The golem - Levente Thury's exhibition
Levente Thury's Golem exhibition in the Lajos street exhibition hall of the Budapest Gallery can rightly be regarded as a huge success since some fifty of his sculptures were "mobilized" by the art-loving audience. The artist gladly replaced the missing figures, and he could in fact have expected a gradual increase since somebody jotted down the following remark in the guest book: "Take one home, there'll still be plenty left!" And indeed: the disappearance of some ten figures did not harm the exhibition that had some three hundred sculptures. The mobilization finally came to an end after the organizers removed from the guest book the page encouraging art collection.
It would follow from the above that the golem is timely, both as a self-chosen theme and as an aesthetic anagnorisis. And, also, as a means of public education, since there are few phenomena of which so little is known as the golem. But how could we know more? More from idle curiosity than anything else, I asked a few people what they knew about the golem. "A huge hulk of a character", said one, while others thought him to be a destructive creature from some fairy tale, a human shaped colossus which, no matter how mighty, stands on wobbly clay feet - and so, should you be able to muster your courage and defy him, you can easily topple him and shatter him into pieces. This is the sum of what I learned from the visitors. This, then, is the idea of the golem in our current consciousness. There is very little literature on the golem the Bible mentions the golem but once: an "unformed substance" (Psalms 139: 16). According to the Aggada, in the second hour of his creation, Adam was still a golem, a body without a soul (Sanhedrin 386). We might even say that he was little more than shapeless clay in the sculptor's hands. What else is there to be known about the golem? According to a Hungarian dictionary, the golem was the huge clay figure brought to life in medieval Jewish mysticism. 'An artificial being', according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 65B). The Babylonian Amora produced a golem in the 4th century, but when he tried to converse with it, the golem stubbornly kept its silence and did not even deign to look at its creator, let alone speak to him. The Amora angrily smashed it to pieces. The Talmud describes the golem as an "artificial being". Beer describes it as an animal created for useful purposes which came alive if a soul was set into it and which could thus be eaten. A most convenient solution, since mud can be found almost anywhere - you just had to model the desired animal, and presto! there was your meal. The same can be said to happen today, when the ceramist sells his figures sculpted from clay (i.e. breathes life into them) and then goes off to buy food or buy a new car (implying that car-golems are also possible), and so on. The meta-symbolics could be continued ad infinitum, but suffice it to say that since the above adequately prove the 'fact' that golems do indeed exist even today. The golem first appears as a figure of terror in the 16th century. One weekend, Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm forgot to remove the slip of paper inscribed with God's name from under the golem's tongue and the clay giant, which had gotten accustomed to his day of rest, smashed everything to pieces in a fit of anger. This is the first literary description of the golem as a harmful and destructive creature. The words golem and Goliath are derived from the same root, this being perhaps the reason that the golem is perceived as a giant. Although this is not necessarily so, since neither Adam, nor we - who are in Adam's likeness - are giants. In Thury's hands the golems become tiny Tom Thumbs. The range is wide enough. What, then, is a golem? Perhaps any figure, into which life has somehow been breathed or into which someone wanted to breathe life. Levente Thury peoples his arena with an understandable freedom - tiny figures, no larger than a thumb appear alongside large torsos, back fragments and opaquely shimmering sex zones, together with golems held by golems, as if he were presenting its progeny of a century, as if to illustrate that yes, this kind of relation is indeed possible among the 'living'. There is something in this liberal and inconsistent approach which also involves a re-interpretation of the figure, as well as a detachment in the positive sense of the word, engendered by a freedom of choice, namely that although in Thury's concept anything can become a golem, the real golem, after all, is the one made by him. And not because he wants to have a monopoly on golems, but rather because he was capable of incorporating his message into his self-defined concept, into the act of naming, according to which "a golem is what I create as such, here and now." This is what he says or, rather, thinks. How interesting. With this free aesthetic commitment, he frees his creations of the legacy of mythology, sculpting artworks characterizing the western world.
