexico to Paris. His solo exhibition, with the title Skin Calendar at the Budapest Galéria closed on 22nd of May. The show was interesting not only for the fine arts scene, but also for those interested in architecture and cultural heritage. I asked Andreas about the conceptual layers of the exhibition.

Andreas Fogarasi: Villa Hanni ╱ 2022 ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna ╱ Photo: kunstdokumentation.com

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

KF We met in Vienna recently while you exhibited some of the works at Georg Kargl Gallery, which were on display in a larger solo show at the Budapest Gallery in Hungary. The material was complemented by other artworks and background information about your working method. The title of the exhibition was Skin Calendar. Can you tell us a little bit about how surface and time relate to your research fields on architecture and urbanism?

AF For a long time I have been researching and documenting architecture and urban change through my work in different media. At the core of that interest is my preoccupation with the role of cultural production in society over time. While in the beginning I used more traditional ways of documenting – photography, video, collage, text – over time I became more interested in the physical presence of material and in sculptural documentary strategies. So I started to use actual material fragments of buildings to create images of places. The works from the series “Nine Buildings, Stripped” thus combine materials of demolished buildings with samples of the buildings that are then being constructed in their place. The results are material-packages, that are very abstract, yet specific and narrative. I believe that materials – surfaces structures and haptic qualities are very important to define the identity and atmosphere of a place and these works allow to tackle those aspects as pictures on the wall that are constructivist, concrete, referential.

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

KF Interestingly these materials appear in your works in a whole new form. They have the history of the house in them but they function as independent works of art. It’s like a portrait of the house. In the exhibition we could see several works that treat the city or the houses as a kind of living entity. The skin itself, but cities with special characteristics also refer to a living entity. The process of construction and destruction appears as a kind of organic transformation in your videos too. To what extent can your work be considered the personification of the built environment?

AF In a way it is my titles that I often conceive as independent works. They are connected to the works I am showing, but they also have an autonomous life. In the case of “Skin Calendar” it was a possible title for my two-person show together with Mariana Castillo Deball earlier this year at Georg Kargl gallery that you mentioned. It is inspired by Mariana’s much wilder imagination and her references to myth and pre-columbian culture. But I realized that it activates my work in a very productive way and it indeed makes the connection to processes well beyond my initial research. And thus it also allows a more subliminal reading of my work that is often (mis-)understood as rather cool and impersonal. The spaces I have lived in and the shapes and forms and patterns that have surrounded me throughout my life have had a deep influence on me in many ways. More and more, I recognize my attraction and attachment to them, and they show up in unexpected ways in my work. I come from a migrant family, and there are aesthetic structures of belonging, that shape my work and I feel they are a way of involving others, to welcome them in the folds of time and space that are created in the works.

Andreas Fogarasi: “Skin Calendar” ╱ 2022 ╱ Installation view, Budapest Galéria, Budapest ╱ Photos: Tamás G. Juhász

KF Your bonding to your roots is also visible in the exhibition. Although you have hardly lived in Budapest, the city has an important role in your works. I think it is interesting that your art somehow connects Budapest and Vienna. There are differences and similarities between the two cities, and that can be traced back to their history. How do you see the understanding of the late-modernist architectural heritage in Budapest and Vienna?

AF I have a rather pragmatic concept of „roots“, but my long-term connection to Budapest has always allowed me to take a step back from my immediate surroundings in Vienna. I think it helps to have some distance to formulate a meaningful statement of any kind. This is why I choose Budapest as the topic for several works over the years, from the videos from the series “Kultur und Freizeit” in 2007 until the new works from the series “Nine Buildings, Stripped” that both question values and memory. Cultural values, artistic values, architectural values, societal values and the pride and trauma that comes from them. In our cities, at different times, the modernist elites have been murdered, ostracized and displaced. And strangely the connection between Budapest and Vienna is not an easy one, despite their proximity. Coming back to the question of late modernist architecture, in all of eastern Europe it is understood as an expression of socialist ideology, and thus to many it appears in a very negative light, to the point that getting rid of those buildings is seen as an easy way to get rid of an unpleasant past. This was the case with the Berlin Palast der Republik, or the MTESZ headquarters at Kossuth Lajos tér next to the Budapest parliament, that was replaced by a fake turn-of-the-century building.

