Miklós Erdély

Miklós Erdély


Seven artworks by Miklós Erdély are on show in the gallery in Képíró Street from tonight for 4 weeks.

Some of them have not been on show since the 1998 oeuvre exhibition in Műcsarnok, which makes this occasion a particularly important one. Based on the bequest records, the works belong into two groups. Regarding the used materials, these are bitumen works (four pieces), based on the them and the title, these are Armageddon works; three pieces.

It may be worth adding that there are 40 works belonging to the bitumen works in the records, which means that not all pictures containing bitumen belong here: for example the three Armageddon pictures displayed here. Based on our present knowledge, 16 works can be associated with this title/theme.

It might be worth noting that classification based on material might seem strange, but in the case of Erdély’s works it might be relevant. This will be illustrated with the details of two lectures, to be quoted here soon.

We cannot give an unambiguous title to three out of the four pictures displayed here, known as bitumen pictures, at most we can add some explanation. Annamária Szőke wrote in her guide for the exhibition in Műcsarnok: “The expression Acsás is an abbreviation of nuclear strike used in the military, and the Feri’s Home caption refers back to a memory from the 1940s, the one of “Being Feri”, that is the mode of existence of an unemployed neighbor with the same name, whose life “was hell itself.”

Rereading Dániel Erdély’s genealogical essay, another pit of hell comes up. I quote “Mi kis életünk” [“Our Life with Mi Ki”] – Árgus, 1991: “Twins were born in 1907, Laci and Feri. Three years later Pista came into the world, who was the only sibling surviving the war apart from my dad.” Three names, siblings, victims of the Holocaust, two of them have been murdered. The Kontextus I. drawing (1980 –FS001) with the “Pista” inscription, created also in those days but not displayed here, comes to our minds. Presumably, the “Feri’s Home” text is in connection with the glass plate negatives glued to the image (turning its digital reproduction into positive: a young man with moustache). The black bitumen as the glue of the fragile glass and the negative-photo-face, and the matzo piece in the upper corner seem to support the tragic connotation.

One of the common motifs of the two lectures I have just referred to, the Előadás a kiállításról [Lecture about the Exhibition] held in Bercsényi, and the Apokrif előadás [Apocryphal Lecture] held more than a year later, on December 2, 1981, in FMK [Young Artists’ Club], is that Erdély talks about the used matters and materials in detail. This way, concerning bitumen the lecture starting with the “statement of the Council of Chalcedon” can be reliable. After the text of the so called Council of Chalcedon was delivered, he continued: “Now I will read out what meaning the used materials have. The tarpaper: isolator paper. It is used for winterization at constructions. Here it means void, being buried – thus also means earth –, death, nothing. Putting across each other it is double nothing: before birth and after death, like the coordinate axis and the cross of ignorance.” Then later (I will not mention the remarks regarding other materials here): “Tarpaper is obviously originating from architectural past. If we look around in a construction site we see countless sad objects. The entire construction has some kind of an infinite heaviness that manifests in overcoming gravitation. One of the poorest materials there is the tarpaper; it is hardly noticeable but leaves its mark on the construction.”

Pitch, tar, asphalt, bitumen: sometimes these get mixed but now it is not the point. All of them are dark materials. I turn to the other group of works.

Notebook number 14 of the bequest, which was used by Miklós Erdély around 1981, contains several sketches, some of which can be connected clearly to the Armageddon pictures. Based on the signatures and other data, it can be said that the images were created between 1980 and 1983. The first work that already has this inscription is from 1980, and Erdély dated most of the pictures to 1982.

First of all, let me make a remark that the Armageddon does not refer to the movie shot since then that comes up as the first three million hits (out of 33 million) of the also since then created Google, but it is a Biblical reference. It appears only once, in the Book of Revelation, right before the text saying that “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air” and in which there is the proclamation: “It is done!” (Rev. 16.17)

What is “in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16.16) is the place or name of the last fight between forces of good and evil. Fight does not a bit mean a kind of phantasm projected into the future in some action movie.

In his essay about Erdély’s picture cycle and theme, Zoltán Sebők quotes from Béla Hamvas. (Jóvilág. A Bölcsész Index Antológiája, Budapest, 1984. 41-42) The sentence from the essay entitled Kései művek melankóliája [Melancholy of Late Works] might as well refer to the pictures displayed here (Fs 25-26): “First he strips off the beauty so it crackles, and it is good only if it is bleak.”

Regarding its origins, the Armageddon is a Biblical theme, it is beyond question. In terms of its occurrence, the explanation might be (considering the dates of 1980-1983) that another common element of Erdély’s two mentioned lectures is the Biblical reference. After reading the Lecture about the Exhibition and the Apocryphal Lecture, it is absolutely visible. Excerpt from the Apocryphal Lecture: “In my action interpreted in present lecture I used the following objects: the Bible, 5 bottles of different medicinal water: 2 bottles of Parádi, 1 bottle of Salvus, 1 bottle bitter water from Igmánd, and 1 bottle of József Ferencz bitter, 1 plant in flower-pot, and 1 inscription.”

The quotation he read out at the very beginning of his lecture he held on the opening of his environment starting with “From the statement of the Council of Chalcedon” in the Bercsényi College on March 18, 1980 starts the following: “We, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, confess the one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood. Truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood. He is in all things like us, without sin” (and I will not continue here).

