Living in a picture

Interpretation by Erzsébet Tatai

Eszter Sipos’s style has crystallised in the works she created in the past few years: the definitive, considerate drawings with closed outlines are painted with clear, mostly vivid colours on homogenous surfaces. In the purely black and white paintings, the object motives are presented as line drawings with character, consisting of unified black fields, and the textures and lines within the forms also suggest plane-like rendering. One one hand, this shaping is „handy” because it is aesthetical and not anti-realistic, while the reduction of form and color points towards some kind of practicality rather than aiming at decoration. Painterly quality as well as detail of space, forms and brushwork are abandoned for the sake of highlighting the narrative and the conceptual. Eszter’s main tools are the brilliant drawing, the effective composition – which is sometimes reminiscent of cartoons, at other times emblematic – and the text. The text has different roles and occupies varying proportions of her different series, and the way it relates to the pictures also changes. Even if there is hardly any text (as is the case in her work entitled Living in a Picture, where inscriptions only occur indirectly, as instances of „picture in the picture” or „inscription in the picture”: on a book, a poster, a video cassette), it is still invisibly entangled with Eszter Sipos’s pictures, and makes them readable as texts (as well). Meanwhile, these paintings remain dominated by the pictural quality, which is stronger and defines the texts themselves. Eszter Sipos is neither naive nor faithless, she is sophisticated but not cynical, she is serious and deep but playful and not bigoted, she oscillates between typical modern dedication and postmodern detachment.1

