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Video work All Here All Now
Fern L. Nesson: Dimensionism
Some of my most cherished moments have been spent discovering parallel ideas to my own in the writings of those who came before me. When I was thinking about the connections between theoretical mathematics and abstract photography, I found an incisive companion in Henri Poincaré, the great early 20th century French mathematician. When translating the poetry of Baudelaire, George Steiner, who coined the concept of "mimesis," was right on my wavelength. Buddha and Einstein became close friends as I explored the nature of time.
Most of my friends from generations past are well-known. But my most recent discovery of Károly Sirató came as a complete surprise. A Hungarian poet, who advocated a paradigm shift in the arts in response to Einstein's theories, was neither mentioned in the books that I read about 20th century art nor in my MFA program in photography. What a shame!
Sirató was born in Budapest in 1905 and moved to Paris in 1930. Apparently, he was quite gregarious. He soon made friends with a circle of artists and poets who were upending the conventions of the 19th Century, among them Calder, Arp, Picabia, Duchamp, DeLaunay, Moholy-Nagy, Miró and Kandinsky.
In 1936 Sirató drafted "The Dimensionist Manifesto", advocating the incorporation of the fourth dimension – time – and non-Euclidean geometry into the arts. He argued that
“[P]ioneers of creative art on their way towards completely new realms [must leave] older forms and exhausted essences as prey for less demanding artists! [S]pace and time are not separate categories – absolutes in opposition to one another – as was earlier believed and taken for granted, but rather they are related dimensions in the sense of the non-Euclidean conception. By intuiting this fact, or by making it our own through conscious means, all the old borders and barriers of the arts suddenly disappear.”
Sirató predicted that the results of this shift would be transformative. Literature [would leave] the line and enter the plane (Apollinaire's Calligrammes); painting would leave the plane and enter space (Cubism, Surrealism); sculpture would open up to movement (Calder's mobiles). Finally, Sirató foresaw a completely new art form – “Cosmic Art” – which would "vaporize sculpture into 'matter-music.' "
Sirató had a ready audience for his Manifesto in his friendship circle. They all signed his remarkable document (attached) and continued for decades to produce art that reflected his advocacy. But, while their art and their fame persist, Sirató sank into obscurity. As World War II approached, his friends scattered, and he returned to Budapest (where he died in 1980.) Post-War, the conversation about art has moved on pretty much without him.
Sirató deserves better. As a photographer of the fourth dimension, who seeks to evoke depth and time in her work, I walk in his footsteps. Many photographers aim for "the decisive moment" evoking nostalgia for what was and can never be again. I am not one of them.
I seek to embody the moment when mass becomes energy. Like Sirató, Einstein informs my work. My photographs move and offer energy to the viewer. I believe that art alive with energy is our greatest weapon against the paralysis that comes from the fear of death. When we interact with a living work of art and receive the energy from it, we glimpse immortality. We are "living, not dying." (Tao Te Ching)
This exhibition is dedicated to my new friend Károly Sirató, a visionary thinker who lived in the fourth dimension.
Fern L. Nesson is a fine art photographer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her MFA in Photography from Maine Media College (2018), a J.D. (Harvard Law School (1971), and an M.A. in American History (Brandeis University 1987).
Fern's spare photographs distill reality to its essence, highlighting its energy through the use of form and abstraction. She has had solo exhibitions in Arles, France, the MIT Museum, the MetaLab at Harvard, the Beacon Gallery in Boston, the Auburn Gallery in Los Angeles, Through This Lens Gallery in Durham, NC, Rockport, Maine and on artsy.net. Additionally, her work has been selected for numerous juried exhibitions in the U.S. and in Rome, Barcelona, and Budapest.
Fern's photobook, Signet of Eternity, received a 10th Annual Photobooks Award from the Davis-Orton Gallery and her book, WORD, received the 12th Annual Photobooks Award from the Davis-Orton Gallery. She writes historical photo essays for The LivingNewDeal.org, and photo essays on art and culture for BonjourParis.com.
