Beautiful is Beautiful
Kisterem / BUDAPEST (Hungary)
11.02.2021 – 19.03.2021

What’s beautiful is beautiful. Because the ordinary can be like a painting, the everyday like poetry, reality like a fairytale. The things that, in normal life, tend to get mislaid, roll away and go missing, live a fleeting existence. They are transient yet familiar, though we rarely give them a second thought at special moments (except, perhaps, for birthday candles). If they are not there, however, we soon notice. Where’s the craft knife? The sunflower seeds are all gone! But even in their absence, do we truly perceive such objects. Judit Fischer looks out for them on behalf of all of us: she keeps her eye open for tiny little objects, and diligently paints portraits of them. Again and again, for more than ten years now, with downright impudence. If we added it all up, we would be faced with a quite peculiar world, in which every little throwaway item takes on new meaning. A topsy-turvy world, a bright kaleidoscope of colours, all shook up. Like a comfy, handknitted pullover, that we know literally inside-out: the hidden stitches, the knots and loops, the seams and the cross-threads. These are what hold the pullover together and keep us warm on chilly days. Dice, bubblegum balls, cheese triangles and twiglets, table football figures, slime balls, birthday candles and biscuits, marbles, paper clips, lollipops and bear-shaped bath sponges, compact mirrors, plastic pattern blocks, sunflower seeds and craft knives. Lego bricks, toilet roll tubes, multicoloured pompoms and rubber bands, sponge fingers, paint blocks, paper bags, sausages, dog food and earbuds. Virtually anything.

Fischer’s new works build on this universe and take it further: in objects, in perspective, in colour and in technique. Watercolour, paper weaving, and latch hooking. One segment of the works carries on her own long-standing tradition of creating a miniature inventory of the barely seen humdrum world: sewing pins, whipped-cream chargers, cassette tapes, cake candles, pingpong balls, pencils and doodles. Then there are things you can eat, like strawberries, chocolate bars, and those strange animal-shaped biscuits; and plants, like ears of wheat, daisies, clover, pine cones and sprigs of thuja. And the transitory lives of things: the plastic stirrer given with a takeaway coffee, the plasticine figure and the lump of plasticine – things with names that are based not on consensus, but on experience. And then there are those extreme accessories of our boundless, over-supplied consumer culture, like the scissors with the iridescently shiny unicorn, and another hybrid, the likewise iridescently shiny make-up brush with a mermaid’s body. (Capturing them in words involves taking a big deep breath.) And finally there are the tiny children’s toys, whose abundance in the collection clearly proves that Fischer’s inventory records are written by life. Wherever we go, whatever we come across (or step on) can form the subject of an artwork. And now her series of portraits of bric-a-brac is joined by pixelated watercolours made with the paper-weaving technique, and by another traditional women’s handcraft based on a pattern of grids: the latch-hook rug.

If we consider the works from the perspective of the depicted world, what clearly comes to mind is the snappy, oft used, but usually decontextualised phrase: small is beautiful. (Beautiful is Beautiful.) This was the title of a 1973 book by the German-born British economist E. F. Schumacher, which can be interpreted as a manifesto against gigantism: in the author’s view, the world needs to undergo a radical shift of scale in order to keep functioning. Schumacher’s text is in fact a theory of labour (which is much criticised nowadays), but besides the utility of work, he also advocates the importance of creative activity that fulfils one’s personality: this involves direct contacts, technical skills, non-violence, local systems, and individual satisfaction. It is a romantic, idealistic manifesto, often referred to as Buddhist economics – and it was indeed influenced by Buddhism. But it was also inspired by the sweeping critical ideas of the sixties and seventies, like feminism, anti-colonialism, individualism, and criticism of economic megasystems. Small is Beautiful was written in the early seventies, when the energy crisis prompted the first wave of anti-globalisation, so its romantic worldview and poetic language can be seen in a vastly broader context. Its title, meanwhile, is charmingly cunning and impertinent.

What seems at first sight trivial and jocular turns out on closer inspection to be also utterly serious. This is Judit Fischer’s endless balancing act. For years now she has tested the limits she can go to. It seems there are none. When we think she must have everything accounted for, she comes up with newer and newer items to turn into part of this world. And she need not venture far for her models – she can just bend down and pick them up. This practice has much in common with what is usually termed autoethnography, a sort of process of self-documenting, one important element of which is a personal understanding of one’s own surroundings, while the other is a biographical approach towards objects. A thrilling form of this is when the main characteristic of objects is not the time condensed into them – that is, not things that simply hold memories (grandma’s shoes, great-grandma’s watch) –, but their quick, unnoticed everyday use. Yet noticing these ubiquitous somethings, as they go about their banal lives, is an art in itself. Autoethnography as a social scientific method is basically a narrative technique: personal histories and things (words and objects) together describe the personal character of the quotidian, the person’s “own” model of everyday reality. Judit Fischer’s portraits of odds and ends operate in a similar way: their narrative nature is created not only by words, but by paper, paint and water, and by the process of listing and classifying.

The visual milieu of the more-or-less to-scale objects has changed, however: while the object portraits in Fischer’s earlier pictures were placed against a white backdrop, the new ones are surrounded by water-soaked colour environments. They still float, of course, but what they float in front of is not a realistic background (table, shelf, carpet) but a hypothetical colour world. The fictive background places a sort of installation-like setting around the items, as though they were in a museum. The sense of reality remains strongly present in the works, but at the same time it dissolves in them, and this process takes on a new brilliant twist with the addition of the two other techniques (paper weaving, latch-hook rug).

Paper weaving and latch hooking, however, are not just different creative methods, but also different generational experiences: probably we did paper weaving as children, whereas latch hooking was the pastime of our parents and grandparents. Both these threading techniques break down reality even further, into pixels. This activates a different way of seeing: something we mostly did in childhood, squinting with our eyes almost closed into slits, so as to bring fragmented shapes closer to reality. And this is tied together with the different genres that feature in the exhibition: the watercolour pictures, the pixelated paper-woven landscapes, and the massive rug. The backgrounds are more than just surfaces, for they provide the content with context. They too have to be painted, cut up and turned into strips, or looped with a crochet hook. The common denominator is that all three processes are immensely manual and objective. On the other hand, they all have very different temporal aspects: whereas watercolour is (relatively) quick and latch hooking is (very) slow, paper weaving lies somewhere in between, unifying the two techniques: painting and threading. An intriguing combination.

The interesting question is, if the technical and raw material environment behind the creation of the objects changes, does our thinking about the objects also change? Do the mechanism of the work and the change of medium pose new questions? Besides verisimilitude, proportion, reality, fiction and fragility, for example, do we also concern ourselves with the transformation and change of scale taking place when the painter’s palette is shifted from a watercolour to a latchhook work, reverting to a utility object once more, as a tapestry or carpet? Here, sensory perception is not limited to squinting, as you can also lie on it and luxuriate in it. Meanwhile, a sensual female world exists in all of this, as mother-and-daughter is a joint work, joint creation, joint labour, a common thread, common latch hooking. Simultaneously a painting, a poem and a fairytale.

Zsófia Frazon

Courtesy of the artist and Kisterem
Photocredit Dávid Biró