Fábián Erika's soloshow curated by Inemesit Etentuk at Artkartell in Budapest.
Erika Fábián: Do We Dare Look Under the Bed?
Curated by Inemesit Etentuk
November 17, 2022 - 23 March, 2023
Artkartell, PP Center, Budapest
Erika Fábián has once again applied her chosen, at this point almost program-like method; a creative process based on slow, immersed hand-based techniques. The results of this method so far have mostly been abstract creations, all-over composites that come together from thousands of dots – either building from chromatic processes or contained strictly in monochrome, while dynamically thickening and thinning. The tiny spots and dots were prints of the artist’s feelings, traumas, and memories, manifested in minimal gestures. For the artist, the self-explaining processes become a part of the artwork, alike to Pollock’s action paintings; only here it is not the creator’s physical but mental happenings whose “prints” appear on canvas or paper. For the viewer, though, the specific feelings remained hidden, which, due to the artworks’ abstract nature, gave space to open interpretations and served as a starting point for new mental processes. In her previous works, the typical materials of graphic arts techniques, such as lithographic crayons or paper, and even playfulness (in Quiet Ritual, the dots are applied on wooden blocks) played prominent roles. In this series, extended to an installation, Erika Fábián has started to utilize a new technique; moreover, for the first time, we find ourselves with figurative creations. She has cut up blown-up digital prints of her own childhood drawings into thin strips, which she then used to weave paper figures of insects and beetles: the lyrical quality of the colored-drawn surfaces and the weaving’s geometry account for the inner complexity of her forms. Inside the “pupae” and “cocoons” made out of paper strips, and hanging in space, the unrecognizably disarrayed details of children’s drawings reveal themselves.
It is a cliché, but true: humankind’s cultural interest in the animal world is unceasing, an interest, which almost always has pointed in the same direction: to explore and interpret the world that surrounds us. Ever since the prehistoric manifestations of art, animals have represented reaching another sphere for humans. This is well documented in the half-animal and half-human portrayals (for instance, in Lion-man, one of the most ancient, several thousand years old creations depicting a human figure) – animals have represented the connection with the unknown, transcendent world and, naturally, the key to their existence and survival. Studies of animals date back to Aristotle, who divided animals into two main categories: those with blood (anaima) and the inferior ones without blood (enaima), for animals with blood were social beings (zoon politikon). He classified animals in his studies based on the presence of “soul” (psuche) on a “ladder of nature.”
In Christian culture and in the symbolic depictions of Christian arts where animals symbolized good and bad, carrying god and evil-like qualities, mosquitos and, especially, flies were creatures of the devil. The meaning of Beelzebub is “Lord of the flies,” hence the usual portrayal of hell’s lord as an enormous fly or mosquito. Flies, along with louse and fleas, were created by God to punish laziness, as opposed to bees; the latter being an image of cleanliness and diligence, while the former of sins. Erika Fábián’s animal creations are the flea, mosquito, European firebug, darkling beetle, nocturnal moth, praying mantis, and fly. I am not stating, however, that the artist activated Christian cultural symbols, meaning that she would directly reference that graphical and textual tradition; rather, her roots lie in the atheized, sometimes folksy interpretation of European cultures. As the exhibition’s foreword also alludes to this: the presented works offer an opportunity to confront the world of beliefs.
But let us continue within this rough overview with the predecessors of fine arts: playing, the world of children, and the animal kingdom became important to surrealists as a means to research the collective unconscious, and were validated by the psychoanalytic theory. Moreover, insects and beetles were linked to the feminine, as the female praying mantis or spider devour the male after mating – they all are evidences of Freudian theories (a famous example of this is Giacometti’s mantis-like sculpture Invisible Object from 1934). Moreover, for Dezső Korniss (Firebug) or Desmond Morris (The Jumping Three, 1949) shells, jointed appendages, and abdomens are recurring, playful, albeit scary elements, often times relating to humans.
The other week I visited The Animal Within exhibition at Wien’s mumok, where they have used pieces of the museum’s collection to create a display of zoo in the exhibition spaces. Intended to make us think about the questions of sexuality, hunger, family, socialization, and domestication (the latter raising the question of colonization as well); in other words, to examine the animal kingdom from an anthropological point of view. Indeed, entomology itself researches the relationship between insects and humans, and classifies them based on how they correlate to human activities (agricultural pests, silk producers etc.). Post-human theories and their depictions in fine arts, nevertheless, recognize an opportunity for a new world interpretation in the rejection of this anthropocentric approach. The trans-human, hybrid bodies now become unrecognizably blended units of animals and humans, irrevocably questioning the dichotomous separation of the human and animal world.
With Erika Fábián, there is no reference to human forms; thanks to the smooth paper weaving and children’s drawings, the arthropods become tame. Personal past and its visual declarations are reborn in a new system, in insect and beetle forms. In forms of animals, who, though live in close vicinity to us, uninvited, are hard to control, their presence is an inconvenience, are inscrutable, and thus make our skin crawl. Visually uniting the childlike manifestations and the repulsive insects mirrors something of a new Freudian view here: an intention for the subconscious to manifest and be analyzed, and a struggle with our own fears. The portrayal and blow-up of insects and beetles echoes an opportunity to not only explore the unknown, but also children’s plays and children’s experience (as a child, who would not try to separate stuck-together firebugs?); small animals are enlarged in the fantasy world of children who see themselves as small. For Erika Fábián, abstracting and reimagining children’s drawings and altering the scales of beetles and insects account for a process that creates meaning, where childhood fears take shape in the now appealing forms of animals. During the long, meticulous work process, the artist becomes close to the animals that embody her fears, more specifically: close to their illustrations, to the point where they become her own. The praying mantis is, in fact, a predator that often devours the male after mating.
Swarms of locusts, as we know, are a symbol of the destruction of life in the Old Testament: the plague of locusts is God’s punishment in Egypt (Exodus 10.1), while, in the Apocalypse, human-faced locusts must torture humans. It is exactly because of their enlargement that the beast-like qualities of insects and beetles become apparent. Pop culture works with this idea as well: a demonstrative example being the insect-like xenomorphs of the Alien movies, who are on a quest to destroy humankind and, thus, acting as a call to arms. Erika Fábián, however, does not offer this path, but one of exploration and taming – in line with psychotherapeutic methods.
Photo: István András Juhász