Sándor Rácmolnár’s works are object lessons in puzzling (visual) narration.
We may have the impression that we know Rácmolnár’s work, but when we trace the oeuvre, we will discover, despite the presence of a characteristic style, an unceasing change, even the conscious effort to shun a strict, consistent style. What matters to him is to ensure that form reinforces meaning.
If this sounds obvious, it is anything but, because it is difficult to step over one’s shadow and to retain innovation and authenticity at the same time.
Rácmolnár has a penchant for borrowing folk or popular subjects, genres and media. This is not the gesture of appropriation art, because all he appropriates is the medium or the style: he does not take existing objects, ready-mades, and elevates them to the dimension of art, but digests everyday media and attitudes, and places them in the position of art.
It is not a unique endeavour to use old and new folk and popular motifs, media and subjects in a contemporary work of art, nor is it peculiar to today’s art. Pop Art was famously employing the strategy, but it can be traced back even further. The very ideology of Pop Art was based on this principle, as it resorted now to popular media, now to popular subjects, for inspiration. However, those works of contemporary art that use popular media are prevented, by their very nature, from filling the same function as the original medium, because these objects tend to appear in, rather than outside, galleries; they are treated as works of art, not as objects of use. Folk art has not ceased to live with us, there is something we can call contemporary folk art. Its distinguishing feature is the lack of an identifiable author, and its manifestations include jokes, the use of certain computer characters in certain situations, or internet blogs where users are allowed to comment under nicknames. In essence, pop culture differs only because of its identifiable authorship; other than that, both forms of culture have the same roots, rely on the same experiences. Street art is somewhere between the two, but we do not need to decide on its exact position to consider Rácmolnár’s art.
What gives a somewhat post-romantic character to the early works (1989-1992) is that each has a protagonist, a hero. Such is Houdini szabadulásprodukciója hat a tömegek szabadulásvágyára (Houdini’s escape act influences the masses’ desire for freedom), Kolombusz Kristóf megcsókolja az Újvilág földjét (Christopher Columbus kisses the earth in the New World), Gábor Imre egy Chevrolet-nek támaszkodik Havannában (Imre Gábor leaning against a Chevrolet in Havana), or the Schwarzenegger pieces, whose hero was at the time still the muscular icon of pop culture, as the titles also indicate: Be Schwarzenegger!; Harcoló zombie és Schwarzenegger (Schwarzenegger fighting zombie); Mr. Univerzum fürdik a saját fényében (Mr. Universe bathes in his own light). In these, Rácmolnár dispenses with even the most elementary rules of academic representation, and approaches his subjects in the manner of a naive artist from the turn of the millennium.
It was at this time that he started his wall hanging series, which he made in collaboration with his wife, Judit Hetényi. They updated classic kitchen wall hangings with contemporary brand names and advertising slogans, as those of Coca-Cola, Camel and Henkel. The type these works evoke dates back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, usually featuring a mawkish scene, lovers or a housewife, with commentary in the form of adages or short verses.
One part of the series entitled Call me! also refers back to these folk wall hangings. Or rather, these are contemporary paraphrases, contemporary content in an old medium. The other half of the series uses mixed techniques to reflect on sex advertisements, both their content – woman as a commodity –, and their representational topos, the bare genitalia. While the works with mixed techniques possess the charming awkwardness of naive art, the textiles are both imitating folk wall hangings, and referring back to traditional female handcraft through their pedantic needlework and rich ornamentation.
Rácmolnár began to build the private pseudo-mythology he calls Guinness Record Mythology in 1998. In it, he turns grotesque, extreme phenomena into art, as the largest stick insect on Earth (Borneói óriás kalligráfiával [Borneo giant with calligraphy]), the word to contain the most consonants (Gvprtskvnis), or the cricket spitting contest of Scottish schoolchildren.
In the Dingbats series he began in 2000, he uses computer symbols. Using them like objets trouvés, he creates unique text-images. The world of dingbats is also building a pseudo-mythology, in a variety of styles, with diverse techniques.
His Csendgyűjtemény (Silence collection) is a special group of dingbats, which he made for the thematic exhibition Bartók’s Bugs, an event in 2007 that reflected on the composer’s passion for insect collection. The series has vinyl LPs for its medium, in itself an authentic representation of Bartók’s oeuvre. The dingbat bugs, engraved in the vinyl and built from musical notes and instruments, consciously evoke Wayang shadow-puppets.
In the most recent pictures, the former, usually angular elements have given way to curvy, ornamental ones. This may be the ultimate step in removing the symbols from their original contexts, emphasizing that these common signs now function as art. The works feature fantastic creatures which are made up of tiny details, and which make a humorous impression with their charming-horrific heads while being engaged in playful activities (e.g. badminton) – which is to say the pictures have an increasingly narrative character. These two together – charming horror and narrativity – almost turn these collections of everyday signs into cartoons, Rácmolnár’s own manga.
Rather than appropriation art, Rácmolnár’s seizure and use of objects could be described as postproduction in the sense advanced by Bourriaud. “The artists of postproduction invent new uses for works of art when including the audio or visual forms of the past in their own constructs.” (Nicolas Bourriaud: Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World. New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2000.)
The transformation of media
Sándor Rácmolnár’s pictures
Text by: phd. Andrea Bordács
Layout: Gábor Gerhes
Content: 86 + 4 pages, with 58 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2008
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