Residency Unlimited (RU), New York - 2014

Work plan of Csaba Nemes

Painting as protest?
(extract of the application)

I have been focusing with my artworks on politically or socially connected topics in the last ten years, these protests - and the position, that has raised up with them - brought new attributes to my artistic activities and practices. As a member of the pro-democratic groups I have acquired a lot of fascinating experiences and a new perspective of social cooperations has opened for me.

I work with different genres, such as technical based medias: drawing and painting. Due to the fact that the activist-manifestations are primarily - and declared - politically connected artworks, the members of the groups do not produce artworks, despite there is usually a visual representation or result of these actions and protests. The members of these groups are from different fields of the contemporary art scene: artists, curators, and critics. It is not common, that someone is from the field of painting... Maybe it is also the reason for the lack of the pictorial elements, and that the forms of expression have a more medial character. The usage of text is dominant, the actions have a performative feature and the Internet based appearance is realized by videos and digital graphics. Paragraphs, personal gestures could be visible only when we write the protest signs. Maybe it is not exaggeration to say, that the character of the activist protests nowadays in Hungary is more in connection with the traditions of conceptual and neo-conceptual Hungarian art, than with the pictorial. ...

There are several reasons for neglecting the pictorial interpretations. A significant part of the painters is not convenient with the public appearance, and they do not interpret activism as a practice or form that is compatible with the pictorial – studio-work based profession, and the process of creation and its traditions. Therefore these pictorial traditions are not presented in these groups. On the other hand, most of the artist-activist members are against the (art)market and a minority is maybe against the institutions as well. According to these interpretations, painting is a market-oriented media (due to the fact that it has a material) and it is not radical enough, not progressive enough in terms of its phraseology. ...

... There have been several attempts in Hungary in the last few years to reinterpret the classical, strict categories of genres, and to involve them into a democratic discourse. The widening of the genre of theater and its tools of expression is a good example for it (forum theater, legislative theater, world café method, invisible theater, etc.). Why couldn’t it be done with painting as well? Why couldn’t be paintings the shapers of communities? Such practices are not unknown in the history of contemporary art. ...

During the program of Residency Unlimited, I would like to research the forms of how the American civil political movements and labour unions could involve the opportunities and specialties of expression with the genre of painting. I would like to search the specifics of painting: how could it be still popular in today’s digital and massively mediated societies such as in the USA? And could it influence the self-expressive motifs of communities? I would like to focus also on the practices and opportunities of activism in the field of painting. How could be the institutional background of contemporary art (museums and galleries) used in activism? Which traditions and roots has painting in relation with activism in the 20th century (protests, demonstrations)? After the residency program, I would like to share and spread the results of my research in the activist scene in forms of workshops and presentations. And as a possible result of it, I would like to make it more popular. In addition, I would like to form an open group, which uses courageously the special tools of painting and would encourage partnerships between activists and civil movements.

Csaba Nemes