Ákos Birkás - An impossible conversation

Ákos Birkás, Identity, 2011, oil on canvas, 140x260 cm

Opening: Wednesday, 09th November 2011, 7 pm
Exhibition lasts until 7th Jannuary 2010

Ákos Birkás has recently arrived at a critical turning point in his career. He has the will to make a move forward in painting, to put more effort into creating a situation in which the viewer gets more involved in the philosophical context that he is living in.

We know Birkás as a painter whose interest is related to press photographs. His “takeovers” are painted versions of images from international political and economic magazines that he finds interesting. This underlines his general interest in political life, global economic tendencies, demographic and ethical questions, and the artist’s role that must react as an intellectual with consciousness to these developments.

Birkás worked until now in the intellectual space between painting and photography as a medium, where the metaphorical change of the selected iconic photographs was his basic interest. With the search of meaningful images, he selected typical characteristic photos of our age. By painting them in a free but realistic way, he changed their character. They appeared as paintings with every problem and aspect of the medium and had their subjects chosen from politically descriptive images. Birkás did not react with these works on the media and had no criticism about what we see, instead focusing our attention on special topics that define our world of today. 

The new series presented at this show tries to extend his painted transcriptions of photographs toward media criticism. In the disturbance of determining meanings from the source photographs, Birkás decided to change the context of the works by painting texts on the surfaces of the images.

Related to the references of texts on images, his interest is in the wobbliness of the relation of a picture and the words. The viewer of such an artwork tries to find contact between the meaning of the read text and the seen painted press photograph. As we are aware of the presentation of the images of global and local questions, immediately the text becomes an explanation, though it is not related to the situation seen on the canvas.
The inspiration of this series is crucial. The latest readings of leftist philosophers of the artist lead him to a new excitement in the facts of how theory can change politics, economy and media at certain points of history. Such a situation today led him to include texts on the paintings – inspired by authors in an intellectual environment where the only exciting theoretical activity for Birkás can be found on the side of the leftist thinkers. By questioning stereotypes and behavior, these philosophers (Jean Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Chantal Mouffe) lead to propositions  and solutions which can change the way we think about the present and the future.

Birkás’s recent reading of Alain Badiou’s the Second Manifesto for Philosophy – a theoretical summary of the author on how philosophy could be revitalized – plays an important role in the creation of the new paintings and sketches presented in this exhibition.

To put together the theoretical consciousness with the awareness of images his solution is the use of Alain Badiou’s quotations, which have a reference-like relation with the paintings. Thus a parallelism is created in which the meeting of the two genres gives a connotation of overlapping meanings in our minds. We can experience the destabilization of the texts and the images as well: While at first sight we recognize a painted surface showing a media image and getting closer we can read the philosophical quotation in relation with the scene, neither of them gets us closer to understanding the other. The meaning of the artwork is somewhere else, related to our experiences and knowledge.

In the end, Birkás also assumes the question of what the function and role of a painting in the context of today’s art should be. As one of the oldest mediums, painting has an unbreakable  connection with its history, with art as technical perfection performed by the artists themselves – it is a note – but also the responsibility of how the created image will be perceived.  His opinion is that the painting is only interesting if it is possible to watch for a longer time. As such it must have many layers, from color arrangements to composition toward what and how it represents until the final meaning which cannot be transparent for at first sight. If an artwork can have different readings in different contexts and times, it can fulfill its mission.

Text: Petrányi Zsolt