Curator: Gerda SZEPLAKY

06.06. - 06.07.2014.
Exhibition space Reale Società Canottieri Bucintoro 1882 A.S.D.


Zsolt Berszán's artistic practice focuses on the issue of impermanence. The majority of the young artist's works investigate the possibility of an alternative genesis: they try to answer such questions as how life can be born in death, and what kinds of perspectives open up for the human being in the inhuman sphere of nature's eternal circulation. The exhibition at Venice unfolds another layer of this topic: What happens to the human body after death?
All around on the brick walls one can see Berszán's large graphic works and paintings. The sensitive, densely woven net of lines of his pencil drawings, and the powerful, structured surfaces of the oil-silicon pictures create a world revealing the traumas of the Holocaust and other mass massacres. Though these works are not figurative in the strict sense of the term, they do imply the lifeless forms of human corpses. In the centre of the exhibition space, close to the entrance and opposite to the reflective water surface of the canal, one finds the objects connected to the motif of water. There are organic forms reminiscent of human organs and limbs protruding from this undulating, reflective surface of the “water-tables” on steel stands in the water troughs. This is a powerful reflection of the town of Venice, which continuously reminds one of the duality of life and death. These are followed by the works representing strained bodies: the statues placed in steel frames look like derogatory body remains distorted beyond recognition. The concrete and black plastic objects remind one of coffins, yet the edges of these boxes seem to have been eroded by time: instead of angularity, one may recognize the contours of decaying human bodies. At the far end of the exhibition space, at the darkest place, one finds a site-specific installation. Entering this place, the visitor may experience the feelings of emptiness and solitude. It is as if the visitor found oneself in the enclosure of a coffin, where not only the vulnerable tissues of the human body decompose, but also the seemingly firm material of the coffin: the hardness of the wood turns into something black and wreathing.
The present exhibition focuses on the notion of decomposition in the context of the human body. The human body does not stay in one piece after death, it does not become transubstantiated and does not rise to the heavens, as the body of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ did: rather, it falls into pieces, gets rotten and destroyed. This is the ultimate trauma of human life. According to Berszán's works, history also consists of parables of decomposition, it is made of stories of wars, murders and stories of physical decay. His oil-silicon pictures, though they are inspired by Malevich's notion of reduction, are still figurative due to their powerful, structured surfaces. However, this figurativity is not based on identification, but rather on the deconstruction of the composition. Each and every work at the exhibition is black, even the objects made of concrete, metal or silicon. Here even water – which symbolizes life in general – evokes the thought of death. Yet, the effect is not only painful and horrible, but also cathartic and uplifting. Decomposition leads the spectator into the semantic field of the sacred, as it opens a path towards formulating the ultimate question: What happens to the human soul after death?

In 1913 Malevich reduced the whole human world to two colours. Black, which stands for the density of material, was placed in the context of white, which stands for infinity. A few decades later black was born to a life of its own: in the 1950's the painters of American abstract expressionism recognized in it the possibility of signifying transcendence, and started to treat it as a “holy colour.” In case of the contemporary artists of black painting the reduction of colour is still accompanied by the abstraction of objectless representation. This holds true for Berszán as well.
The large graphic works and paintings exhibited here, however, are not entirely nonfigurative. The subtle differences in shade between black and grey seem to evoke human forms in hardly noticeable ways. The sensitive, densely woven lines of the pencil works, and the powerful, structured surfaces of the oil-silicon paintings create compositions that may remind one of the shapes of human corpses. Moreover, these lifeless limbs lying around seem to be heaped together. This aspect of Berszán's works makes them go beyond the trauma of the individual human body's decay: by way of evoking the narratives of the Holocaust and other historical massacres, they also remind the visitor of the historical traumas preserved in our collective memory. 
Berszán approaches painting as a sculptor: on the one hand, he creates a two-dimensional visual composition, but on the other, he produces pronounced facture and spatial surfaces. By leading his works back to their own “flatness,” he eventually follows the kind of painterly self-criticism defined by Clement Greenberg. As the back silicone he borrows from the construction industry – his favourite material, the trademark of his practice – can only be applied in layers, in case of the oil-silicon paintings his method necessarily leads to reliefs. The structurality of his surfaces is partly created by the application of several layers, and partly by the way he puts the silicone on the canvas, as a result of his twisting bands. These processes and methods lead to a visual world that constantly evokes the organic forms of human limbs and inner organs. Yet, the condensed brands of silicone are accompanied on the canvas by the smeared stains of oil paint, representing decomposition, the dissolve of forms. The dramatic quality of these works stem from the conflict between the end-points of the world: these troubled surfaces host such contrasts as that of form and formlessness, roughness and smoothness, saturation and emptiness – life and death. In the process of the decomposition of the decaying body these essentially different qualities of the world are continuously conflicted and depicted.
oil on canvas, 140x200cm, 2014
oil on canvas, 140x200cm, 2014
oil on canvas, 200x140cm, 2014
graphite on paper, 140x200cm, 2013
graphite on paper, 140x200cm, 2013


