Katalin Káldi: The Perfect Six
6 December 2019 – 19 January 2020
The starting point of every thought is doubt – a kind of indecision and uncertainty. If there was no doubt, I suspect, there would be no sense in thinking. In this regard, ambiguity and multiple possible meanings appear more fruitful than unequivocality. Unequivocality is not a point of departure, but the final goal. The task is to articulate one’s thoughts about ambiguity in an unambiguousmanner, that is to say, to contain doubt within oneness. In writing and speaking about their creative process, numerous artists have described starting from a point of fertile doubt, with a view to achieving clarity of thought and form.
Oneness and doubt are among the key concepts of Katalin Káldi’s art. As apparent from Mónika Zsikla’s monograph, even the artist’s earliest works from around 1996 are connected to these concepts, and later, in her DLA dissertation, she also placed great emphasis on these terms.In the Hungarian language, the word “kétség”, meaning “doubt”, can be traced back to “kettősség”, or “duality”, just as the English word “doubt”– of Latin roots – is close in sound to “double”, and the German “Zweifel” to “zwei”.
Dual shapes are often returning elements and modules in Katalin Káldi’s art. For instance, the dumbbells, which, at first glance, appear banally unambiguous in her paintings and sculptures, on second take, assume a myriad of other possible meanings: they become piles of bones, stylised parts of molecules, or simplified structural representations of the organic and inorganic worlds. They appear as images or formulas of the balance between two identical, but oppositely positioned, forms(of two fundamental principles, as it were), as if they provided a basic scheme for unifying opposites – for bringing doubt (duality) into oneness.
In other cases, it is not the dumbbell but the number two itself that becomes a basic unit of the world on the whole,from which, in some instances, masses of stick figures (skeletons), and, at other times, a hilly landscape unfolds. The forms are articulated by the number two and its absence, as well as the subtle painterly play of varyinggrades of colour tones. The numbers, as basic units of all existing entities, float and swim in an undefined space. We may recall that anything – essentially, the universe on the whole – can be described through the system of binary codes; it is enough to think of the digital world that rules our everyday life. The word “digital” comes from the Latin “digitus”, originally meaning “finger”. Human beings use their hands and fingers to count, just as they do to paint: in both cases, the intellectual activity is connected to the tactile sense.
I often feel that what Katalin Káldi is doing is counting – in space and on the two-dimensional plane. Consciously and unconsciously, she follows a numerical order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – from the countable to the uncountable, the finite to the infinite, and the measurable to the immeasurable. She sometimes playfully switches the steps, thereby breaking the monotony. Apparent mistakes – irregularities – are the exceptions that prove the rule, while also curbing-counteracting the teaching. Katalin Káldi counts on the randomness and chance that is encoded in the creative process, thereby discounting the illusion of perfection. At the same time, she also discounts certain painterly traditions. The monochromy that dominates her works inherently carries doubts regarding the classic concept of easel painting. Katalin Káldi does more than merely invoke the doubts that rule monochrome painting, however; she questions them – the doubt she represents in her paintings is, itself, doubtful.
In pondering the duality encoded in the notion of doubt, it may occur to us: the metaphysical thinking that has defined European culture for millennia is itself nothing but a binary system that confronts matter with spirit, body with soul, things with ideas. The objects of Katalin Káldi’s latest works are ideal forms, and numbers that can be connected to them. These – by necessity – abstract things, however, in every instance, assume emphatically material-like form.
As a next step, it would be tempting to also describe Katalin Káldi’s art as a dialectic playing field of theses and antitheses. Doing so, however, would divert our attention away from the works themselves. For the most part, painters are not philosophers. They work primarily with matter, not words. Katalin Káldi, too, struggles with matter; with the fragility and weight of plaster, the floating of shell-structures, the drying time and diverse properties of pigments, and the technical pitfalls inherent in the millennia-old methods of mosaic making. Matter appears measurable (it has mass and volume), and yet, it is uncountable. Only those most knowledgeable about the properties of matter can surmise how many tubes of paint were applied to a piece of canvas, or how much liquid was necessary for the plaster surface to set.
Katalin Káldi articulates numerability through the innumerable. Mosaic laying is, in essence, the segmentation of a two-dimensional surface, and then its rearrangement with the resulting pieces. While mosaic pieces are countable, they are difficult to count with the naked eye. The gleam of their reflective surfaces cannot be counted or calculated either. What we see is exact, measured and contoured, and yet it continuously changes in accordance with the light hitting it. The glimmering pieces of the mosaic, the silky surface of the paintings and the microscopic creases of the pigments appear ever different, depending on the time of day or given vantage point.
What the viewer sees appears clearly given, and yet, in reality, it is nevertheless doubtable.
Perfection dazzles us, it shines towards us. Shining arrives from afar. It reaches the lenses of our eyes, penetrates through to the insides of our heads, but it does not touch the skin, we cannot feel it. In order to bridge a distance we need time, however short it may be. It is an immeasurable expanse, an intensive presence. Shining consists simultaneously of the coolness of crystal structures and the warmth of heat radiation, as well as all the colours in the spectrum. It also has direction, but not quantity.
