The curator of the project is Finnish art historian and internationally renown curator Maaretta Jaukkuri.
“The wise man loves water.”
The theme of the 2017 VICTOR VASARELY INTERNATIONAL CONTEST FOR ART IN PUBLIC SPACE III is water. Water is the basis of life and has throughout history gathered a myriad of symbolic meanings.
It has been held sacred in religions, it has created gods and goddesses, it has served in rituals and challenges that have purified and tested human body and soul. Artists of all times and cultures have also been inspired and challenged by its “physical, pre-semiotic properties of water when they use it as a medium or material for art-making.” (David Clark, Water and Art)
Budapest is a city of water and its underground geothermal springs and caves make it the largest known thermal cave system in the world.
The idea of water as the theme of this program took shape during my visit to Óbuda last autumn. Óbuda is the oldest part of Budapest. It is a historically dense area with buildings dating back to the Roman period while the centre is characterized by old baroque buildings and the new blocks of flats built during the 60s and 70s. While walking in the streets of Óbuda, I started thinking how much history the milieu contains and how it is both visible and invisible. I had a feeling of an excess of stories, meanings, and symbols. When thinking about this experience afterwards, I felt that there was an invitation to get a breathing space, a moment of letting go, a physical situation and a moment to reflect one’s own experiences and feelings. This led to the choice of water as the theme, concept and material of this project. The presence of water with its fluidity and its impact on the surrounding area as well as the way it lives with the weather reminds us something of the basic conditions of life.
In this connection, water is understood as a medium and material for art. Its visual presence is all-important, but its role and function in the work is free to be defined by the artist. We will look more for what water can express or contribute to giving shape and meaning for our time. Paraphrasing George Bataille’s idea, we can think of what is water’s “job” or what it does rather than its literal meaning.
Water in this connection can be seen both a noun and a verb.
Water in contemporary consciousness is also imbued with its present state often seen as an offer but also threat to life due to the dangerous levels of pollution in the oceans of the globe. Here, however, we can think of water in all shades of its chemical, biological, symbolic and cultural meanings.
The presence of water creates a feeling that is simultaneously something primal, but also philosophical and cultural. Understood in this way, the question is also about art’s freedom to shape its view of our time to be shared with other people.
It has also been noted that water shares some of the characteristics of our era: it is fluid, changes its shape and composition in accordance with the forces that surround and impact it. Here the similarity is also paradoxical as while sharing qualities of this time, it also has something eternal about it. It is a necessity to life, but it has also a unique presence; it is beautiful, mysterious and playful.
Artists are invited to present their ideas of combinations of sculpture and water or water sculptures. The combinations of water and art are usually conceived as fountains. Fountain is, however, not the thematic premise of this project, instead we see water as a possible medium in a wide range of sculptural possibilities.
Water reflects light and is imbued by the optical-kinetic visuality that was so close to the philosophy of Victor Vasarely, the artist in whose name this competition is arranged. Vasarely was also keenly aware of the role of the spectator in art as well as the by now crucial discussion of the necessity for art and science to engage in dialogues and together work for the values which today incorporate the living conditions of both humans and nature. In his Notes Brutes (1972) he writes: The art of the past drew on a more restricted view of nature, immediately accessible to our senses. But science has shown us that nature is infinitely more vast … We’re projected into unknown structures. Outside the human scale, between atoms and nebulae, the soul is just a beam of homogenous waves… Our egocentric vision must develop in the direction of total community consciousness…We are no longer static contemplators, but dynamic participants… (Paroles d’Artiste, Victor Vasarely, Éditions Fage, 2016)
I prefer to call the place/space created by this work rather common or shared than public. The idea of a public space implies that someone is addressing you. Common space is a place to share experiences where the onlooker is seen as a participant in the process of realizing a moment of art. This idea was clearly expressed by Marcel Duchamp in a talk that he gave in 1957 when he said: “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualities and thus adds to the creative act.” (The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson) This understanding is very much part of the dynamics of contemporary art and, in particular, in cases where works are in public/common spaces.
This was also one of the main tenets of Victor Vasarely’s thinking. “I’ve often said: the art of privileged few must become that of the community. The main thing is to resolve this transition, both technically and aesthetically.” (Paroles d’Artiste)