I could claim the obvious that the digital visual culture of the Y2K-era is our antiquity. The first urge from such a statement would be to dig out the ruins of the near past: not only the electronic devices but also the hallucinations that these discarded objects contain. The splurges of tonally modulated pixels, the caved-in tunnels of Dungeon Keeper 2., the squarish movements of Agent 47 or the ever-repeating landscape backdrops to the capitalist hunt for slowly revolving golden coins in painfully unreal currencies. However, plug and play rarely works for these antiquities. One can also give muscle memory a try: the fingers slowly spinning webs around the four arrow keys or the console buzzing, the warmth of a nearby pizza, in short, the logistics of virtual reality. In this archaeology, the soil which has to be investigated is the internet itself: a dense, sticky pseudo world where all human activity gets imprinted. Painters, like Botond Keresztesi, bring back distant visual triggers, for those who still have some unfinished mission in the virtual sphere: a save slot left unopened for too long, an uncaught apple, a motorbike levitating since the last millennium. Instead of recreating previous experiences – and the resulting emotional-cognitive reactions – on a technically more advanced platform, Keresztesi deploys the ancient practice of painting to recontextualise digital and non-digital fragments.
Keresztesi’s current exhibition Van Gogh’s Airbnb at Trapéz Gallery in Budapest shows seven mixed media paintings, that are compositionally centred around a gargantuan human ear floating mid-air. Attributes pierce through the severed human organs, anchoring identity to the otherwise neutral body parts. Small-scale visual signs connect the ears to the smoothly rendered backgrounds: three glistening droplets of blood, the looming cast shadow of the tip of a knife, a saintly hand seemingly planting greenery on the peak of a mountain or a golden cross earring wedged under a lonely ear. The exhibition redefines ideas of portraiture by means of radical metonymy. From the curatorial statement by Andrea Soós, we learn that these partial depictions were based on stock-photographs found on the internet. The thus resulting emptiness of the “face” – the blank stare of the hearing apparatus – is negated with cybernetic extensions and other violations against the neutrality of the image. The extremely sophisticated articulation of these additional elements should not trick us: this is as punk as it gets.
In the painting Stoner Elf (2019) three Neue Sachlichkeit-style cigarettes burn through the grey, nonhuman ear. The tips of the cigarettes disintegrate into multi-layered heaps and the viewer is drawn close to these meticulously detailed points in the midst of the vast burnt-out blue backdrop. The blazé smile of the two seesawing emojis (“new moon face”, “full moon face”, Apple iOS 5.1-10.0) are in strong contrast with the atmosphere of the nearby painting, Hell Energy (2019), which paraphrases Hieronymus Bosch’s vision of hell by changing the simple blade of the original to an oversaturated combat knife. Additionally the arrowhead – which is also found in Bosch’s prototype – is transformed into a Magritte-sphere (a little bell worn by horses, a symbol perhaps alluding to sound). The art historical references are not simply replaced by contemporary counterparts – which would be a typical weak attempt at being up-to-date – instead, they are upgraded to become more brutal and badass, installing a logic that is totally alien to the classical perspectives of art but is well-known in the narratives of online character development.
There is a heraldic quality to these paintings. The tight constellation of symbols and motifs suggests the possibility of a clear-cut interpretation, but we are finally left in the blue by Keresztesi. In the painting Recreation of the World (2019) the angel from Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel (Joachim’s Dream) appears: the distance between the message-bearing angel and Joachim’s ear – who himself does not appear explicitly in Keresztesi’s painting – is brought to a bare minimum, as the angel virtually flies through the flesh tunnel, while the angel’s staff is transformed into a piercing stick. Thus the whole scene becomes an elaborate piece of jewellery. The cumulus clouds are also blinged up, wearing earrings discretely in the background as a lonely eye cries metallic teardrops in the corner…
The more one tries to figure out the image, the more the iconography becomes a closed system, where meaning only leaks through the cracks in the technical apparatus of the painting. The airbrushed areas appear immaterial next to the clash of oil and acrylic, and also recall the spray paint tool from the days of primaeval MS Paint. The spatial dimension of the repeatedly painted outlines allow a more subjective presence to emerge among the perfect flat expanses. All of these material aspects direct the viewer to forge a connection between the elements of the paintings not only conceptually but based on visual association, reminding us of the old RPG-truth that if there is a well-built platform – with a visual language that creates a concise universe – all kinds of unlikely characters can come together.
@ Trapéz Gallery
On view: 23. 09. 2019. – 08. 11. 2019.
Curator: Andrea Soós
 This is a rephrasing of one of the leitmotifs of Documenta 12.: “Is modernity our antiquity?”.