The title is an equation by Ludwig Wittgenstein whose thoughts significantly inspired Dénes Farkas, a post-conceptualist artist of Hungarian origin who is based in Estonia. Tina Kaplár asked the artist about his participation at the 55th Venice Biennale, his two current exhibitions “Credo” In Ani Molnár Gallery, Budapest and “Evident in Advance” at KUMU, Tallinn, and about his plans at the Armory Show and in the future.
Tina Kaplár: As Adam Budak, the curator of Estonian Pavilion, highlighted: Identifying oneself with a certain nation has become vague, and what really matters is where the artist is based not where he or she was born. Still, when it comes to the Venice Biennale the question of national identity is inevitable. How did it feel to exhibit in Venice as an Estonian artist although you were born in Budapest and are of Hungarian origin?
Dénes Farkas: The easiest way to describe how I feel is that I am an Estonian artist as I did everything as an artist in Estonia: I studied there, I started there, and I represent Estonia wherever I go. But my background is Hungarian, so all my memories come from Hungary, I don’t have any Estonian childhood memories. So this part is hard to answer. But in Venice I really felt that its concept is a bit silly, it is like the Olympic Games. Everyone is working with other people and are not necessarily from the same country, which is really great. In Venice you have to play safe, so in that sense it was a safer choice to work with professionals (curator and architects) who are more experienced in the international contemporary art scene. It simply saved a lot of energy as we did not have to figure out or invent solutions, we simply adapted ones from their previous experience. So I could learn from them, but they also listened to my ideas. Still it was extremely complicated to put the exhibition together, and without these experts it may not have been finished with such a result.
TK: It must have been a unique experience for you, as beforehand you were a loner, you always worked alone in your studio, now for Venice you had to step out and worked in an international team.
DF: It was a big thing to leave my safe home and work with bigshots and enter the real art world. Putting together an exhibition in Venice is really insane, no transportation, no hardware store, but that is the beauty in it.
TK: Your exhibition “Evident is Advance” was of the same wunderkammer style of curating seen at dOCUMENTA, and your topic coincides with that of the curatorial concept of Massimiliano Gioni’s Il Palazzo Encyclopedia. Was it a sheer coincidence, the evidence of Zeitgeist?
DF: It was a funny coincidence, not intentional. We were not happy when they announced the theme of the exhibition. People thought that we adjusted our plans to the main curatorial concept but by the time it was revealed we had been working on it already.
TK: In Venice in the exhibition “Evident in Advance” you used a priori prepositions that are evident based on Bruce Duffy’s book on Wittgenstein titled “The World As I Found It”, and you deconstructed it by taking things out of one context and putting them together. It was one of the most memorable experiences, even at the end of the day after visiting several pavilions, to climb the steps leading to your exhibition area and enter a private space with the feeling of intimacy, it really felt like entering the artist’s mind…
DF: Of course, the domestic environment affected the project as a whole; memories of all our lives were there and you could not escape them. Reading is the most intimate space possible. In the exhibition area we created four spaces where you normally enter a book: an archive, a classroom, a library, and your home, and we intentionally aimed to confuse visitors, to give a sense of being lost. The book itself was an expanded space and an experiment, giving room for language games, where you could reconstruct the whole text with the help of the words written on the book. If you opened the books you could see my maquette photographs, and visitors were free to take a copy with them as well. I really enjoy leaving clues in my works but there are no locks, the entire deciphering is open.
TK: You use the same deconstruction in your current exhibition at Ani Molnár Gallery, Budapest. The exhibition “Credo” is based on Isaac Asimov’s On Science and the Bible, which is an interview with Asimov about the question of belief and morale, and here you also create a microcosm with your large-format camera and the text fragments taken from the dialogue. But here we feel less confusion.
DF: The question of belief is one of the topics I wanted to further explore after Venice. It is less confusing as it is a confusing subject on its own and it is really hard to talk about in general.
TK: With your participation in the Venice Biennale you reached an important milestone, if not the peak of your career. However, at an earlier point in your life, you wanted to stop being an artist. What made you change your mind?
DF: Estonia is a small country and – like in other Eastern European countries – there is not enough money in art. So after ten years I became tired of not being able to make a living from it. I am still not convinced about remaining a full-time artist, but now it fortunately feels better – but it is still quite risky. But here I am: For this exhibition during which I thought about quitting and become hobby artist I won the biggest national art prize in Estonia, so that helped a little bit. But I did not continue for this reason. I simply felt that I still have something to say and I wanted to say it. And my family supported me. My wife is an artist, too. And I also design books and work as a photographer for architects, so I can move a little more freely now.
TK: Parallel to your exhibition “Credo” in Ani Molnár Gallery, Budapest, “Evident in Advance” has just opened in a museum context in KUMU, Tallinn. How does it work there without the many layers that a domestic flat in Venice gave?
DF: Surprisingly, the new context created a different show from almost exactly the same details. The layers of the museum replaced the layers of the apartment, and this is very interesting. Only here I started to see how the exhibition really works. Also I had more time to work with the already existing installations. In Venice we built up something we had seen before only in pieces or even on paper or computer screens (and in our minds). My exhibition in KUMU replaces the permanent exhibition in part, temporarily, and this also means that “Evident in Advance” became (at least visually) an organic part of that collection of Estonian art history. And this creates a whole new context but also a whole new narrative, or even narratives. I am very pleased with the result. Thanks to Studio Miessen, the architectural office who helped to create the space for both exhibitions, we have again a very well thought-through show.
TK: This year marks the inaugural edition of Armory Presents on Pier 94 at The Armory Show, an expanded and re-branded take on solo projects, where Ani Molnár Gallery has been invited with your solo show. What are you going to exhibit in New York?
DF: We will show “Credo” at the Armory Show. This project will be specially rethought and redesigned with new elements for that occasion.
Dénes Farkas (1974) is a post-conceptualist artist based in Tallinn. He studied graphic art and photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts Since 2006 Farkas has been known for his refined grayscale looking photos of white paper maquettes depicting intricate social spaces working as projected backgrounds for typical communical situations, coupled with titles (either quotes or sentences made up by the artist, directing the viewer toward the context that the pictures abstract). He has participated in several countries: Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, including the solo shows Let’s Play, The Game is Over (2010), When We Only Still Learned the Words, Beyond (2011), The Day that Doesn’t Exist (2012). His works are included in several private collections as well as in the permanent collection in the Art Museum of Estonia.