Berszán builds up the immediate environment of objects around his bodies made of black silicone: tubs, tables, beds, a room framed by iron bars. He surrounds the forms reminiscent of human bodies with a realistic space, and places it in a specific situation, thus producing environments that may call to mind Georges Segal's groups of sculptures or Edward Kienholz's object-collages. However, as opposed to the realism of these genre-forming artists, Berszán produces stylized human forms: the contours of the body – following the picturesque gestures of the paintings on the walls – are drawn by the layered bands of silicone. The enclosing spaces, similarly to the frames of classic board paintings, function as boundaries: they cut out the represented object (the human being) from the real world. These enclosing spaces also serve as a medium that holds, albeit at the price of fixing the floating bodies, that is, stretching them in these frames. The rusty steel structures of the spatial frames especially highlight the stretching wires, the screws and rollers, those technical devices that contrast the reduced, black, abstract human forms, and express the power of gravity on physical existence. The sight of these stretched beings necessarily evokes the pictures of the iconographic tradition of Christ's crucifixion.
The biomorph body-fragments are presented in tubs filled with water and in “water-tables” on stands: the decaying forms of human organs and limbs protrude from an undulating, reflective surface. The concrete and black plastic objects remind one of coffins, yet the edges of the box shapes seem to have eroded: instead of angularity, one encounters the outlines of decomposing human bodies. The site-specific installation enlarges and repeats the motifs of the spatial frame and the coffin. Yet, when the visitor enters the enclosing box of the installation, one does not meet the hardness of wood (or any other firm building material), but rather the squirming fibres of black silicone bands. 
All the objects exhibited here represent decomposing bodily forms. These are no longer real objects, but rather “collapsed objects.” These are bodily remains that twist one's proper selfhood, as they force us to face our own demise. As Julia Kristeva puts it in one of her essays: “The corpse, the most terrifying waste, forms a boundary that reaches everything. Here I am not the one who makes something abject: become abject.”

aluminium, black silicone, bitum, polyurethane foam, water, 200x100x30cm, 2009
metal, bitum, polyurethane foam, water, oil, 180x90x90cm, 2014
metal structure, polyurethane foam, black silicone, wire, 270x90x90cm, 2014
metal structure, polyurethane foam, black silicone, wire, 190x200x90cm, 2014
aluminium structure, black silicone, polyurethane foam, 240x60x200cm, 2014
black plastic, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, black oil, black silicone, 200x100x80cm, 2013
INSTALLATION, wood structure, black silicone, polyurethane foam, wire guard, black oil, 500x240x300cm, 2014 (detail)
INSTALLATION, wood structure, black silicone, polyurethane foam, wire guard, black oil, 500x240x300cm, 2014 (detail)
INSTALLATION, wood structure, black silicone, polyurethane foam, wire guard, black oil, 500x240x300cm, 2014 (detail)