From apparel design to sacral banners, from performance fashion shows to landscaping and philosophical poetry, the work of Erzsébet Katona Szabó (b. 1952) stretches a uniquely wide spectrum. Compellingly elegant and refined yet contemplative and melancholic at the same time, her creative stance draws on the complexity of a life style defined by a masterful touch with colours, light and materials, sensitivity and sensuality, a penchant for intellectual adventure and private mythology on the one hand and active involvement with the community on the other. As the artist is still in full possession of her creative powers, this essay is not intended to be a summation so much as an attempt to outline a few dominant sources of inspiration and trends in her work that have ensured for her a prominent position in contemporary Hungarian art.
ON HUNGARIAN TAPESTRY ART
Although the décor of Renaissance courts and mansions in Hungary frequently featured tapestry from Flanders and France, there is no early evidence of weaveries established in Hungary itself. In fact, not before the beginning of the 20th century can we talk about an unfolding domestic tradition with identifiable forerunners and sets of objects. The leaders of the Artists’ Colony in Gödöllő, Aladár Kriesch Körösfői and Sándor Nagy, dreamed up interiors realising the idea of a spiritualised human environment within a stylistically coherent context of European Art Nouveau combined with Hungarian folk art, using the highly refined tools of the applied arts. However, the pictorial designs, with their subtle colour schemes, did not lend themselves to the kind of woven reproduction that would point the way to the emergence of a Gobelin genre in its own right. It was Noémi Ferenczy who single-handedly established modern Hungarian tapestry art and at once elevated it to European rank between the two World Wars,1 using the figure of a toiling man to symbolise the idea of human association and community. Marked by a highly stylized quality, a naïve tone of voice, intimate familiarity with the secrets of materials and the possibilities afforded by the original Gobelin method, as well as by the firm unity of design and manual implementation, her Gobelin style was deeply steeped in classical traditions. After 1945, her work made to commission, predominantly from the government, required the visualisation of clearly articulated notions of history and politics.2
By the second half of the 1960s, as modernism ground to a halt, artists around the world had increasingly begun to turn to softer materials. The vanguard of textile artists expanded and dismantled the boundaries of traditional techniques and genres. Textile craft no longer simply meant the sum of processes whereby plant, animal, or mineral fibres are first generated, then used to produce textile by weaving, spinning, looping, or felting. Hitherto unknown techniques and material experiments generated new genres and forms, rendering permeable the boundaries separating various branches of art. The pioneering three-dimensional,spatial textiles and textile fibre applications were first followed by efforts to chart new ways of generating fabric, then by the repudiation of these new ways. The aim of decoration was gradually displaced by demands for intellectual expression and conceptualisation. During the soft dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, experimental textile art in Hungary presented an all too rare opportunity for creative freedom, and not just for textile artists. The institutional venues were supplied by the Biennale of Textile Arts in Szombathely and the Experimental Workshop of Textile Arts in Velem, both run by the professional association.3
Afterwards, what we might call the textile turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s slowly abated, giving way to a mode of representation intensely nostalgic in its inspiration and subjects that often alloyed Art Nouveau motifs with the boldly decorative colour schemes of pop art. As new generations of artists reinstated traditional techniques and representation driven by imagery, this new postmodern sensibility helped resuscitate the genre of the tapestry, and the pursuit in the workshops reclaimed a higher intellectual and spiritual sensibility. Starting in the late 1980s, which marked the end of the neo-avant-garde Sturm und Drang era, the postmodern invocation of the woven tapestry rekindled a deep tradition while forcing the discovery of new modes of expression. Ultimately, the turn of the millennium saw the trail-blazing generation occupy a classicist niche in the canon, drawing for renewal on self-confidence, stylistic virtuosity, and irony.4
Today, not only is the notion of “textile” interpreted rather more broadly than ever before, but the artistic arsenal, the articulation of subjects, and the overall desire for intellectual profundity have all become thoroughly inter-generic.
THE LIFE AND WORKS OF ERZSÉBET KATONA SZABÓ
The time she started out coincided with the halcyon days of Hungarian neo- avant-garde textile arts, albeit geographically she is rooted in Transylvania rather than along the Budapest–Szombathely axis.
