The “So Far, So Good” exhibition, curated by Flóra Gadó at the Budapest Gallery, examines our everyday anxieties, the compulsion to be productive, the ensuing burnout from overwork, as well as our reactions to these contemporary issues. What are the potential ways out of this situation that keeps eroding the individual? Can we take a break from it all—and if yes, how?

The Budapest Gallery’s exhibition, So Far, So Good, which examines our everyday anxieties, the compulsion to be productive, burnout from overwork, and our reactions to all three, opened after a delay of almost three months. During the preparations for the exhibition, none of us reckoned with the possibility that, with the onset of a pandemic, these situations and feelings would become even more acute. As a result of the coronavirus, the hamster-wheel came to a halt for many people—suspending work processes and destabilizing livelihoods—while for others it started spinning even faster, and many found themselves facing a new kind of anxiety. Our fear of the unknown, the unpredictable, and the question of how long this condition would last became decisive. Many wondered if we could (or should) return to “normal” life, and what would we consider normal from now on? Now that we have returned to a more familiar situation with the gradual easing of restrictions, the question of how to look at situations in life which were hardly problem-free before this dramatic moment may become more important. The works of art, although created before the coronavirus hit the world, nevertheless point to a number of difficulties which in recent months have come to the fore or have been enriched with new layers of meaning. The title of the exhibition ironically twists the sentence from the well-known film, as we had already sensed that things were not “alright,” but now perhaps we are better able to speak about this.

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“So far so good, so far so good…”—as one of the main characters of the French film La Haine quotes a man saying a mantra to reassure himself while falling from a skyscraper. Taking the contradictory nature of this quote as its point of departure, our exhibition revolves around contemporary phenomena that have become integral to our general mood: anxiety, stress, or burnout. For the most part, the performance-based character of the 21st century and the compulsive pursuit of productivity are to blame for this. (See, for instance The Burnout Society by Byung-Chul Han). Practically competing with itself, the self gives rise to a self-exploiting lifestyle that can easily lead to constant anxiety or burnout syndrome. It is owing to the expectation of constant standby and flexibility that the boundaries between work and free time are becoming increasingly blurred in today’s late capitalist system. We feel trapped in a treadmill that is impossible to get out of.

Still, what are the potential ways out of this situation that keeps eroding the individual? Can we take a break and if yes, how? The question arises: to what extent various therapeutic and self-help methods, or slow living strategies can be of help? How are approaches that are less scientific or rational and more intuitive, spiritual and magical becoming more appreciated? With a focus on artists from across the region, our international group exhibition presents, on the one hand, works that directly or indirectly address anxiety and stress. In relation to this, the existentially vulnerable quality of (artistic) work becomes emphasised as well as the difficulty of self-representation and finding a job, and the theme of existential insecurity in general. On the other hand, the exhibition presents individual as well as collective rites and proposals for solutions, interpreted by the artists either critically or as examples to be followed. From the reclamation of the importance of sleep and relaxation through various meditational, Far Eastern practices to the development of models for communities seceding from society, the exhibition prioritises the heterogeneity of answers.

Budapest Gallery, Budapest
Exhibiting artists: Adelina CIMOCHOWICZ, Sári EMBER, Barbora KLEINHAMPLOVÁ and Tereza STEJSKALOVÁ, Kateřina KONVALINOVÁ, Krisztián KRISTÓF, Virginia LUPU, Zsófia SZEMZŐ, Balázs VARJU TÓTH, Madalina ZAHARIA
Curated by: Flóra GADÓ
Graphic design: Bálint JÁKOB
Opening: 9 July, 6 pm.
Opening speech by: Bence HORVÁTH, journalist 
On view until 6th of September
The exhibition was supported by the C3 Foundation and the Romanian Cultural Institute

Krisztián Kristóf—Icebreaker (2018)

Krisztián Kristóf’s work is abundantly ambivalent: the composition may be read as such that represents the complementary harmony of the active and contemplative parts of our self. At the same time, in addition to self-reflection and introversion, the piece also implies exaltation arising from the race we run against ourselves. The intensified individualism characteristic of our time, which at once involves a proneness to self-scrutiny and an inclination to escape problems, is embodied by the solitary paddling figure. The figure is at once stagnant and moving forward, constantly facing himself and the various layers of his personality, out of which a different one prevails in different situations.