Her painting entitled Living in a Picture depicts a room in a clear, tokenlike manner, while it also represents in a complex way how the artist interprets, conceives and realises herself and, at the same time, her creative life. This complexity lies in the multi-layered space structure and iconography of the picture. The main motive is an image of the artist slumbering in a hammock. Everything may be evidently true in this statement, yet it calls for an explanation: Who is slumbering, what is she doing and where? What place does this occupy in the picture, in its space and on its plane, and what is its connection with the painted world? The complexity of the picture unfolds as we start to analyse this.
The main motive is in the upper left quarter of the painting, it is not in a central position – and the middle of the picture is empty otherwise, too. She is the only depicted human here, and therefore the thing that commands the utmost interest. The lying figure bears Eszter Sipos’s features, but we cannot be certain of her role because of the situation of the hammock (and, of course, if we do not recognise the artist). Although the points of suspension are on the surface of the picture, they are outside the represented space. In this way, she herself is inside the drawn picture space and outside it at the same time. Is she the creator of the picture? The flesh and blood, lying person named Eszter Sipos, or the one who recounts this situation? How can she paint it if she is sleeping at the moment? Is she deaming it? Or is the creator resting, having completed her work?
Undoubedly, all activity is suspended in light sleep or a relaxed state of wakefulness. This floating invokes and at the same time also maps this mental liberation, the state between sleep and wakefulness, when rational thoughts, everyday experiences can intertwine, mix and interlock in surprising ways, and get into an effortless state of possibilities. This swaying can be compared to the state of inspiration, and the creator of the picture indeed presents us with her careless image, as if creation was coming so naturally…2 However, this contradicts the focused, disciplined activity with which the painter, Eszter Sipos creates her works (including this one).
This hammock with a person, represented in foreshortening (and thereby implying spatiality) is just like the eight other mounted motives painted on shaped wood, each one of which occupy a similarly ambiguous place, while their iconographies confidently outline the identity of ’the one who lives in the picture’. A wide section in the middle of the painting is left white and is bordered by a broken line, while 3 blue lines of the same kind schematically outline a room corner with the spatial representation of a room. Drifted to the edge of this, we find the body builder with the vacuum cleaner ad and the tape recorder from Richard Hamilton’s collage3, and seated in an armchair on the right side is the eroticised woman with her little table and TV set. The figures drawn with their contour lines – are waiting to be complemented, as the empty rooms divided by contours in ’Gazdálkodj okosan’, the popular economy game of the socialist era. However, the painted complements deny this. Although they refer to the pop culture of the time (in their style and motives), they are contemporary to the core, complementing and ubstituting the original utopian pop culture that Eszter Sipos recalls. Her pop culture is inhabited by the laptop and the video player (with titles like The Road, The Pillow Book, Trainspotting, Boys Don’t Cry, School of Senses…). These objects (moulded, painted motives) were placed on the edge of the painting, outside the painted room, together with the tennis racket, the case of which has the word ’neopop’ instead of the original „pop”, complemented by the phrase ’conceptual painting’, and in this layer there is also a segment from a drip-painting (in the upper right corner), widening the field of interpretation of painting – the world with relation to which Eszter Sipos defines herself as a painter, as one who lives in a picture.
If we consider their spatial relations, the pictures placed on the picture (Szinyei Merse’s Hot Air Balloon and the movie poster of Almodóvar’s Volver with Penelope Cruz) are in the same reality of phenomena as the resting artist, while at the same time they seem to be put on an imaginary glass wall dividing the drawn room. As regards their imagery, one of them represents the Hungarian painting tradition, and the other the contemporary global visual culture. (The upper and the lower narrow stripes can be seen as the edges of the picture plane – kept planar – and as such they underline the object-like quality of the picture, or as the ceiling and floor of a room, the room on the wall of which the iconic image of pop art is drawn and evoked.)
There is also an „amphibian” among the mounted objects, the sofa lying in the left corner: this comes here from the Hamilton collage, but it is painted and its expanse is simultaneously present in the room evoked by the old montage and in the plane that stands for the present reality – it mediates visually between the two worlds. The changes are again telling: One of the books placed on the sofa is American Love [Amerikai szerelem, Budapest 2009] by Simone de Beauvoir, the „founding mother” of modern feminism and gender studies, and the other is The War of the World by Niall Ferguson [A világ háborúja, Budapest 2008]. The application is itself a game, and finds its place as an object between the abstract reality of the picture and our own space, our everyday reality.
With this work, Eszter Sipos involves the spectator in her game of identity construction. In the process of observation the structure of the identity is revealed: the spatial construction, the visual quotations and the textual information mark the stepping stones of the artist’s cultural identification, and also the place where she situates herself, the ambivalent roles and operations in which she sees herself and makes herself seen. She characterises her cultural self-portarait with the neopop culture, but she also states her distance from it and appears as a recipient – and creator – of Hungarian cultural values and ones present in Hungary, equally interested in questions of painting, representations of gender and sexual identity, and world history.
The title of the picture, just like the visual elements, is playfully ambiguous. It is the artist who lives in the picture, living and representing her identity as a creator of pictures (a painter), for whom life consists in making pictures, for whom life and creation are completely identical; as an heiress to pop art, she professes that art is inseparable from life. On the other hand, she seems to suggest that the painted figures do not live in reality, only in the picture (their mode of existence is the picture, whether they come to life as in a tale or not). Thirdly, mounting directs our attention to playfulness, and we are inclined to leave this undecided: living in the picture can be both one and the other. Meanwhile, the applied figure is dreaming. She may or may not be the artist, who is both creating and resting, who is creating by dreaming, and to whom this whole picture may be just a dream, it may be nothing but a dream.

