Hypothesis: Everything is Leaf 

curatorial text by István Virágvölgyi

Robert Capa Contemporary Center
September 22, 2022 – March 12, 2023

In his latest work Tamas Dezsö investigates the personal identity of all living creatures, including humans. What is the mysterious and inexplicable link that connects personalities of all living entities throughout life? We are in constant change physically: similarly to other living beings, almost all molecules of a human body turn into new ones continuously. We are also in constant transformation intellectually: our way of thinking changes throughout our whole life. So what, then, is identity? How can we identify ourselves as the very same person all along despite these changes? Looking at ourselves at the ages of ten and fifty there is more difference than similarity. A seed and a tree with widely spreading branches grown from the seed do not apparently hold anything in common, yet we are talking about the same living organism.

Studying the issues of identity, Tamas Dezsö finds the metaphor of human existence in plants, which are built up from the same material and similar structures as ourselves. Every living being – whether human or nonhuman – is constituted by the same material, which is almost the same age as the universe. In other words, everything that is living represents a transitionary stage of an immense metamorphosis. The elements making up our bodies have already been parts of other bodies at a different place and time, and they are in us only temporarily: we are mediatory media of alien materials. So a separate environment does not exist, there are only various existing, living creatures in infinite forms.

A forest is constantly changing and undergoing millions of transformations – the leaves change, trees that make up the forest only live up to a few hundred years. However, despite that, even over millions of years, we speak about the same forest, provided it remains in the same location. How can we speak about the same forest when all its molecules have been replaced many times over the centuries?

Works by Tamas Dezsö represent a heterogeneous assembly, a kind of Wunderkammer. Initially they are presented from a great distance and reach microscopic proximity: from a far off view of a forest taking shape from millions of leaves in graphic detail to the tiniest part of the surface of an enlarged leaf. The species of a plant can be identified even by its microscopic part, yet no two identical entities exist, even if they are of the same species.

The title of the work quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who zealously researched the identity of plants and during his journeys he wrote in his diary: "Hypothesis: everything is leaf, and through this simplicity the greatest diversity becomes possible." Tamas Dezsö’s work is a collection of thought experiments whereby during the interpretation of the issues of identity, the question is emphatically raised whether it is possible to retune the anthropocentric approach which has marginalised vegetal existence for thousands of years. Why does the many-million-year-old vegetal existence constantly surrounding us seem so unknown and alien to us? While the complete elimination of arbitrary, anthropocentric classification has become of vital importance, is it possible to understand the radical difference of plants when it still appears hopeless to accept difference between human beings?

In relation to the ecological crisis it has become imperative that we handle plants in accordance with their significance, and alongside the troubling feeling of the constantly deepening delay, make serious efforts in order to understand not only human identity, but also the issues of fragile vegetal existence – and not merely because our own existence depends and relies on it.