Opening of the exhibition at the PH21 Gallery in Budapest, Hungary
January 14, 2022
First, we are delighted to have this fantastic exhibition here in Budapest and are extremely happy that the artist was able to join us tonight. Thank you very much Fern for sharing your works with us.
To avoid the talking-head syndrome, I thought I’d better split up the opening into two parts:
outline the history and context, and
develop an open dialog with the artist on her photographic approach and philosophy
A 25-year-old young poet turned lawyer from Central Europe, named Charles Tamko, moves to Paris for he has been harassed back home by the authorities. The reason was his unusual two-dimensional visual poems.
In the ’30ies the art life in Paris is boiling due to competing various art movements ranging from the surrealist and dada all the way up to the Abstraction-Création movement. All define themselves against the prevailing social order and against each other.
In ’31, basically to counteract the aggressive surrealist movement lead by André Breton, Theo van Doesburg, August Herbin, Jean Hélion and Georges Vantongerloo, founded the Abstraction-Création movement with the idea of bringing reason and visual logic to art and connect to science. Quite a number of Hungarian artists, migrants in Paris if you like, took part in the activities of the group such as Alfred Reth, László Moholy-Nagy, Ferenc Martyn and Lajos Tihanyi to mention but a few.
Let me insert here an interesting parallel event: prior to destroying the Bauhaus by the Nazis Walter Gropius invited the logical positivist Rudolf Carnap of the Wiener Kreise to give a talk there. In his lecture “Wissenschaft und Leben” Carnap reveals that “I deal with science, while you with visible shapes [sichtbare Form]. There is no difference between the two as they are representing two different aspects of the same life.”
In 1937 Sophie Taeuber-Arp launched a tri-lingual magazine in Meudon, France, called Plastique. The first issue was devoted to Malevich. The appendix of the second issue in the summer of the same year contains a text in French, THE DIMENSIONIST MANIFESTO, by that migrant poet Charles Tamko, based on the then new conception of space and time. There, based on Minkowski’s theory they are not separated as there is a space-time continuity. Tamko argued that the non-euclidean geometry of János Bolyai and subsequently Einstein’s general relativity opens new vistas for all the arts from one dimensional poetry to 3D sculptures and beyond. (“It was through Planism, the theory of two-dimensional literature, that we noted its relevance to the arts. We generalized its application in order that we might attribute -- in the most natural way possible -- the seemingly chaotic, unsystematic and inexplicable artistic phenomena of our age to one single common law.") Dimensionism, therefore, was not against anything but offered a new synthesis for art. The mission statement and logo of the movement was „N+1 pour LES ARTS NON-EUCLIDIENSˮ
The Maniefsto was signed, inter alia, by Hans Arp, Wasily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamps, Sonia Delunay, Anna (Anton) Prinner (yet another lesser known Hungarian artists) and later by Joan Miró, Picabia, László Moholy-Nagy, Katarina Kobro and Ben Nicholson to mention but a few of the giants of 20thcentury art.
But who was this Tamko man? For Hungarians the following poem brings back our childhood and should certainly ring the bell:
Vándor kedved meddig éled?
Játszanék már újra véled.
Messzeségből hozzám térj meg!
Tőlem többé el ne tévedj,
Yes! Tamko is Károly Tamkó Sirató who is the author of the above poem in Hungarian for children. Born in 1905 in Újvidék, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Novi Sad, Serbia.
Tamkó Sirató did not have a happy ending. Soon after the Manifesto he had to return to Hungary ... died in Budapest in 1980.
However, dimensionism survived – see the MADI (Movement – Abstraction – Dimension – Invention), Carmelo Arden-Quin, Gyula Kosice (the first kinetic sculpture) that is still active today.
Let me close with paraphrasing Wittgenstein’s “The world is all that is the case” as “Tamkó Sirató is all that is the case [in modern art]”.
This is the context within which I propose to view and understand Fern Nesson’s photography.
Please return in a few days to read the critical reviews about the exhibition and to view and order the exhibition catalogue.
This exhibition was supported by the Local Government of Ferencváros District (Budapest Főváros IX. Kerület Ferencváros Önkormányzata).