Events, thoughts, dreams, emotions we find important will enter into diaries; these comprise a thick tapestry of the personality. The way in which and the aspects by which we select from events, objects and feelings, or the way we phrase things gives a sketch of our society, but that’s not all. We also create ourselves in this process: we weave ourselves into our friendships, our loves, the network of our groups by gender, skin colour, coworkers, social class, world view, lifestyle and profession. We write adiary in order to hold onto time and interpret ourselves – to remember and not to forget.4 Actually, we write it for ourselves – but in the way that we want to see ourselves and be seen – from the point of view of our friend, our lover, and, horribile dictu, our God. We read the diaries of artists in order to know their character better, and eventually, to understand them better. Thediary entries of artists aimed at the audience are of a different nature, but the capacities of thediary for constructing the self are enhanced in them.
We the advent of the postmodern, we became interested in private issues considered small and insignificant from the point of view of the big and universal. Historical scholarship5 saw heightened interest in formerly marginalised personal documents (biographies, diaries, letters), and fine artists started to exhibit visual diaries meant for public presentation. Eszter Sipos’s Notes Pages are visual works of this kind, imitating adiary and meant for publication from the very beginning. However, they are real diaries in the sense that they present written and drawn reflections, memories, feelings, while – as works of art – they are halfway between merely aesthetic objects and „purely” conceptualdiary works. The diaries of Beáta Széchy, Mária Chilf and Kriszta Nagy6 would be on the „visual” side, while the works of Emese Benczúr, Noémi Fábián, Mariann Imre and Márta Rácz on the „conceptual” side.7 Eszter Sipos’s diaries – whether the small black and white ones or the larger colour pieces – are objects with pages that can be turned (at least that’s what they look like, as each pair of pages is itself an object, an open journal), and also pictures with abundant text at the same time, where the pictures appear to be illustrations on first sight. However, the illustrative elements are usually accompanied by non-evident condensed visual elements, and the connection between the picture and the text is not always obvious, they refer to each other distantly if at all. Sometimes arbitrarily picked textual and visual elements refer to each other – and an entirely poetic relationship is set up.
Banal topics (schmoozing, canoeing tour, flower planting, brooding and musing) get interwoven with the presentation of art events or political ones, global problems or reflections on gender roles. For example, with Moholy-Nagy’s and Mladen Stilinović’s exhibition (29 July 2011), David Cerny’s sculptures in Prague (28 May 2011), the Gaza Strip (June 2010), the IMF loan (12 September), Hiroshi Ishiguro’s humanoid robots (28 June).
Strangely enough, public events validate those of the private life in Eszter’s journal: the reason for considering a political event truthful is not because a trustworthy person has seen it and ’validates’ it in connection with his or her life events, but the other way around: as we know from the press what happened and when, the personal nature of the private life events in thediary (whether they are actual or fictitious events) is shaped in its contrast with these historical events. In the meantime, the artist’s interests are also revealed (though not her preferences), even if there is no direct lineage between Eszter Sipos the artist and the author anddiary writer.
However informative the texts are, they only assume their complex meaning in the narrative of the composition and the visual language; upon a closer scrutiny, I am inclined to say that it is the texts that illustrate the pictures. Even more probably, what we see is a cooperation between the picture and the text (in addition to mutual illustration), where the ’raw material’ is given by the texts, while the pictures present the psychological, interpersonal and social complications of the topics raised.
Thediary entry of 24 September 2011 is illustrated by curled up girls and a landscape drawing of Barcelona. We learn that the girls ’stayed in their shells’ for some boys, one of whom was roller skating with his friends, and another diving. The pictures hold together this text of no more that 11 lines as a frame (above: curled up girls in symmetrical arrangement; a colour close-up, below: the landscape continued; a distant view with contours). This is how the looking and reading continues: from the upper left to the lower right: 1. drawing of curled up girl; 2. narrative of girls who ’stayed in their shells’; 3. brooding over gender roles ’At times like this, I would rather be a man and not keep thinking about….’; 4. Barcelona drawing; 5. drawing of curled up girl; 6. brooding over giving up oneself ’…while we were adapting to the other, we almost gave up certain desires, a piece of ourselves.’; 7. coda: ’ Zsuzsi is finally off to Barcelona with her friends.’ This unexpected turn stated in a new paragraph ’explains’ the closing (lower) illustration, and announces a happy ending, an independent step, on the road to freedom; 8. Barcelona drawing No.2. This rhythm of approaching and distancing, reading and viewing, texts and pictures turns the illustration into a rich cognitive shell, which is liberating. The pages with decorative borders evoke a girl’s diary in an imitative and illustrative way; however, this becomes ironic when contrasted with the mature drawings, and the irony is in turn blunted by the gravity of the theme.
In the much longer pair of pages entitled ’How Far Will You Go’, comprising a four-part text, we see a large, vivd cityscape (Erzsébet square, Gödör, Anker-house, Deák square) in perspective view, which is not typical in Sipos’s works. The huge black and white torso of a dictator appears behind the houses, but that is being drawn by a young woman (Eszter Sipos herself), whose seated picture in top view dominates the upper left part of the journal. The ’illustration’ tends to hold on to an element of the text, yet the picture dominates even so – each written story, brooding and decision fits into the represented everyday buzz (they wanted to go to Gödör but ended up at Ludwig Museum). If the image of the dictator did not tower above the houses, all these would be ’just’ conversation topics in the context of the cityscape, but this way we can also see in them an ominous shadow. ’In Libya, Syria and Iran, they are trying to bring down the revolution by raping the resistance fighters both men and women. Muammar Gaddafi ordered the mass rape of women….’ (29 June 2011) ’The three richest men in the world own as much as six hundred million of the poorest people’ – Eszter Sipos quotes Stilinović, but then with another twist and the idea that ’all this is just a drawing’, she seems to take the edge off it all. With the recurring idea of ’living in the picure’, the artist also marks the position of the author – giving her an active role.
The relationship between picture and text is entirely poetic on the smaller black and white notes pages of ’We shall never be like that…’. The people standing on the bridge have no real connection with the inscription in capital letters (are they thinking it?), but one can only guess their relationship with the longer text as well: ’In the evening I searched for the part about the adult-child relationship in Beauvoir’s book. It all seemed so simple. ’To become important, this is the child’s major aspiration, she would like to interfere with the life of the adults, she conceives entire novels that she does not believe herself, and in which she is the protagonist.’ (2 July)’ Even the drawing itself – despite the elegance, simplicity and generosity of the composition – is enigmatic: Could this be a family?
Although the connection between ’The spiral of violence begins with distorted comminication’ (after 22 July) and the seated girl in jeans immersed in her thoughts is easy to find, its link with the picture and text on the other side is quite mysterious – as that one shows a hiking company, with two men supporting a woman in trouble, while the text arches from the Nowegian amok runner through cultural diversity to Habermas.