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

KF Yes, unfortunately more and more buildings are being demolished for ideological reasons. I know you have a list of these houses. You try to save something from these and present their story “stripped” as an artefact. The materials you collect lose their original nature by becoming artefacts. What is this transformation for you?

AF Obviously, the documentary, referential aspect of the works is important for me. But at the same time they have to “function” as artworks. They insert themselves into a history of abstract, constructivist, concrete, conceptual practices. This artistic heritage is rarely discussed in relation to my work, I guess because its referentiality is so strong. However, these two worlds of (documentary, political, poetic) content and artistic form are obviously equally important, and I try to balance them very delicately. So, just for fun and without further elaboration, let me throw in some artists, whose work might be interesting to look at, in relation to my work: Tatlin, Mondrian, Albers, Christo, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Ed Ruscha, Louise Lawler, Martha Rosler, Dan Graham, Isa Genzgen, James Welling

KF What is the conceptual background of the collages, that show modernist buildings or tourist attractions highlighted from maps in different cities, like Budapest, Paris or Vienna? Can you tell us more about these works?

AF In the “Sights” series, I create minimalist collages from buildings cut out of tourist maps. They investigate value systems (what buildings were deemed important to be featured on maps) at different times, and focus on the usually anonymous cartograph-artists’ work, by creating a tension between the large, seemingly empty frames and those miniature depictions of sport stadiums, hotels or office towers. A lot of my work is triggered by a critique of the “iconic”, be it in architecture or art and here we have these tiny “icons” that are at once sad and deeply funny to look at.

Andreas Fogarasi: “Skin Calendar” ╱ 2022 ╱ Installation view, Budapest Galéria, Budapest ╱ Photos: Tamás G. Juhász

KF In the exhibition transitions in time were also visible. You exhibited a video that shows the transformation of Budapest, but in another video series you show the alternation of construction and demolition through the pilgrimage center in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. How do these works relate to time?

AF I am most excited when I manage to capture several layers of time in one image. Just like in the layered assemblages of building parts, this happens in my photographic and filmic works already in the framing of the image through the almost exclusive use of a wide-angle lens and a depth of focus, that conflates foreground and background. In the three-part video about Santiago de Compostela (Constructing/Dismantling), there is a contrast between the „heroic“ new construction of the gigantic „Ciudad de Cultura de Galicia“ by Peter Eisenman, that serves the ultimate task to make pilgrimage tourists stay another day in the city, and the low-key fairgound that is being dismantled, in the dark, while the music is still playing. So while my videos are more photographic than filmic, the notion of time is very present in several ways beyond the classic „narrative“ one.

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

Andreas Fogarasi: Constructing ╱ Dismantling ╱ 2010 ╱ Videostills ╱ Courtesy the artist, Vintage Galéria Budapest and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna

KF You have several works that are indirectly related to certain intellectual currents in contemporary architecture. The Galician Museum, designed by Peter Eisenmann, and the building designs framed in an envelope allude to folding architecture. Can we say that you are creating a conceptual connection between architecture and art by bringing them to a common platform?

AF I have studied architecture, in parallel to my first attempts in art, and I think I have learned a lot during that time, and am using many “architectural” tools in my sculptural practice. Yet I feel I have developed many of my artistic strategies in opposition to how architects work. While architecture has been the topic of many of my works since the mid 2000s, my current material-packages are the first works that attract interest in the architecture world, with magazine publications and invitations to speak at architecture schools. Often this happens in the context of recycling and re-use, which is an imminent topic that might hopefully change the way we think about construction faced with the climate-crisis. Here, the ability of art to question and redefine value might be a useful input from outside the profession.

KF If you had the opportunity to work in large scale, in building scale, would that be art or architecture in the end?

AF What I do in many cases is some sort of “dysfunctional architecture”, so I guess it would be something that can be understood in both contexts.

KF What are you working on now, what are your plans for the future?

AF The “Nine Buildings, Stripped” project is ongoing. The show at Budapest Galéria was a first step that will lead to a second exhibition once the works about Budapest buildings will be finished in 2-3 years. Also I am working in various other cities – among others in Istanbul, Torino and Paris, where I have just established contacts with the architects that are remodeling the Tour Montparnasse, another 1970s building that will get a new skin.
Apart from that, we are working on a major publication about my work, that should be finished early next year.

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