Krisztián Kristóf, Icebreaker, 2018, installation; silk paper, paraffin vax, wood, tar, steel, rope 
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Barbora Kleinhamplová and Tereza Stejskalová—Sleeper’s Manifesto (2014)

This piece of video art is the result of collaboration between visual artist Barbora Klienhamplová and curator Tereza Stejskalová. As its title suggests, it is a contemporary manifesto, which stresses the importance and subversive power of sleep in our overdriven workaholic society. It raises awareness of the fact that today sleep is practically regarded as a biological necessity, a nuisance, instead of which we’d rather seek forms of “active rest”. To many, the efficiency of work is associated with the number of waking hours and not with being well-rested or having proper mental health, and as it is said in the video, we are becoming insomniacs and somnambulists. Reposing in an arrangement reminiscent of a Baroque painting, the speakers become ambassadors of sleep, and by the end of the film, the viewers might also change their views regarding their own sleeping habits and needs: the film’s liberating force helps us notice that relaxation without a purpose has essentially turned into a taboo.

Barbora Kleinhamplová and Tereza Stejskalová, Sleeper’s Manifesto, 2014, video, 11’08”,
(Courtesy of the Artists)

Adelina Cimochowicz—Natural State (2018) and Gone (2018)

The video Natural State by Adelina Cimochowicz features the confessions of three women opening up about their everyday anxieties and fears. These are predominantly related to basic conditions such as housing and subsistence, with additional emphasis on stressful situations pertaining to daily work—like anxiety in anticipation of new emails or increasing panic in the course of commuting. During their personal accounts, we see footages of a middle-aged woman dancing or doing aerobics to music, surrendering herself to the joy of movement in an almost trance-like state, as if attempting to completely forget the thoughts distressing her. Although the beneficial effect of conscious movement can be a way to temporarily leave the daily grind behind, the woman’s repetitive movements along with the narration suggest that at this point it can no longer offer a valid solution.  

The other video is autobiographically inspired: while the images show a figure running in the forest and constantly stopping due to the film’s editing, the narration reveals the artist’s internal monologue related to her own anxieties and secret fears.

Adelina Cimochowicz, Natural State, 2018, video, 6’ 
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Zsófia Szemző—Uncertainty Principle (2017-18)

Zsófia Szemző’s collages link buildings, people and strange objects from all over the world according to a peculiar logic, yet without constructing a coherent unit. The title of the series refers to the uncertainty principle of physics, more precisely, quantum mechanics, which essentially asserts a theoretical limit to the precision with which the values for the pairs of specific physical quantities can be predicted. The artist takes the uncertainty principle into a broader context, focusing her work on the uncertainty that determines and often uproots our entire life. Evocative of Dadaist collages, these works trigger associations while connecting the fundamental fragmentariness of collages with a sense of disintegration. Overwork or multi-tasking, which never allow us to focus on one thing or be in one place at a time, lead to us losing our footing while a kind of constant feeling of uncertainty gains ground.

Zsófia Szemző, Uncertainty Principle, 2017-18, collage series; paper, textile
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Kateřina Konvalinova—Corrective Relations: Bad Trip (2019)

This video by Kateřina Konvalinová takes us on a peculiar meditational journey. The artist is interested in the diverse Eastern meditational techniques and how we regard these practices with a European eye, how the process of cultural appropriation takes place. In the course of her Indonesian residency, she encountered the yoga nidra method, which invites its practitioners on an internal journey throughout which they may face their deepest fears. Acting almost like an anthropologist, the artist reconstructs such a practice, at once open and critical towards the method, confronting the ancient wisdom with contemporary self-help and self-awareness methods in which healing is inadvertently interconnected with consumption. In the second part of the video, in a kind of associative montage, the colonizing gaze of the past is intertwined with the artist’s current spiritual experience, which turns into a journey through times and spaces with her trip to Merapi volcano (home of ancient spirits).

Kateřina Konvalinova, Corrective Relations: Bad Trip, 2019, video, 34’05”
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Madalina Zaharia—When I occupy the present (2019)

The video When I Occupy the Present by the London-based Romanian artist focuses on the issues of artists’ self-representation and advocacy through the genre of artist talk. The video features two female figures virtually embodying the narration that is composed, among others, of psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on the importance of body language, and discusses the elements of successful communication. Zaharia uses the visual language of Power Point, one of the most popular contemporary presentation techniques, to demonstrate this. The film ironically represents the notion of “my entire practice kind-of slide”, which accurately captures the pressure and constraint many artists and curators are faced with when required to introduce their praxis in a concise yet catchy manner. Zaharia’s work brings attention not only to our accelerating society and the problem of ever so compact and clear information transfer, but indirectly also to the ways the constant presentation of our own personality may become distorted through various social media.

