This fall’s film programme The Labyrinth, the Room and the Straight Line at Kunsthall Trondheim continues with the film Self Fashion Show (1976) by Hungarian artist Tibor Hajas. If the first film, Neša Paripovic’s NP 77, offered an image of the city as a labyrinth to access and conquer through short cuts, Tibor Hajas’s film highlights the street as a room where the language and images of political structures is inflicted on the city’s citizens.
In the film Self Fashion Show, Hajas returns to language’s power over the citizens. In other works from the same period Tibor Hajas investigated the private individual’s relationship to the power, and the different instruments used as tools for power — language. In performance based works, in which he used the surfaces of the street, like facades, to write letters which simultaneously mocked political language and were sad and humoristic reminders of the fact that communication with the world outside of communist Hungary where problematic, to say the least. His interest in language and the possibility and impossibility of communication constitutes the basis for those works, a focus that reoccurs in Self Fashion Show.
In Self Fashion Show the artist asks passers-by on the street to stop for a moment and briefly present their image to the camera. To the silent images the artist added a soundtrack where various voices give the participants instructions and criticise them. The “models” who cannot hear the voices still seem to be cowering before the criticism. They are being inspected, subjected to the scrutinizing gaze of the camera and their language has been taken away from them. In some indoors scenes the participants are standing in front of the camera in an empty space reminiscent of an interrogation room. A voice reassures them: “You aren’t forced to say anything that you’d feel sorry for later on”, which reinforces the impression of an interrogation.
Self Fashion Show expresses the artist’s frustration with language which is contaminated with the demands of the authorities, and in this way becomes unusable as a means of communication. At the same time the artist turns the language away from itself and negates it through an ironic and absurd use of the repressive mechanisms employed by the regime. Tibor Hajas transforms the mechanisms into a tool and on one level the audible language turns into silence when it is emptied of meaning. The most powerful presence in the work is that of the participants’ bodies and what they express visually, through their faces and their clothes. The self-defining aspect that the title of the work ironically refers to, and which is contradicted in the work — the image defines the individual — is still present through the silent resistance displayed by the models in Self Fashion Show.
During the latter part of his short career — he died in a car accident only 34 years old — Tibor Hajas developed a performance art similar to that of the Vienna Actionists who were examining the limits of the body and of consciousness. In one of his best-known works, Dark Flash (1978) he made the spectators into co-actors without their knowledge, when, hanging from the ceiling, he used his camera to document their hesitation to interfere in a performance where he risked his life. Just as in Self Fashion Show, the “ordinary person” became a co-actor in a course of events that he could not survey.
Tibor Hajas was born in Budapest in 1946 and died in 1980.
Thanks to Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group, Vienna.