Dénes Farkas

Dénes Farkas is a post-conceptualist photographic artist working and living in Tallinn. Since the second half of 2000 the main line running through his work has been the goal to reduce the social structure under scrutiny to a possibly laconic model of representation uniting the photograph and the title of the picture.

In his conceptual photographic series of recent years the artist has dealt with areas ranging from the possibility of democracy (“Vox Populi, Vox Dei”) and discipline and punishment (“Liberal Solution”) to the deadlock in the theory following Postmodernism (“Post Discursum”). Farkas photographs miniature paper models of chairs, tables, sofas and other man-made objects while maintaining a consistent lighting and colour scheme. He crafts the tiny paper models himself and creates a spatial mise-en-scène, but this is only the beginning – even the subsequent processes of photographing and naming the scene and writing a preface to the work do not bring it to a conclusion. There is no verbalized solution, only a suggestion that all of this is only a part of some larger, more insidious development that seeks to undermine the existing hegemony. However, certain base questions around which he has modelled his post-minimalist model world exist in a more concrete way. Farkas admits that he has observed the so-to-speak human made social structures from the point of view of the question “what is the sense of the game”. Nevertheless, he is obviously not interested in the question of “who wins” as most agents seem to be in the inherent position of losers in the system observed by the artist.

Curator Anders Härm has among other things hinted at this loser position admitting that “in some sense the central denominator of [...] Dénes Farkas’ white photographic series is stillness” and “in the centre of his work characterized by aesthetic refinement and a minimalist poetic form of expression is a human being, but paradoxically we will never find a human figure in his light boxes”. In a similar way, curator Elin Kard has admitted that the self-reflective aesthetics of this Estonian-Hungarian photo artist, who is in pursuit of his roots abroad has come back to the beginning and everything refers to breaking away from all he has done before. In this context “breaking away” is a constructive metaphor as it is anarchic, hopeless, nihilist and somehow mute at the theoretical-political level, yet causing the artist act according to a set programme. His is to some extent like the view of a child exploring the world – uncompromised in his thirst for knowledge and disgusted at polite white lies. Farkas starts to cancel out and simplify, and reach back to the beginning. Maquettes and models, formulas and equations are by no means just objects in their own right. They always refer to more general, but also artificial rules; that is, abstractions construed by the human mind or the laws of nature.

“Maquettes already started to interest me in childhood. It was probably the maquettes of Tallinn’s Old Town that I assembled first. Later, I wanted to study interior design. Preparing for the entrance examinations I produced paper maquettes of furniture that I had invented. A couple of years ago I reached the point where I could not move on as an artist. So I started to use maquettes again.” One can notice the metaphoric zero-point in his works made around 2005/06, when Farkas started to construct his own models of society using glue and scissors. In his early works the genre of the portrait plays an important role (e.g. in his photographic series “Portraits of Women”, 2002–03). However, at that point he breaks away from human figures and the “hero rhetoric” that inevitably creeps into any pictorial language depicting human figures. With this, in a more general way, Farkas rejects blind faith in capitalism and the cult of success that characterises post-soviet neoliberalism, and the dusk of the graven images of all the enthusiastic petit entrepreneurs. Instead, he concentrates on a systematic critical reading as if being raised above the subjects under scrutiny and reducing a number of everyday institutions to the form of universal models. Thus, quoting Elin Kard, “of importance are neither the situation nor the timing of the occurrence, but the mechanics of functioning.”

Obviously this type of figurative logic directly alludes to the legacy of the conceptualism of the 1960s and 70s as well as the parallel post-structuralist academic discourse that flourished in Western European universities, above all, in light of the writings of Michel Foucault. What happens to an individual when coming across a large institution and a collection of anonymous historico-contextual rules? How does power function? How does power manifest itself in language and the use of language? What is rebellion? What is freedom? What is ethics? Who benefits if certain themes are brought into the open? In order to counterweight the earlier existentialism with which current art criticism has also associated Farkas, and which, expressed in a simplified manner, reduced all problems to the personal responsibility of an individual, in other words, to the individual’s revolt, thinkers stamped with the title of post-structuralists rather concentrated on the exposure of those practices through which the community guides an individual and renders his revolt practically “mute”. The exposed paradox lies in the understanding that not only do church and school, medicine and prison have control over individual people in society, but also that people control each other voluntarily within the framework of all possible segments of society. Power manifests itself everywhere. Discussions were held both within the framework of the dominating discourse as well as in the name of obtaining the right to speak. By the end of the day there turned out to be quite a struggle.

Both solo shows by Farkas – “Ideal-Total” at Tallinn City Gallery (with Neeme Külm) in 2007, “How the Fuck are you Tonight” in 2009, as well as his retrospective solo show “Let’s Play or the Game is Over” at Hobusepea Gallery in 2010 were carried by this sad/ironic “mute” artistic position. Obligatory in this matrix of works made in the same key have been Farkas’ photo-installations “SUPERSTRUCTURE (These Are Not Bloody Exit Signs)” in the group show “Blue-Collar Blues” at Tallinn Art Hall in 2009, and “Closing Up” in the group show “Next to Nothing” at the Estonian Contemporary Art Museum in 2010. The text and photo installation “Когда мы только изучали слова” (When We Were Only Learning Words) as part of the exhibition of 2011 Köler Prize nominees at the Estonian Contemporary Art Museum indicates that in addition to social structures the artist has also started to deconstruct language in his work – reaching the question of what existed before the beginning, when “there was the word” and when we started to learn reading, writing, thinking and obeying social rules.

Andreas Trossek