Madalina Zaharia, When I occupy the present, 2019, video, 7’38”
(Courtesy of the Artist; Commissioned for the 2019 Art Encounters Biennial)

Balázs Varju Tóth—Askholia (2020)

In his three-channel video installation, talking with members of the Budapest art scene in the broader sense, Balázs Varju Tóth seeks answers to questions like how these people relate to art as work and a source of income, and how this is related to relaxation and recreation. The interview subjects allow insight into various different life circumstances, making it clear that Varju Tóth intended to present more than one specific perspective: he points out the differences in opinions and views related to art as work. The interviews were made in an idyllic green landscape, intentionally alluding to the romantic myth of the artist seceding from the world, forming stark contrast with the reality of the speakers. The interview subjects—some of whom are also associated with this exhibition—speak without reserve about their struggles and anxieties.

Balázs Varju Tóth, Askholia, 2020, three-channel video installation, 14’57”, 16’38”, 16’06”
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Virginia Lupu—Tin Tin Tin (2016)

Lupu has been documenting the everyday life of Roma witch communities in Romania. Her photo series allows insight into the daily life of the community, from family gatherings and celebrations through the performing of healing and other magical practices and rites to incantations cursing corrupt politicians. In the artist’s interpretation (as she recounts in an interview), witches can become our protectors through magic, their practices allow insight into an altogether different kind of knowledge that can help us with healing and self-care. On the one hand, the Roma witch community represents a marginalised group, who forge this circumstance into their forte, using their own methods to resist the meritocracy and constant self-exploitation by evoking ancient rites and giving rise to new, alternative ones. On the other hand, witches become feminist symbols of independent and emancipated women, who use the power of community in their struggle for the integration of a non-rational world view into contemporary society instead of conforming to post-Enlightenment Western thought.

Virginia Lupu, Tin Tin Tin, 2016, photo series; inkjet print and ultrachrome pigment ink on Hahnemühle paper
(Courtesy of the Artist)

Sári Ember—Longing for far (2013-ongoing)

In the last space of the exhibition, Sári Ember’s return to photography offers a series that is more intimate than her work of recent years. The photo series can most of all be associated with her diploma work, Album for M: she had already been portraying her friends back then, and the lot of them have retained an all but ritual tradition, their regular summer canoe trip. For the community, this event is a highly significant experience, abandoning their daily routines and constant apprehension. At the same time, it is not only about recreation. In fact, organising the canoe trip is a task that presents constant challenges to the group and requires a lot of effort. The characters in the photos—landscape-portrait hybrids—almost blend into the natural environment, and owing to the analogue printing technique, they appear to be water-deities. Then again, the series is much less about the idealisation of secession into nature and much more about collective work, the—even temporary—functioning of a community and the difficulties it poses. All this in a world where increasing emphasis is placed on collaboration and the emergence of self-organised communities.

Sári Ember, Longing for far, 2013-ongoing, photo series; c-print
(Courtesy of the Artist and the Ani Molnár Gallery) 

Flóra Gadó (1989) is curator, art critic and Ph.D. candidate based in Budapest. She graduated in 2015 from Eötvös Loránd University with an MA in Art Theory. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the faculty’s Ph.D. program in Film, Media and Cultural Theory and works in the municipal contemporary art center, Budapest Gallery as a curator. In the past years, Flóra Gadó has curated several exhibitions in Hungary as well as in the neighboring countries and in 2015, 2017 within the framework of OFF-Biennale Budapest. Between 2016 and 2019 she was the member of the research group Open Museum, which focused on participatory and collaborative practices in museums. She took part in several curatorial residency programs, like Meetfactory in Prague, Generator in Rennes or the East Art Mags program for art critics in Romania and Poland. Between 2016-2019 she was the vice president of the Studio of Young Artists’ Association. Currently she is a lecturer at the Budapest Metropolitan University. 

Photo documentation and Krisztán Kristóf’s image are taken by Tamás G. Juhász

Cover photo: Virginia Lupu, Tin Tin Tin (2016) (Courtesy of the Artist)