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Haraszty István

As I was approaching István Haraszty's atelier house in Kispest (a real work of art!), my main concern was to investigate how the "brain" of an artist so permanently and intimately close to his material. How does he equate or differentiate living and inorganic material, man and machine, life and art?


István Haraszty: - I have lately imagined a ball moving on a disc, bumping into an obstacle it has to overcome without damage; that is, it has to go round it on one side without falling off the disc. The magnetic fields emerge in my head, I see the lines of force driving away the ball - and I realize them. Once I'd got over this problem and sensed it had turned out well, I thought I would now create a track for another ball that would avoid confrontation; instead of bumping into the obstacle it goes out of its way much sooner, returning to its usual track on the other side. I started at 7 in the morning and by 9 I had already tested two versions; but the ball's behaviour was intolerable in both cases: avoid the target though it did, get back on its track it just wouldn't; it continued on a narrower circuit, not to meet the obstacle ever again. It took me two days to devise a barrier structure that deflected the ball, which now made a semi-circle and continued its intended track again, going round and round like that.

Zsuzsa Dárdai: - Your art is induced by movement.

IH: - That I should make my sculptures move is an instinct I've brought with me since my childhood. When, at around 8 years of age, I was explained how electricity works, I could visualize clearly how the electrons moved on the surface of the wire, as they push one another, and from this pushing and shoving is produced that which gives me a shock. Movement has always been so obvious to me! It is here in this spoon, there is movement in it, the atoms cling to one another, so when I put down a teaspoon, I do it very gently, so that I don't disturb the electrons. Or I just never put my nice dear lighter next to coins because I know it always leads to quarrels: the paint is scratched from my precious. One or the other will be scratched, whichever is the weaker and softer. I honour one in one pocket and the other in another - I know these two things just mustn't be allowed to fight one another.
I treat the world the same way. I see the same sources of friction in people, in my friends, in my peers, and always try to reduce them to the minimum. I prefer siding with the weaker because I feel weakness is always spotted by the other - "this one is scratchable, so I'll etch something into their soul so that it'll hurt forever." This scratching, this clawing might even be accidental and unintentional. I'd rather hug the one with the one arm of mine and the other with the other so that they just cannot fight, as such skirmishes harm both parties.

ZsD: - I've got the odd feeling that you somehow recognize human features on the basis of your awareness of materials.

IH: - Precisely. My "Brain Cannon" in the National Gallery dealt with exactly that point: I made 96 balls of varying size, the largest was "Kádár," then the Communist functionaries, the politicians of "greater impact," and then the simple "lamplighters," one of whom I also considered myself; these were the most numerous - they ran various courses, collided, sometimes entered lifts, went up a level and rolled back again. There was even a free choice: if 4 balls joined forces, they could lift a larger one. I added simple stories to each one of them so that I could speak about them and model my relation to Socialism and my opinion about it in this structure.

ZsD: - I meant the other way round, that your material awareness, your knowledge of physical phenomena - attraction, repulsion, avoidance - were the laws that you saw verified in people.

IH: - There's no contradiction here. I begin with the impressions I get, I put them into cold steel, brass, bronze, plexi-glass, or electronics, and the material starts to "behave." The ball rolls on a straight track or accelerates if there is a slope, and humans do the same: going straight they move slowly and evenly, but if the road is lifted beneath them, their steps become faster, while on an incline they slow down. Just as the ball overcomes obstacles, people will do the same, in their own ways.

ZsD: - What happens if material doesn't obey but resists you?

IH: - It happens. The simplest example is two materials that I put next to one another, trying to attach them using a certain technique such as brazing, but one of them just refuses the other. I can heat and cleanse them as I will, add to them the dumper that should attract silver - and it simply won't work! My first reaction is anger. "The devil take you, why will you not accept silver to flow on you," I say to the material, "so that you may link to that bronze disc next to you! What kind of nasty material are you!" Then, all of a sudden, I say to myself that matter can only do what it is predestined to do; it can only accept that other material with which cohesion is a possibility. So I must be where the problem lies. so I sit down, smoke a cigarette, and think. Hang on a moment! It is either about oxidization or the quality of the gas, there's too much gas or too much oxygen - it must change. and then - just a little more of the wire brush, some more lubrication oil and they'll beautifully unite!
The same process applies to humans, too. If I would like to find the common denominator with someone, my previously imagined method may not work. If I notice that the connection fails and my strategy doesn't work out well, I must change and see what the other would like. If I can tolerate matter, so I must also do with my peer, another human being, or else the world won't work.
Magnet has a good attribute: two opposite magnets attach firmly, but if I turn one of them quickly, they'll push one another so fiercely that it's joy to see. In my sculptures I use both this process and the other. Once I've recognized the magnet and its two characteristics (attraction and repulsion) as a means of expression, I can see the same in people as well. But I'm not sure whether the magnet came first. If a human being can be attractive and repugnant, maybe it's the magnet that imitates us. another way to look at the question.


ZsD: - While you create in the abstract vein and use pure geometric forms, you represent life-like situations and figurative stories with your works. I feel a contradiction here. After all, the hobby-horse of constructive, geometric artists has, since the 1910s, been that "the work does not express anything, does not tell anything, it simply is: self-identical." While stories belong to literature, film, photography, or figurative painting.

