DÓRA HEGYI:

Explain a Line What a Ball Is

 

The artists invited in the series Explain a line what a ball is (the title comes from a Budapest graffiti) consider drawing an important aspect of their activity, either as a work in its own right, or as a sketch, or as part of an installation. The exhibitions wish to turn drawing, work on paper - unduly unappreciated on the Hungarian art marker and hence in collections - into the subject of intimate, but all the more intensive, encounters for the audience. The series of drawing exhibitions found the ideal venue in the Herman Hall of the Fészek Klub. Small and central in location, in the artists' club of Budapest, which has been reborn several times during its century of history, this space is a peculiar inclusion in the life of the city. Opening in the former ghetto in 1901, the once imposing building of the club gives a colourful testimony to the succession of ages, with an eclectic, historicizing faćade typical of the turn of the century and now bearing the marks of socialism, and an interior design and furnishing from the 1960's and 1970's. A programme that selects from all forms of art, musical evenings, a cards club, actors' and illusionists' club meetings, the exhibitions, the restaurant and the bar which is open into the wee hours, make an anachronistic impression in a neighbourhood where change is always for the worse. The location adds extra layers of meaning to the chamber exhibition of drawings, putting them between inverted commas and lifting them from the current art life of the city.

"I would like to be good"

Drawing has been a constant presence in Róza El-Hassan's work. Studying her drawings, we can follow her course from sublimated content towards ever more concrete political meaning. Her drawings are distillations, concentrations of thought and emotion, sometimes entire surface is filled, as if driven by a horror vacui, featuring varied ideas and contents side by side.

The paradox objects typical of the first half of the 1990's were later replaced by the stretched objects series, which the artist exhibited in the company of the preparatory sketches. Linked to the former in form and content, the later net-drawings can be considered as connected networks, which may in fact reference the real network of connections with South-East European and other foreign artists and curators, a network built at international exhibitions and via the worldwide web, becoming very important in El-Hassan's life by the second half of the 1990's. The system-forming nets later turned into tangles suggestive of chaos and concentrated energy, which would reach their apogee in the Hungarian pavilion of the 1997 Venice Biennale, where the artist also drew on the walls. (Cf. also Mala Galerija, Ljubljana.) In recent years, parallel with the growing significance of the question of identity, acknowledging political responsibility was becoming an ever more important issue in her art, as in R. Thinking/Dreaming About Overpopulation, a series of performances, sculptures and drawings, begun in 1999.

Róza El Hassan's exhibition occupied not only the Herman Hall, but other parts of the building as well. The videos of the Blood Donation performances and the related drawings document years of taxing work. Between 2001 and 2003 El-Hassan organized public blood donation events, where she herself was lying on the much-publicized picture of Yasser Arafat giving blood to support9/11 relief efforts, as she was giving blood to the local Red Cross. The interpretation of this symbolic gesture varies with the local conditions, and she acknowledges reactions to the given context. In the video documenting the Zurich performance, she is leafing through her own notes, which either contain political symbols (e.g. the peace sign, the symbol of shalom, etc.), or consist of short texts in pencil, which cooperate with the drawings in representing personal and political statements. The statement chosen to be the title of this text- "I would like to be good" - appears on one of El-Hassan's drawings, and allows several layers of interpretation, from a personal reading through the acknowledgment of a collective guilt to a call for political consciousness, and highlights the complex nature of identity, which compels the artist to continuously reconsider it.

Edition Fészek Klub, Budapest, 2005