Eszter Sipos has closed her cycle Hints by completing 36 small pictures. Similarly to emblems incorporated into collections, popular in the early modern times, these also pair relatively simle pictures with moral or didactic textual content, ’hints for life’, which of course differ from their baroque predecessors, but are no less commonplance. Their emblematic nature is emphasised by the circular composition, although the texts are separated under the pictures. Not only the format, but also its framing attracts attention, moreover, it is suggested by every visual means that we shall be hearing short, concise wisdom. These black and white pictures are actually drawn paintings, which imply attentiveness to the theme, employing the tricks of lines and patches used in commercials (at the time when these were graphic). The compositions of the concise pictures are terse and to the point, most of them show the scenes in top view, but we also find uncommon points of view and perspectives; on the other hand, we also often find pictures structured by tropes (the forest, the road, the sleeper). While we may as well ponder over the health, spiritual and life advice, or even keep some of it, these are also humorous and ironical at the same time. The presentation itself, with its character recalling a collection, points to the narrowness of our lives, but what makes this work truly witty is the way in which it links the picture to the text: sometimes it polarizes, at other times it illustrates an arbitrarily picked element from the text, or it gets too banal or perplexing. The physiology of the connection between the picture and the text becomes particularly enjoyable when we notice that sometimes two pictures belong to the same text. ’ Don’t pass by your dream’s hints! (T.S.) ’ is once accompanied by the picture of a girlchild who strayed into a forest or is standing in front of a forest scenery (this indecision is also an important element of the experience), and another time, it is linked to the representation of a person writing a dream diary (that is, we see a journal with lines, in a lap belonging to legs seen in foreshortening, and a hand that is holding the journal). ’Everything can be discussed. (M.U.)’ is once seen below two women’s profiles, and another time below two men’s profiles gazing at each other. The hierarchical relationship is obvious from the body language in the case of the women (mother and daughter?), while this is not evident in the case of the men, where positions of different levels might only be implied by the features. Eszter Sipos also amuses with her fine art references: For every problem the simpliest solution must be found! (K.Zs.)’ goes the inscription, and we see Jackson Pollock painting in the picture – in the way familiar from Hans Namuth’s photograph; it says ’ Boredom is no reason to paint (K.S.)’ under the drawn detail of Magritte’s The Double Secret. There is an inverted relationship where Eszter Sipos adopts the title of I.B.’s installation: ’Call your fears by the name!’, and a crouching woman is painted in the picture. It is especially funny when she modifies the original sentence slightly: she wrote ’Do not crap, because you’ll get crap on your feet! (I.B.)’, instead of ’do not kick the…’. In another case, in a text taken from a well known piece, the meaning of the entence does not change: ’Get yourself another future before the guarantee expires. (T.H.)’. Sipos focuses on the content, she treats it as common property. She could not care less about the accuracy of the quote, she puts down the sentence of our great avantgarde artist – which he did not carve in stone himself in the performance driven by his situation at the time – as she preserved it in her memory. An important aspect of the works is that they are numerous (that is why she exhibited 21 pictures for the very first time), as the deeper meaning, houmour, playfulness and variety shows only in a larger amount (one saying is no saying). The entire wisdom lies predominantly in that the artist is placed in an external position by being painted. On the other hand, the work can be an accumulation of experiences for the young artist: processing in the picture and processing in life.