Objects? Well, not quite ... In an earlier interview given to himself (in which he tries to obfuscate the issue), he is not exactly speaking about them. "Machines churn out objects and this is why I don't want objects. I am even willing to accept that they might act as dogs, and allow them to bite me." Of course, he too presents a profusion of possible form variants that can be identified with the idea, but with the obvious intent of avoiding even the appearance of objectivity. This is rather apparent at this exhibition, where the statuettes, squatting on thin white pedestals have the ability of merging with their environment to such an extent that the organizers had to hand visitors a looking glass to enable them to at least delay the evaporation of this material medium with the illusory increase of dimensions, or at least to re-divert it into a channel of visibility.
The object and its visibility are beginning to separate, seeing that there are increasingly more objects, such as chips that are barely larger than an ant head, which can practically only be seen through a microscope. The demand for banishing objects in art and its increasing ousting from the market (sellers' market!) has only just begun, but it is a phenomenon we are only just beginning to face. Virtually incorporeal mediums replace the ousted objects. Information carried by electromagnetic waves play an increasingly important role and we may soon find our new images and other novel perceptions through or even in these mediums. Designers conceiving ornamental ceramics, ornamental armchairs and ornamental environments are hardly aware of this, even though - owing to market pressure - they are treading dangerously close to what Gropius and his group fought against in their time. It is not mere chance that artistic enterprise aims to reach beyond the object, beyond the framework of instrumental moulding, hoping to arrive in a world that is more suited to contemplation. To his ideas on objects Thury appended a sentence intended for the layman: "These here, although immobile, are not objects." This encouragement is most certainly necessary, it is music to our ears. A statement like this verifies the golem's goodwill activity and should be considered part of the work. The fact that "these are not objects" is also confirmed with various inscriptions. "Come on, Magyars!", "Device indicating the revival of the lifeless ceramist", "It's probably great to be a father" (the latter is a supposition by a golem) and the like. I have already forgotten most of them, or read them cursorily owing to their bad print - but they definitely helped in making the whole thing less concrete, less material. We might even say that in their relation to our objects, the golems express a social protest, rallying against the objects flooding us. All the more reason for me to applaud their minuteness, their admonishing gaze with which they scrutinize us. But neither should we neglect the modern visual innovations in these works. This could easily be the case since the theme can easily seduce us into a literary train of thought. The most obvious of these innovations are the concept-like texts placed on these small sculptures and the lines or, to be more exact, the straight incised clefts on the torsos. The application of straightness in the fine arts can look back on a century. A heritage which should not be taken lightly. From Mondrian and Kassák, Noland, Frank Stella and others, through hundreds and hundreds of artists to the present, when its direct application may be said to be academism and mannerist geometry. In Thury's work, however, it is a profound development. Operational. Operational even in the sense that it reflects on the scab after an appendicitis, a nephrectomy and cholelithotomy. A surgical topography. The clefts are cut into the figures after they have been fired, which thus reflects both on streak painting and body art and are, at the same time, counterpoints to the loosely sculpted figures. And, quite obviously, the experiences of the "Line" exhibition initiated by Levente Thury (held two years ago) also manifest.
We can see what the golem is today and what it was in the past. In the olden days it was a magical, mystical phenomenon, today it is an art with new elements and aesthetics. It could only be like it used to be together with the slip of paper inscribed with God's name, and it only functioned until the device had the (magnetic?) tape containing the control codes. (Was it perhaps controlled by a computer?) Today it is something entirely different: neither magical, nor mystical. Its minute capability for movement is nourished by our imagination, or by a small triviality - or rather trick - that when leafing through the exhibition catalogue the figures seem to move. The Budapest Art Directorate was willing to break with tradition and instead of the usual A/4 catalogue, enabled the publication of a small art book that corresponded better to the theme of the golem. Thanks to this initiative, our collection of book rarities is also enriched.
As a summary, we can say that we were the witnesses of a cultural event where a new kind of golem-idea was introduced. The artificial came first, reminding us that there is and there was a mythical version, and also proving that there were two types of the same. While we can welcome the new one, we could also come closer to the original. We neither want to chase away the old one nor we want to alienate the new one from the inherited, since we know that if we did this, our golems would immediately become nyppes, which are originated in Japan and has nothing to do with our figures.
As of today, we know and discern two types of golems.
Művészet, September 1984, "Napló"