István Hajdu in his 1998 essay entitled Kalcedon – a kétely, a kétség, a kettősség, a hármasság és a négyesség (Erdély Miklósról) vázlat [Chalcedon – doubt, uncertainty, duality, trinity, and quaternary (about Miklós Erdély) draft] points out that Erdély uses a different text draft than the one in Denzinger’s handbook (it must be added that there are two versions of the text even there: 148. 148a), and he is right. The text that is used by Miklós Erdély is almost exactly the same as the version in Katalin Vidányi’s essay, Karl Rahner teológiája [Karl Rahner’s Theology], published as the supplement of the 1979 December issue of Világosság – the minor differenced can be explained by the fact that Erdély’s lecture was transcribed from a tape recording later.

Instead of recalling the Homousion – Homoiusion debate, known from The Tragedy of Man in Hungary, I would turn back to the bitumen picture with the “Acsás” inscription for a reference. A section of the Apocryphal Lecture – also because the question of the nuclear power-plant that is yet again becoming relevant in present day Hungary – is appropriate here/there (I quote, skipping some parts): “…revolutionary movements, like the avant-garde, have awkwardly unexplained relationship with the Bible, and exactly because revolutionary movements raise a claim for the future, and strictly speaking the Bible raises a claim for the entire future of humankind. Thus confrontation between the two is inevitable. […] it definitely contributed to the choice that when I was planning this action I saw the scene in which Reagan boards on the plane named Last Judgment, built for a nuclear war in the TV, with which he demonstrated that those who make the decision in the question of nuclear death are not fatally endangered themselves. […] In these times reaches the man for the Holy Scripture, the work that also raises a claim for the future that is endangered at the moment. When I took the holy scripture off the shelf – and I asked others, it happens to them every time as well, maybe because it is in the middle – it opened at the Ecclesiastes, and I believe there is no more depressing and uncomforting book in the entire Bible. […]in Chapter 10 I found a part that lead me back to the concept of yielding, and that is somehow connected to the plane named Last Judgment. It says: “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.” (Eccles. 10:4)”

We are approaching the end. I would like to interpret, at least indicatively, the Armageddon theme, and it might be indirectly perceivable from the connection between the two lectures. In the Apocryphal Lecture Erdély tells the story of what happened to the bitumen piece filed under Btm 10 that for the moment exists only as a reproduction, and which was originally the central piece of the installation in Bercsényi. As it is shown by the photos, the Lecture about the Exhibition was delivered in front of this matzo structure with lead poured on it. “When I entered my room, my work displayed at the Bercsényi exhibition was hanging on my wall. I made a huge cross out of tarpaper and I put matzo, Jewish bread in the middle of it and then I poured hot lead on it in the form of a cross. I cut out the middle of it and since it cannot be stored elsewhere, and it is a significant symbol, I nailed it on my wall next to my bed. The lead and the matzo were quite heavy on it. I entered the room yesterday and I noticed the whole structure was lying on my bed, it fell from the wall. I immediately became anxious, especially because I myself was not sure that man had the right to deal with the Bible so critically and directly. On the other hand, I had friends who said – as I came to know – that Erdély was mocking the Bible and created a happening this way. It almost seemed as the heavenly sign had arrived, because the picture had fell.”

This story is mentioned at an important part of the Apocryphal Lecture, he uses for the interpretation of the action realized at the Technical University. The text continues: “And then I sat down, and started wondering where I made a mistake, what was my sin. I had an idea; at least my brain started working, because I did not think it through completely. I had a feeling when I decided the kind of action I would do that I identified the medicinal water with the Bible. This in itself is a magical procedure. If I openly identify the medicinal water with the Bible then what I do with the medicinal water I actually do with the Bible.”

I will not quote the entire reasoning because the lecture is available, readable, and can be listened to, the only thing I would draw the attention to in terms of the meaning of the Armageddon is this: “The strange thing that weighed on my mind was that since I was also beating the Parádi water, the whole room started to have a sulphurous smell, which as we know is the characteristic smell of the devil. I recalled how everybody found the smell of the lead poured on the matzo nice, when the smell of freshly baked bread filled the room. How much more humane and dearer this smell was than the smell of the Parádi water.”

And it also becomes clear from the text how the sulphurous breath of the devil can be connected to the room of the Technical University where the action (interpreted in the Apocryphal Lecture) happened on November 25, 1981: “…I found it fortunate that I had to hold the lecture in the Technical University’s environment. First they said it was building R but it would not have been so interesting. But the fact that it all happened in a bleak classroom that I used to visit as an architect, and I even remember drawing in panic the tectonic notes – it was incredibly pleasing that I was throwing medicinal waters on the platform. To the student who used to be anxious in the rows of seats. I also liked the relationship in which the Bible or even this realist but not rationalist attitude of the Ecclesiastes conflicts the ultra-rationalist spirit of the Technical University that could be sensed in the corridors. In the same time, it is connected to the Bible from another angle as well, because the Technical University had an anti-Semitic atmosphere. And I can easily understand that for example how the current Christianity of the ’20s arose there. I have always seen anti-Semitic doors there, and the way the awakening Hungarians came there, [and] I felt in a way that by this the situation got in a fine contact…”

Miklós Peternák / Miklós Erdély Foundation