At the end of May, I talked with artist Gideon Horváth about the metaphor of overripe fruit, which forms the main line of his most recent work. As an artist and curator of the international residency program at Studio PRÁM, I was interested in the material context of beeswax, which Gideon works with almost exclusively, as well as Gideon’s relationship to contemporary garden or floral references in art, influenced by the ecological crisis and his own queer identity.
ŠBK: You have already exhibited in the Czech Republic at the House of Arts in Ústí nad Labem and at the TIC Gallery in Brno, and now after a two-month residency you are exhibiting at Studio PRÁM in Prague. How do you perceive the Czech scene, do you see any significant differences from the Hungarian one? Does the political situation influence the audience’s reactions?
GH: In Hungary, everything is very much centred around Budapest. On the other hand, I think our art scene is really lively and includes many different perspectives. We have a lot of small galleries that work very well, but I still have to say that in the Czech Republic the scene is even richer. The perception of the queer perspective is completely different. In Hungary, I always have to think in advance about the possibility of a negative response from the organizing party. Just in the last year I had three problems with possible censorship of my work. In two cases, they wanted me to delete the word ‚queer‘ from the text because it was against the political climate in the country. But it’s not just that. I feel that the general public doesn’t really know what the term ‚queer‛ means. They understand it in a very sexualised way, they don’t know much about queer theory. I have the impression that in Prague the term ‚queerness‘ seems to have faded away in the contemporary art scene. There are only a few artists in Hungary who deal explicitly with queer issues. There is no community attached to it, it only appears in a fragmented way in various artworks.
ŠBK: You once exhibited in a botanical garden and your work is part of the permanent outdoor exhibition in the gardens of the Kiscelli Museum in Budapest. Do you perceive the installation outdoors differently from the one in the safety of the gallery?
GH: It is important to remember that beeswax is a sensitive material, but at the same time it is very durable. It can easily last hundreds of years in a gallery or in a normal environment. The situation at the Kiscelli Museum was exceptional because it was a given from the beginning that my work would remain outside permanently. When curator Viktória Oth approached me about this realization, I asked her to show me artifacts from the museum’s collections that touch on non-heteronormative themes. They couldnť really show me much. I wanted to see at least a plaster model by Lajos Barta, one of my favorite sculptors, which I knew they had in their collection. Surprisingly, they also brought out his graphic designs. As I gazed at them in fascination, the curator of the collection of prints told us: „Wait a minute!“ He reached for another folder, which contained works by Endre Rozsda. At that moment I understood that these two men were a couple, we just keep quiet about it. A feeling of frustration therefore came over me, for which I searched for the exact symbol. So I came up with the metaphor of overripe fruit left hanging on a tree. It might have been plucked and it might have been perfect, but now it’s overripe. So for the museum’s collection, I created a metal installation with three wax fruits that have plates underneath them. Over the years, the wax will drip into the plates – the fruit serves itself to visitors, revealing a bronze core. I should note, though, that the installation has been in place since last June, and even though we’ve had an incredibly hot summer, nothing has happened to the wax yet, it’s just lost its color.
ŠBK: Do you feel like there’s as much difference between nature and a garden as there is between a public space and a gallery?
GH: For the first edition of the Biennial in Public Space in Budapest I am preparing a monument that will be in the middle of a small pond in a park. The park is very unmaintained, but in the past it was a famous cruising spot for gay men. This connection is very important to me – I think wildlife and dating are directly linked. That’s why I’m also very inspired by the wild vegetation in Prague. In the city there is basically no control over it, grass grows everywhere. I think it’s very beautiful, it’s something very Eastern European. So I’m becoming more and more fascinated with making art for public space, but at the same time I hope that people secretly touch my work in the gallery when the gallerists aren’t looking. Because we have to touch the wax.
ŠBK: The decline of bees may be one of the last warnings for humanity in the near future. Do you feel that the constant contact with their body product has influenced you in any way in your perception of nature and the ecological crisis?
GH: Often a bee flies in, that is why I have this jar here. They fly to me because they smell the wax, which of course attracts them. I catch them and carry them out, but sometimes they come back anyway. I’m well aware that the amount of wax I’m working with must be made by thousands of bees. I have a lot of respect for them and I am grateful to them. The wax carries a story about the exploitation of nature. It is a by-product of honey production, but of course it has a dark ecological subtext, the kind that Timothy Morton writes about. There is one other thing I love about bees. They are a great example of how nature is queer. If you think about it, plants have sex with each other through bees.
ŠBK: It’s a completely anti-patriarchal community. I like to think of the artwork as a Deleuzian rhizome that continues to grow into the mindset of the audience. Your works are really beautiful in terms of general aesthetic perception and they attract a wide audience to whom you can then slip your subversive queer messages…
GH: Yes, it’s a trap! I think it’s easy to create beautiful things, symbols and forms out of beeswax. But I like to work with the fact that if you look closely at the wax and perhaps at my works, you will feel a certain disgust. It’s still a bodily fluid, it’s something very physical, from within. It’s like carnivorous plants that attract flies and when they come close they fall in.
ŠBK: During the preparation of the Pulp exhibition at Studio PRÁM, you told me vividly about a memory from your childhood, when you picked and tasted a sun-warmed apricot in the garden of a country house. The objects of undefined fruits also interconnect your whole exhibition, and fruit in general is a metaphor for many pleasant things. What does it mean to you personally?
GH: The fruit as a symbol can be seen from many different perspectives and so my works can be interpreted in a completely different way than I originally intended. And that’s exciting. That’s why I like the fruit symbol so much. I think for me personally, it has this meaning of viscerality. The fruit has flesh inside and a core in the middle. I really like the idea of something hidden inside. The other part of the memory I was telling you is that I stepped on a rotten fruit on the ground and its warm flesh flowed through my fingers.
ŠBK: It’s actually a closed circle for you. You make fruit out of beeswax, and if there are no bees, there will be no fruit.
GH: Oh, now I’ll have to try not to think about it.
ŠBK: I have a memory from when I was taking care of an apple orchard. I developed an unhealthy sense of responsibility for the apples – not even one couldn’t be wasted. I was comforted only by the thought that in a world without people, all the fruit would fall to the ground and turned into humus from which more plants would grow.
GH: It’s just like my objects, the overripe fruit. Nobody harvests it – and it can stay that way, it’s all right. It will have its own destiny. But life will be much better if somebody plucks the fruits.