The majority of the sayings are familiar to everyone, and therefore – in retrospect – it seems quite evident that Eszter grew the cycle of paintings she started in 2008 into a project. The excitement of the project You give the advice, I make the painting lies not so much in that ’more good ideas’ are incorporated into the painted pictures, but in that the artist turned the work into a community piece – or at least such an intention is suggested. Replacing personal collections by collecting ideas from others – in a given a system – involves spectators in the creative process, turning them into clients as well as initiators – of the theme (and text) of individual works – at the same time.8

The plate-paintings are actually the continuation of Hints, in that these are also circular picture texts, only they are large, even the smallest one has a diameter of 80cm, and the central image is surrounded by surfaces filled concentrically with ornamentation. The first one is a large colourful plate, to which the inspiration was a majolica bowl with the coat of arms of King Matthias and Beatrix and a unicorn, but in spite of this, the plate is more closely related to some of the bigger colourful Hints. Then there are broken plates, which reassemble into a whole for a moment with the help of a mechanism, and there are broken black and white plates, the broken pieces of which are painted as hiatuses, as black spots.
’Trust is a basic need of humans’, it says on the first plate (which is accompanied by the story of the creation of the picture), as well as on one broken black and white plate. Its specific meaning within the pictures remains enigmatic (although stripped like this it is just as commonplace as the texts of the hints). It is accompanied by pictures that are very different in an iconographic sense (a biking girl in Budapest with the coats of arms of Hungary and the European Union in an ornamental frame on one of them, and a promenadig couple on the other). Of course, if Beatrix’s dowry was the inspirational plate and the coats of arms together refer to their marriage, then – although this plate refers to a political wedlock – the painted broken plate refers to the relationship (marriage). The images of breaking and uniting plates complement each other: one of them has a man with a seated woman in the background, the other has a woman with a rowing man in the background, and the texts go ’No need to escape from yesterday!’ and ’Yesterday has not deformed us or hasn’t been deformed by us’, referring to an earlier event unknown to us, one that we can only guess. One of the pictures is repeated in another black and white (permanently) broken plate, only this time with another sentence: ’We were a whole just recently’. Thus the plates comprise a set with common content: they deal with the theme of relationships. A solution is raised by the – so far – final black and white picture in a row that opens with a woman standing alone in the street. The former shows a woman standing out from a festival-going company: ’We desire community, to feel good, to enjoy all this;;…’ but instead of a community, we see a crowd, and the question remains open: ’… but what is it that makes a crowd a community?’

This contemporary (artistic) attitude was called metamodern by Vermeulen and van den Akker, and is considered to be between the modern and the postmodern ontologically, and beyond the postmodern historically. Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker: Notes on metamodernism. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture. Vol. 2, 2010.

