The Sadness of the Fragment
About the work of M.C. Csaky
by Zsofia Ban
In his book Shakespeare Our Contemporary Jan Kott describes Hamlet as “a great scenario, in which the character has a more or less tragic and cruel part to play, and has magnificent things to say. Every character has an irrevocable task to fulfil, a task imposed by the author. This scanario is independent of the characters; it has been divised earlier. It defines the situations, as well as the mutual relations of the characters; it dictates their words and gestures. But it does not say who the characters are. It is something external in relation to them.” (1) Csaky’s pieces seem to express a struggle against precisely this kind of predefined script and the hopeless desire to escape our predetermined role within it. Her work contains the same “tragedy of desire” that Lacan described in his analysis of Hamlet. This desire - for an original, personal scenario in which one does not have to play a preordained and strictly circumscribed role - remains necessarily and eternally unfulfilled. Csaky’s work contains the desperation with which the self attempts to escape the structure in which it was caught unawares and in which it is forced to take up a predefined position. The structure that imposes a preexisting position and role on the self is language and for this reason Csaky’s work is primarily a critique of language and culture, albeit a very personal and disturbing one. Her work could be described as a kind of confessional concept art.
The problem of speech or language is immediately apparent in the way the artist mixes and juxtaposes modes of representation. Abstract, geometric forms mingle with so called “realistic” representation and the essence of this work is precisely the inability of either to give a complete depiction of the world. Both of these conventional methods of representation appear in an ironical and stylized manner because their use and emotional charge is diametrically opposed to their traditional interpretation: Csaky’s figures are depicted with the distant, cold, analytical approach of anatomy textbooks and they are also always fragmented (torsos). On the other hand her geometric forms are clumsy, fragile and arbitrary. They appear almost comical as they stutter and stammer. They are touching in their ephemerality and transitoriness. Figurative and geometric representation, these two traditions of European culture, are unable here to complement each other. Instead they emphasize the void which they cannot fill. Csaky’s work addresses the common contemporary problem of language; namely the impossibility of expressing in language (in any given structure) that which is beyond language (or structure). Yet this world beyond language is at the heart of her pieces, and the tension emanating from her work feeds on the struggle with this apparently hopeless situation. The open, unresolved character of this conflict finds expression in her paintings and strikes the beholder before anything else.
The missing territory unchartable by known languages is present and yet absent on her images. This terra incognita is represented by shadows and projections in a manner similar to early maps where uncharted territory was indicated by words implying that which is unknown and therefore not possible to represent. These undefined shadows, vaguely resembling the human form are behind or beyond the human and geometric figures. They signify lack. Their presence is a kind of visual negation (which, as we know it, does not exist, is impossible): they represent what is not there and in this sense they function just like language. After all this is also a kind of self reflection which does not and cannot exist beyond language. However, these shadows and projections also have a conventional, learned version: the kind that school children practice instructed by their art teacher, carefully dotting, shading, representing things the way they are, or are supposed to be according to the textbook - even if this is not how things really are - because it is the only way to compress the world into a system. Those formless masses of shadows, however, that shimmer across the surface of Csaky’s images indicating the third dimension are outside all systems and all languages. It is precisely this position “outside” that leads us to Csaky’s other main theme: androgyny. ( It is not a coincidence that Csaky has selected the name Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest as her pseudonym (Csaky M.C.). This name borrowed from a character devoid of language (or gender) leaves the door open the possibility of choices.)
After all Csaky’s images express the desire for unity and wholeness - as useless as it may be - not only through their formal characteristics but also through their radical subject-matter. Among the undefined forms created in cold colors reminiscent of sick rooms there are sections that come into focus, details finely rendered that represent sexual acts, male sex organs, or body parts of human figures of undetermined gender. Although these images talk about the erotic, or the borderline between the erotic and the sexual, they are not at all erotic. They pose a problem which they approach from several directions. You could say they present a discourse on the topic of soul, sex and Eros as well as on the feasibility of talking about these. As Csaky explains in her essay on the androgen, Freud’s theories of sexuality aside from their liberating effects on the discourse on sexuality also initiated a process that eventually separated sexuality from ethics. “Because several things that were previously (and are presently) considered by many to belong to the terrain of the soul are excluded from the concept of sexuality - or more precisely separated from it - it is exactly the dwelling place of the erotic in the human being that is excluded: since I believe that the erotic springs from the unity of the soul. Phrased differently, I could say this is the loss we incurred with liberation. To use Foucault’s terms - Freud did not restore ars erotica” to its rightful position but he invented instead a new form of scientia sexualis” , writes Csaky. (2) Her images describe the absence of a world in which the original two gendered soul is undivided and in which love can be the main source of contact with the world through which everything else is interpreted.