IH: - A perplexing question. but then, even a straight line has expressive power! If a rigid chromium steel ball, a completely natural little orb in its reality, moves. the story is already there, whether you want it or not - to another person, or a third one, it'll mean something.
And so my "cicadas" all have something to express. The acrobats, for example: the tightrope dancer, the ship-rope dancer, the aerialist, the weightlifter, the by-cyclist, and so on - such are my naughty titles - show me the struggles of the individual; their movement, their striving for harmony.
Humans themselves are auto-motion objects, the way they make gestures, roll their eyes, move their toes, or their whatever - as long as we live, some part of our body always moves.
There was a time when my sculptures were described as rigid, constructive, alienating. I used to answer that human genius is incorporated in these sculptures, they show our love of work, our dexterity, our ability to create something new. These structures reveal that their maker is a thinking, creative person. I maintain that up to the present day and when I'm making my sculptures I notice unwittingly that someone's hand stirs, or someone is balancing on a tightrope. I won't start explaining what I thought when I was making this or another part, but I was thinking of it. These happenings are incessantly revolving in my brain.


ZsD: - They revolve in those different dimensions, in inner and outer time and space.

IH: - I don't make my bearings so accurately because I want them to function for long, but I'm happy to see how many revolutions they can make in space in a given span of time, and I'm on my toes to see if it can cope with even the ninth somersault. If it does, it moves the double of its own size nine times. All these snapshots are as many gestures, as many sculptures in space.
One somersault takes 15 seconds; taken 9 times, I get the result that in a given span of time I placed 9 somersaults in space. It is no little achievement that it makes those 9 somersaults while the other element makes the same, but contrary movement at the same time!
It is like when a 70-year-old man goes to his workshop in the morning and manages to stand next to a machine from 7 to 9 and concentrate on some 9 or 15 types of motions, co-ordinate them, and, due to that co-ordination, within 2 or 3 hours, his product is completed professionally. Plenty of knowledge and acquired experience are focused into one simple little disc with three shoulders set exactly to size, receiving the bearing that will revolve smoothly. To my mind, this is the simplest meaning of dimension.


ZsD: - Do you have any prior designs, ideas, plans before realizing a sculpture?

IH: - A sculpture's career might start at the "flea-market" where I find a component or form that inspires me. From the components I already have and the ones I get from the flea-market, something is born - I don't, as yet, know what. Sometimes, like now with you, I sit down with Éva ( the artist's wife ), we drink coffee, talk, and then when I go over to my atelier, I follow the homely discussion in the way I pull the drawers, I check what I've got, I estimate the capacity of my apparatus, I take out the components one by one, and so I formulate a design which, by the time the work is complete, has become something completely different.

ZsD: - That means you don't need no draw plans.

IH: - Now and then I may make a sketch so that, if I don't start straight away, I shouldn't forget the idea, but it may just as well happen that I begin working on a component on the milling cutter when I notice that I haven't set the shape exactly as I imagined; I wonder at that and understand that it's much better than what I've imagined and so I accept it.

ZsD: - Enter coincidence and forced decision.

IH: - And the readiness for compromise. which is a rather double-edged thing: sometimes I'm satisfied with a weaker solution and sometimes I listen to coincidence because it offers a much better solution than the original. The flea-market, the drawer, the coffee thoughts, the talks, the possibilities, that's no less than five aspects in making the sculpture. So there comes influencing; what Éva says, is she happy with it, or does she say it's a repetition, or weaker than one that's already been produced, and then I start improving, adding something, or taking something away, that's the way. You asked me what was going on in my head - well, all that.
70 per cent of creating the sculpture is mechanic. While milling the thought into its proper shape, one half of my brain is set free, what I do and what I think separate, and my new idea starts to emerge. But then you must also be aware of how, at a given moment, you relate to society, how you relate to your art friends, what is the "state of the art" around you, how what you're doing fits in. If it fits in too well, move it around to make it more (what I believe is more may not coincide with what my colleague believes).
When I was a child, an aunt of mine said to me, "Son, if you don't do any such thing in your life as you will regret, you'll be a happy man." Your life becomes perfect if you can make the right choice, the right decision at a difficult moment. If you know which of two options is right, which side you have to take. If you choose right consistently, your life is solved, your problems minimized, for a human being must first and foremost be reconciled to themselves if they want to live in peace with others. So if I choose the right tools, the right materials, the right thoughts to express, and the right friends, I'm successful, as such things surround me which I love. And if I treat well those whom and which I love, they begin to requite my love. Matter is shaped as I imagine it, the tool starts to work precisely the way my brain directs it. My friend will relate to me the way I relate to them: if they feel I love them, they will love me, too. All this makes my life more beautiful, it belongs to my life just like bronze, plexi-glass, my nickelized pliers, or a rusted lever.


IH: - Whether we live or die, movement remains. I never think of death, the forbidden realm. What I live in I am always happy with; I always rejoice in what is there at a given moment: a dear friend, a beautiful material, a good tool, a nice thought, a fine meal can all give me pleasure - whatever comes at the given moment.
Peace, quiet of the soul, these are the most important for me: spiritual balance, no unsettled affairs, no awkward moments beyond my control. I like those things which I feel my own radiance and possibilities can influence. Whatever is outside these, what I feel is beyond my own competence, something I can't change, I rather avoid; I feel it all alien. Just as I could never familiarize spark-chipping - simply because I've never had the opportunity to acquire such a machine.

Budapest, 2005
Zsuzsa Dárdai