Blue is an indeterminate colour. Blotchy and fluid. Let us ignore for now the little blue flowers of Novalis, their surface is too small. Blue is incapable of radiating, it does not transmit matter or heat. Any sensible person dislikes it and considers getting rid of it. And yet its great neutrality is there just waiting to be used, it is so neutral, it is nothing for a multitude of straight lines drawn towards a single point or (and I myself am unable to decide) from a single point to be marked out, even with pale blue ceramic mosaic stones, ultimately it is possible to record their direction. It is possible to do anything, the main thing is the direction, which should be accurate, comparatively accurate. And the straight lines should keep moving, in time as well, at an indeterminate speed. They should divide the fields up into parts, into sections. But where they lead should be a single point, always only one.
For desire, for the prime mover, distance is needed.
Blue is an aberration, but even with that it can be done. (Katalin Káldi)
The basic form of oneness in Katalin Káldi’s art is the circle. Around a point with no dimensions, she draws an infinite number of points. The circle is but the sum total of an infinite number of edges. The unity of a circleshape cannot be broken without its deterioration.
In Katalin Káldi’s paintings, the circle is formed by the rim of a bucket or a drinking glass. To the viewer, however, it looks cosmic in scale. It is like a simultaneously majestic and blinding solar eclipse. In her previous works, Káldi arranged objects into structures. She created conceptual still lifes. Lately, she has been shaping structures of thoughts into objects; that is to say, rather than merely conceptualising still life and (object) painting, she makes the concept itself the object of painting.
Her shapes are ideal forms; the apparent source of hermotifs is planar and spatial geometry. While it seems she thinks in terms of two- and three-dimensional forms, in reality, she builds a bridge between one- and four-dimensional shapes.
She often starts with a single point – a zero-dimensional formation that does not extend into space. Her circular shapesare concentrated in a solitary point. Paradoxically, however, the object of Katalin Káldi’s art is not this point, but the concentration itself.
Reduction is connected to the act of concentration. Káldi, for the most part, limits her palette to a single colour (although she does not use more than two or three colours in her “more colourful” works either). Visual unity is realised through monochromy. Her compositions are based on aunicolour surface. In the beginning, there was the two-dimensional plane. In the beginning, there was colour. Katalin Káldi’s genesis would begin something like this.
In addition toher paintings, the artist’s plaster works – the other commonly used medium of the oeuvre –are also monochromes, while, in her mosaics, she builds reduced polychromy using monochrome quanta. In her plaster forms, the painting extends into space. In her paintings, her austere plaster shapes are saturated with colour. They begin to vibrate and pulsate. Plaster may bring to mind plaster models;the cylinder, the sphereand the conethat Paul Cézanne talked about. Plaster forms – just as plaster replicas – are teaching aids used in drawing lessons. The ephemeral plaster objects are models. Are they perhaps models of thought? I cannot regard Katalin Káldi’s paintings in any other way: I see them as models of thought. Her mosaics “depicting” floor plans also confirm this impression, and, in that, they are but the mapping out of three-dimensional space. They are maps in both the literal and abstract sense of the word – that is to say, they are ultimately models.
In Katalin Káldi’s current exhibition, oneness is expressed not so much by the number one, as the number six. The perfect six, as denoted in the title. We are inadvertently reminded of throwing dice and cleromancy, as well as their various (re)interpretations from Stéphane Mallarmé to Marcel Duchamp. (The dicemotif had also appeared in Káldi’s previous works.) One may wonder: how much of a role does random chance play in Katalin Káldi’s art? Clearly, it plays a significant role – in spite of the fact that everything is calculated and well-structured.
The perfect six, this time around, consists of three times three centrally symmetrical triangles extending into space. It is a phalanx shaped from plaster: a lean collection of suspended shields, simultaneously aggressive and fragile. It is like a statement articulated with ruthless precision that nevertheless questions itself. I am reminded of a sentence written by Imre Bak many years ago, which still offers an extraordinarily accurate characterisation of Katalin Káldi’s art practice: “The statement is like a simple sentence, with its definitiveness simultaneously questioned. In this way, the sentence becomes suspended and the visual significance of the work – the painting as vision – emerges to the fore.”
Katalin Káldi’s works are simple sentence-like statements that question themselves over and over again. The perfect six is, in reality, not perfect, which is perhaps what makes it perfect. As the artist herself puts it: “There is a strong temptation to achieve order, or at least the illusion of it. It nevertheless seems natural that our attempts to that end should fail, one after the other. But I don’t really see this as failure; we are unable to be precise.” I, too, feel that the real power of the “perfect six” is exactly in this. It refers with needle-sharp precision to the impossibility of achieving precision, of being exactly “on point” – and to the intangibility of that “point”. Katalin Káldi’s statement with regards to this intangibility takes shape in objects – in tangible, palpable, perceivable objects – which present doubt, or duality, as indivisible-divisible oneness.
The Perfect Six
The number six, to mathematicians, is a “perfect number”, meaning that its factors add up to the number itself (1+2+3=6).
There are two concepts here: perfection and the name of a number, six, which is associated with perfection. The first concept, by definition, is indivisible, limitless and infinite. The second, whatever number is represented (in this case, six), has a defined limit, can be divided, and is finite. It is wedged in between two other numbers. And yet we say that it is not wedged, not finite, but perfect, and therefore infinite. How can this be? (Katalin Káldi)