“Pack Up Everything…”
Ilona Németh’s solo exhibition is a continuation of the artist’s long-term quest, which delves into her family chronicle and carves out moments of politics incessantly interfering in individual lives. Her immediate surroundings – objects, characters, and events – often serve as starting points for video and photographic works, alongside appropriated or manufactured pieces.
The exhibition was first installed at SODA Gallery Bratislava traveling now to Knoll Gallery Budapest and introduces three distinct personal narratives, each represented by three furniture pieces from their inventories. Originating from different periods of the 20th century, the tables each bear witness to their owner’s destinies, their unfulfilled or achieved aims, and changes in the political climate around them.
The artist’s choice of specific objects as reflections upon individual narratives and universal concerns might remind us of Arjun Appadurai’s seminal article The Thing Itself (2006), and of his “idea that persons and things are not radically distinct categories.” Human and other material subjects are entangled and equally defined by their transactions and social relations. A person may take on the status of an object when excluded from prevailing legal systems, while a person’s belongings reflect his or her status within society. In a world of global networks and assymetric relationships, people on the move constantly face the question of what they can take and what they need to leave behind.
In Németh’s work, the objects find a new role embedded in the illusion of permanence in the art realm – at least for the time being. The title piece of the exhibition “Pack up Everything . . .“ (2016) shows a table revealing the context of wealthy farmers cultivating their own land with their families. The work returns to the post-War times of reckonings and deportations across the re-strengthened and re-defined Mid-European borderlines. Families of Hungarian national descent living in the Czechoslovak province were collectively marked as war criminals; many people were denied their citizenship, often facing deportation and forced labor. A robust, manly sound pounds relentlessly from the very center of the installation, carried further in the rattling cutlery. It may refer a distinct voice opposing the course of history, or perhaps the heartbreak of resignation and surrender.
A more modest furniture model of Czechoslovak design inhabits the exhibition space on the left. Bit by bit, the shiny tabletop slides over and returns, engulfed by wallpaper full of meticulous calculations, endless tides of taxes and allowances. 17 567 2 850 5 (2016) is a portrait of a household in numbers, brought down to the bottom line of the person’s or family’s accounting. It bears the marks by the owner, a poor post WW2 refugee who left the Czechoslovak territory for Budapest and managed an economical living based on the socialist regime’s possibilities.
The central piece of the exhibition allows glimpses into the life of the artist’s own father from two different periods. Jenő Németh is first seen at the top of his carrier a former leading representative of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, guiding a delegation through the Flora Bratislava, 1971 (2012). Posthumously, the image appears as a depiction of Vanitas, a symbol of transiency set in a deceptive system of absurd rites with seemingly floating, flowery bubbles in the recently demolished Park of Culture and Relaxation. The Negotiating Table. 1991 (2014) belonged to the same person, resembling the acts of change by movements triggered by the audience. Its resilience of opening and closing, enfolding and shattering stands as a fragile reminder of how history and chance may take their turn.
The stories of the Past told through an arsenal of enchanted tables are not only landmarks of personal beliefs and anxieties, but speculations on the possibilities of these roles being altered. Are we left with the subjugated role of experiencing history as it unfolds or can we become actors, agents and dissidents ourselves?
Curator: Krisztina Hunya
In cooperation with Soda Gallery, Bratislava