The Golem's sherds
There lives in Budapest the scion of a family which has had an intimate relation with the earth, Levente Thury, who has a highly sublimated earth-profession: he cultivates clay lots. The art of mining, grave digging, masonry, pottery, brick-making, well-boring, sculpting and architecture are traditionally called earth-professions. According to astrological tradition these professions are ruled by Saturn. Saturn is characterized by melancholy, a gaze which, obeying the rules of gravitation, is turned towards the earth. The most often occurring elements of Thury's artwork are human heads and hands. Aby Warburg, one of the leading art theoreticians of the early 20th century, elaborated a so-called Mnemosyne Atlas (Mnemosyne being the goddess of memory in Greek mythology) in which he studied the transformation and variants of human gestures from prehistory to our age. Mnemosyne, "Memory" is present in human gestures, preserving the basic, ritual-actional roots. Warburg believed that there was a relation between final act of the hero's struggle in ancient myths - the grasping of the head before it was smitten off - and the gesture of modern man (cp. Dürer's allegoric depiction of Melancholy) remaining without any support when, for lack of anything better, he holds his drooping head with his own hand. The visual arts offer countless examples of this involuntary gesture of the man lost in thought (Kossuth's portrait, Rodin's statue, Dali's 'crutches'), and this posture also offers a reassuring guarantee of the intellectual capabilities of the portrait's model. Great thinkers usually had themselves portrayed in this posture.
The gaze of modern Saturnic man is, instead of the upward, transcendent gaze, directed/ slipped earthward, to the material. The symbolic gestures of the great spirits illustrate the instinctive struggle against this. Levente Thury's sculptures are 'smitten-off' heads which are either grasped and lifted towards the heavens by hands, or the missing anthropomorphic elements are replaced by intricate, picture-frame-like supports. Thury sublimates the human movement into a gesture of art. This being the reason that his sculptures are surrounded by frames which evolved in the course of panel painting. Frames are geometric symbols, marking the world with their four corners; Levente Thury's frames, however, cannot be fitted together to form a round quadrangle. They portray the same cosmogonic void, in this case as a formal deficiency, which his cousin, Charles Fenyvesi depicts in his book. The loss of harmonic lifeways, the condition of being torn into elements. Today, when the world is no longer whole, when the once visibly coherent fragments of the frame no longer fit together. The Mondrian-like geometry is broken by 'alien' elements of surrealist poetic automatisms which very appropriately haunt the one-time sacred One-ness of the world. The dramatic chasm disconnecting the strive for unity, for final harmony, the will to become like God, from the human condition is most clearly expressed in surrealism. In psychology the desire to become like God is known as the auto-divinisation complex. Levente Thury's works express this surrealistic tendency (the one-time makers of golems too made their works under the awesome spell of divine creation). The complex here appears in a geometric form, the sculptures repeating the obsession that the frame wood from the Nadir can never join with the one from the Zenith. Although the mitre-cut frame fragments sometimes reach for each other with end-tenons, it is obvious that they can never join. At other times, these furniture elements - while transformed into musical instrument fragments - enlist music to enable the union in the infinite of all that has disintegrated in the finite dimension. The tuning pegs used in tuning often serve for the suspension of the ceramics moving from the depiction into space. At the same time, they are also stoppers, heart stoppers enabling the closed course for blood-flow: should they be removed, the liquid power of virtual human demeanour would flow out from the world within the frame. Or should we perhaps suspect tightly sealed passages leading into another sphere?
This other sphere evokes the legend of the Golem from Prague. Rabbi Judah Löw, living in the court of the Emperor Rudolph, was the keeper of divine secrets. From clay he created a servant and under its tongue he slipped a piece of paper inscribed with Jehovah's name, the shem, bringing it to life. Kabbalist thought, however, is present at this exhibition not only by the title and the presence of the clay figures. The compositions also involve aesthetic concepts which appear as junctions on the Kabbalists' symbolic Tree of Life. Foremost among these is Tiferet, "beauty". Thury's frames and their symbols correspond to Kabbalistic basic values, of which Tiferet is present in the elegant, coloured glaze covering the heads. This is why my postulate, that Levente Thury's glazed clay angels, dybbuks and golems have entered the sphere of superficial beauty, is not in the least pejorative. The glimmer of the elegant glaze has transformed the lifeless clay into dybbuks. Dybbuks, which according to the Kabbalah are the souls of men who have died a premature death roaming this world, haunt the figure of the golem in every work, being at once similar to them and their counterpoint. The materialized spirit (dybbuk) and the spiritualized body (golem) thus form a unity, the fragmented human parts in a fragmented world.
The coins placed by the clay heads are at once obuli and incantations with which the runaway golem can be restrained. In the context of the golem, the frames are the rafters of the Alt-neu synagogue of Prague where, according to tradition, the fragments of the golem are hidden. The tangle of tape suspended beside one of the heads offers a variety of associations: thin phylacteries, plucked-out cerebral convolutions, and the broken-down magnetic signs of a world music no longer of any use to the inner ear. There is a perceptible interaction between the world, fragmented by the Holocaust and populated by six million dybbuks, and the broken clay robot made by the miracle-working rabbi - little wonder, that in the 20th century the renaissance of the golem is coupled with a general fear and anxiety. The phalanster scene in Madách's The Tragedy of Man offers a similar conclusion. The remains of a whole, or at least of a more wholesome world, are locked in glass cases, kept away from the descendants who no longer have any use for them, similarly to Rabbi Lőw's ban on the remains of the golem. Much in the same way that the parts of a clock are related to a disjointed time, the huge monkey-wrench wielded by the Golem is a means of setting time right.
The role of the canvases mounted onto frames of panel painting is replaced by the carpet shreds of bourgeois existence trampled on by World War 2. These carpets conceal the interlocking stages of the spheres of the Kabbalah. A theatrical gesture grasping dramatic heads, the carpet shreds and fine skin-like creases evoking Abakanowicz's clay figures, resembling the crinkles of the curtain let down at the end of a theatrical performance. The creases of life and death remain forever, never to be smoothened out in harmony - the latter represented by the clay glaze and the angelic chubbiness of the heads. Still, a tattooed pattern appears time and again on the glazed heads, the archetypal emblem of a door left slightly ajar. The chubbiness itself expresses the tense moment before the explosion, beyond which we too live among the rubble of this explosion. Levente Thury and Charles Fenyvesi's action in the Vigadó Gallery evokes the one-time unity of the fragmented forms - the attempt to at least evoke a semblance of Whole-ness through the confrontation of word and image, long divorced from each other.
Élet és Irodalom, July 17, 1992