The millennial idea of a connection between creation, dream, lying and laziness is still prevalent today. See: Mladen Stilinović’s performance entitled Artist at Work, where the artist is sleeping (photo documentation 1978, and Ludwig Museum 2011); the project that J. A. Tillmann led in 2007 in The Architecture of the Everyday: Habituation, Idleness, Musing Time (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design), … and Magyar Lettre Internationale, Winter 2007/2008, 67.

John-Paul Stonard: Pop in the Age of Boom: Richard Hamilton’s ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ The Burlington Magazine. CXLIX. September, 2007. 607ff. The author also analyses the visual sources of Hamilton’s work (1956).

Hedvig Turai: „Magam sem tudom…” Ámos Imre naplójáról. [’I Don’t Really Know…’ On Imre Ámos’s Diary] In: Berecz Á., L. Molnár M., Tatai E.(eds.): Nulla Dies sine linea. Tanulmányok Passuth Krisztina hetvenedik születésnapjára. Budapest 2007, 139-146.

Gábor Gyáni: Emlékezés és oral history. [Memory and Oral History] BUKSZ, Autumn 1998, 297-303. Republication: Gábor Gyáni: Emlékezés, emlékezet és a történelem elbeszélése. Budapest, 2000, 128-144.

Athough the painted diaries of Beáta Széchy and Mária Chilf from Rome (1986 and 1999 respectively) document personal experiences and artistic work, they also served as a reinforcement of becoming an artist and of the artist’s role, which is realised through the internalisation of the artits’s patterns of action (painting, making studies, visiting famous monuments), and which makes the young artist an artist personality acknowledged by society. In her study entitled ’Napló, vizuális autobiográfia, Künstlerroman. Személyiség és személyesség Székely Bertalan „Ifjúkori naplójában“’ [Journal, Visual Autobiography, Künstlerroman. Personality and the Personal in „Journal of Youth” by Bertalan Székely. (Aetas, 2002/2-3. 84-111.)], Éva Bicskei argues that the Künstlerroman is „the construction and social representation of the character’s identity”. This is no less relevant in the case of Kriszta Nagy’s seemingly deviant Journal Pictures.

Márta Rácz’s Journal (2008) is a conceptual work dealing with the passage of time. A stamped network of dates, the days of his grandfather’s life, imitate the texture of a tulle net covering an entire wall in Gallery Liget. This was the painfully ethereal monument of indecipherable time, of a vanished life, and of mortality. Since then, it has been hidden under layers of paint. In her installation entitled Calendar, Mariann Imre explicitly dealt with the problematic of process, time, mortality, and time became an immanent part of this work. Tulle ribbons were frozen in blocks of ice in glasses, and a name (her grandmother’s name: Sütő Istvánné) was written on them, repeated numerous times. The ice melted into water in front of the visitor’s eyes, and the writing with the names floated with the wrinkled shreds, or stuck to the wall of the glass. (Stúdió Gallery, Budapest. Katalin Timár: Határtalan idő-napló. Magyar Narancs, 7 September 1995); on Emese Benczúr’s work entitled Even if I Live a Hundred Years, being made since 1997 with machine and hand embroidery, see: István Bodóczky: Ha száz évig élek is. Művészet, March 1999; on Noémi Fábián’s boards of wax, into which she inscribed her personal diaries with ink, see: Erzsébet Tatai: Menekülés az időtlenségbe. A felejtés Emlékkönyve. Balkon, 11/1998.

What distinguishes this from former (conceptual) projects is that crafstmanship is ’delegated’ back to the artist, and that the main concept, the creation and execution of the picture are all the artist’s job, while the recipients actually become each other’s conceptual co-artists. A similar project was Desire by Gábor Bakos, Antal Lakner and Imre Weber, commenced in 1999, but the social aspect of the work, the actors of the art world comprised a more complex system there, and the impersonal and personal parts were configured differently. Bakos and his fellow artists developed a more personal relationship with the ’clients’, while Eszter’s clients are unknown. While the Pictures of Desire bear the visual traits of a world of commercials but also meet the visual demands of the ’client’, Eszter’s pictures were articulated in her own visual style (even if they follow certain patterns at times). Gábor L. Bakos– Imre Weber: Desire. Ludwig Museum Budapest – Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004.