Hypothesis: Everything is Leaf

exhibition review by Péter György
Élet és Irodalom, volume LXVI, issue 39, 30 September 2022

The word ‘scale’ in relation to Tamas Dezsö’s exhibition can be primarily connected to the radical interpretation of the history of Time and not to spatial enlargement or, on the contrary, reduction. Tamas Dezsö had already recorded the traces of human history earlier with the dramatic images of relentless objectivity in the volume Notes for an Epilogue published as a joint work with Eszter Szablyár’s essay and texts, and Zalán Péter Salát’s design. Among other aspects it presents the entire and entirely absurd blindness of state socialism in connection with environment protection, as well as the horrific images of post-socialist ruins. I mention all this before writing about the present exhibition because the issue of Time is already present there in the dual nature of socio-historical chronology and the irredeemable ecological devastation: the issue of the duality of the metamorphosis of centuries in the millennia of post-human existence, namely the issue of scale change.

The exhibition presents and offers several images existing in parallel by time, yet it is not confined to a single view, i.e. it absolutely avoids exclusiveness. As far as possible it allows visitors to interpret issues by various scales, thus presenting them the experience of constructive confusion, which by the way is known as an important aesthetic experience of our age. Namely, we don’t proceed from image to image on the basis of an art concept, but we can see several, really fascinating images which can be also interpreted as abstractions. So the exhibition is teaching without doctrines and thus indeed at several points it shares the change of doctrine created by aesthetic and philosophical issues which are sensitive to the contemporary ecological catastrophe in so far as besides the posthistoire – and at most instead of it – the criticism of post-humanism and anthropocene notion with an acting horizon has appeared, which involves the possibility of worlds after the world created by human history.

The title of the exhibition refers to that very sophisticatedly: “Such  is man: a unique sample. No more like him. Not now or in the past, no two leaves are in the same form cast.” (Dezső Kosztolányi: Necrology, tr. Judit Meződi). The situation is that Tamas Dezsö does not regard it purely as a quotation and a metaphor, but as the fundamental issue of the exhibition, the truth of the spectacle. The 122 x 152.5 cm black and white enlargement of the Leaf (Deutzia Gracilis)of 2019 depicts the leaf of a slim, young lily of the valley. The uniqueness on the leaf itself, just as on the enlargement made of that individuality, becomes visible. And what is even more remarkable and stirring is where it can be seen – as if it were in the universe, under the starry sky, which has nothing to do with either human history,  or its space and its chronology. So Tamas Dezsö’s several other enlargements partly make Kosztolányi’s metaphor the object of discoveries. Thus such are the enlargements of the Forest made with a similar technique, in which we can identify only from the details that we indeed see a forest. The two closely connected 155x250 cm photographs taken in 2018 can be anything so to say: abstract pictures whose rhythm, repetitions and fine hues are indeed autonomous works. Their origin can be detected and recognized only in the enlargements.

The comparison of the stories of Time and its presentation in one work is one of the most complex pieces of the exhibition, which really evokes serious interest. Antique herbs moved by antique metronomes on a table can be seen in the Garden of Persistence of 2020 - 2022. Tamas Dezsö’s interpretation is especially important in this case: “Vegetal and human chronology is not identical. The essence of human ontology does not originate from our life itself but its finiteness. Plants are not aware of their own finiteness and therefore they completely subordinate their existence to life itself. Human time awareness is confused and heterogeneous, in addition human beings are never identical with themselves: our chronology is nothing other than continuous planning, the constant projection of our self into the future...” And on the table the plants in the metronomes are moving, i.e. the artist co-ordinates the two histories and time, which he himself separated in his comment.

Tamas Dezsö has not made a final and especially not a fatal decision about human existence and anthropocene norms. He has not separated all that he presents in a museum whose space and relationship to time go round and refer to the issue of historicity. Variations on the Self is another, and also great example of this dual concept. The series consisting of 42 photographs depicts a bust carved from a block of marble by Gergő Ámmer and then the continuation of carving when the face which had turned into a precise, realist-classicist bust from the marble becomes or changes into a slowly unrecognizable wreck, an abstract statue which reminds the viewer of the original but far smaller block. The portrait presents Ludwig Wittgenstein of whom Austrian sculptor Michael Drobil sculpted an unfortunately and similarly kitschy bust between 1926 and 1928. The real question is of course why Tamas Dezsö regarded Wittgenstein with so much attention, so much work and complicated narrative. “The point here is not that our sense-impressions can lie, but that we understand their language. (And this language like any other is founded on convention.)” Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations, 355.

After changing the bust carved from the marble block into a damaged “antique statue”, i.e. placing it into another era, and then its further destruction by replacing it from human history to natural time ends the series, as if it revealed the fundamental issues of the exhibition while at the same time seeming to close it. It may not be needless to recall another author at this point whom it would be impossible not to mention in relation to memory and time. “By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon.” (Proust: In Search of Lost time, Time Regained) From here on, visitors have nothing else to do but look ahead and then at the Wittgenstein statue. What Tamas Dezsö teaches is nothing less than the relationship between parallel realities, fictions, great narratives, certainties and facts. Their image simultaneously questions and approves our convictions. I cannot decide whether he is right; as if he himself was not sure about how everything we know, what we mistook and what we have not recognized is and will be. One thing is sure: only a few have raised and even fewer have answered such complicated philosophical and autognostic questions so precisely and with such enthralling visual accomplishments. It is a serious achievement to address the issues of anthropocentrism with an exhibition like Everything is Leaf and proves what an open-mindedly deliberated hypotheses is worth. I would draw the readers’ attention to Béla Kondor’s late photographic works. I have been looking for their subsequent echoes for years and now at last I have found them.