In that world language and culture have not yet established limits, the positions have not been assigned, everything is still thick, swirling, multigendered and without contours. This is a preoedipal, imaginary world. The fragmented human bodies, the blurred shadows, and projections in Csaky’s images stand for the absence of this world or rather for its partial, metonymic presence. This primary, instinctual existence is outside the bounds of language. It is language - culture - that assigns gender to the subject. However, the subconscious, if it is allowed to work freely, is capable of upsetting the status quo and reinstating the original, preverbal condition. Csaky expresses in her work the very conscious effort and desire to reach this original state as well as the impossibility of doing so.
The compulsively repeated image of two men loving each other refers to the forced division of the self. Therefore, these pieces are not about the homoerotic desire that first meets the eye but about the desire for unity, for the reinstatement of the “original condition.” Here the other, in this case man (since the artist/speaker is a woman) is also “self “and visually this can only be expressed by sameness.
Here we have to turn to the sculptures (or rather the reliefs) which seem to represent the fulfillment of this desire for unity. For this, however, we have to enter, literally, another dimension. As we leave the two dimensional surfaces behind and enter space we exchange the images painted in cold colors with the organic warmth of wood. These sculptures radiate harmony, fulfillment and unity. Everything fits together - with Ottlik’s words: everything is there - the figures grow naturally out of the wood, seemingly on their own account, and snuggle tightly together. Even the carving is rough or “natural.” These reliefs carved into the surfaces of enormous hands and feet represent an ideal, fictional condition that does not exist in itself only embedded in the wood. In the paintings these same returning, metonymic, fetish-like hands and feet serve as frames for the fragmented images of copulation which extend beyond them with some of their shadowy details. In the sculptures, the enormous hands and feet function as the external frames for the reliefs. If we enter the space confined by them there are no more fragments or separate body parts; here all figures are complete. The fetish, which stand in itself, is used in itself serves to deny lack, to replace it. Fetishism is a perversion predicated on the belief that the part is the whole. The fetishist denies or rather does not recognize lack. In Csaky’s pieces, however, the roughly drawn enormous hands and feet contain that which they are supposed to deny: the lack of unity, of wholeness. Her images are essentially and irrevocably metonymic, they represent the forcibly delayed fulfillment of the desire for the original unity. This delay ends only in the sculptures as if they represented that moment in time when the parallel lines finally meet in infinity; when Don Juan finally finds the real one - who, of course, is just like he himself.
In this metonymic universe depicted by Csaky’s pieces there is only one metaphorical element and that is the phallus itself. Her work is not erotic precisely because the phallus in this case does not (at least primarily not) stand for sexual desire but for desire in general - the desire for that lost, original unity through which she attempts to reinstate the myth of the androgen to its rightful position. This is the point in Csaky’s work where the idea of ars erotica replaces scientia sexualis. Although she turns to the traditional, visual symbol for sexual desire (within a given visual culture) she employs it in the broadest possible sense to represent the par excellence phallic. Behind the very visible forms there is always, as I described before, the invisible, or the barely visible represented by blurred, genderless shadows. The phallic refers to this “other” world which is only present through its traces and which cannot be linked to one particular gender.
“My atavistic instincts in the realm of love and spirit as well as my anachronistic feelings and thoughts make it impossible for me to destroy that wretched, tortured androgen that dwells within me,” writes Csaky. (3) This confession seeps through her pieces over and over again as the blood through a badly applied bandage. This is why I called her work “confessional concept art,” because its confessional aspects are as strong as the conceptual ones; it is glowingly personal and coldly rational at the same time.
Zsofia Ban teaches at the Department of American Studies, Eötvös Lóránd University Budapest.
1. Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, 1964. p.57
2. Csáky M.C.. On Sorb-apples, Wo(o)lf and Sex. The Androgyne. Balkon 1995/9, p.39.
3. Balkon 1995/9, p. 39.