“I am the amalgam of two large groups of Transylvanians”, she said during her academic inaugural address in 2004, “the people of Kalotaszeg and the Székelys”. She would visit seamstresses in the village of Zsobok, and still recalls the beads, colourful ribbons, the magical patterns, and the boxes full of ornaments. “Later as a teenager, when I became interested in the life of the mind”, she continued, “this small village in the Kalotaszeg district provided me with different experiences as well. Before the War, the Szent-Iványi family owned the neighbouring estate. They left behind an arboretum-like park in the outskirts of the village, which I discovered by chance. This garden was marvellously abandoned and unfenced.”5
The formative events of childhood led to the Ballet Institute in the city of Kolozsvár. Although she attended the school for a single year only, the apparel shows she was to create later gave clear evidence of the theatrical influences that had touched her in the environment of the Opera House of Kolozsvár (Cluj, Romania).
Each day she would pass beneath frescoes, reliefs and stained glass windows made by members of the Artists’ Colony of Gödöllő as she walked to the Art School run under the aegis of the Palace of Culture in the city of Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures), where she earned her baccalauréat. Then she gained admission to the College of Fine and Applied Arts in Kolozsvár as a Gobelin major. She has been designing wall tapestries ever since she graduated from there. In 1975 she was hired as designer for the leather factory of Marosvásárhely, and set about creating models of a kind unheard of in the industry. “Of course, my work did not stand a chance to be brought to market, as the trade would always order the same as five years before. The factory only produced two models, the 001 and the 002, so there was no point in trying anything new or different. They kept track of my work and even recognised me in a way, but it did not make much sense at first. Yet working for the factory gave me plenty of experience, including familiarity with the material, which turned out to be very helpful later on. But I was keen on quitting the factory at the earliest opportunity. A year later I became set and puppet designer at the Puppet Theatre, then I moved to Gödöllő in Hungary.”
After 1983 she became part of the contemporary textile art scene and gained recognition by means of several exhibitions. From the mid-1990s onwards, she held a variety of administrative positions in addition to her activity as an artist, first as vice chair of the Foundation for the Textile Arts, then, from 1998, at the helm of the Gödöllő Workshop of Applied Arts.
In those days, she focused on tapestry designs employing plant ornaments, taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the Gobelin genre, sometimes even skipping the weft line, which thus became just as integral to the composition itself as any shape or colour. Her deep love of nature often drove her to make sketches and shoot pictures in the great outdoors, her Transylvanian reminiscences often inspiring poetic titles for her works, such as Silver Forest, Golden Forest, and Diamond Forest. In 1996 she completed her Aqua Terra Herba, the decisive work of the period, which she conceived in honour of the Mille-centenary of the original settlement of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin. The same year, she spearheaded a collective effort entitled Kárpit határok nélkül (“Tapestry Without Boundaries”), in which each of forty-six tapestry artists contributed a piece to a grand representation of the old map of Hungary. The work is kept at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest.
This work, along with other collective and representative tapestries created around the 1996 celebrations imparted a fresh, autonomous identity within Hungarian textile arts to the Gobelin, which had been deprived of its previous rank as a genre of the highest order in the history of art. As a result of the organisational talent of Erzsébet Katona Szabó, the Gobelin has regained its distinction as a medium capable of carrying personal mythologies and the innermost desire for harmony and transcendence.
Reviving the traditions of the former Artists’ Colony of Gödöllő, a formation of decisive significance in Hungarian art history, Katona Szabó not simply established a school marked by a simultaneous loyalty to valuable tradition and an affinity for modern trends, but also set an inspiring example for many of her contemporaries. Since 1998, the GIM House (an acronym from Gödöllő Iparművészeti Műhely, or “Gödöllő Workshop of Applied Arts”), textile artists and their disciples have pursued their goals in the environment of a creative colony, whether they prefer to work in profound, solitary contemplation or in collective collaboration with others. “The workshops, the exhibition hall, and the garden surrounding the workshop building – which stands as a major physical and symbolic extension of the colony’s intimacy and even fusion with nature – provide a vital forum for the tryst between the so-called applied arts and the fine arts. This in itself is testament to the lingering spirit of the forebears”, writes Tibor Wehner in one of his articles about contemporary textile arts in Gödöllő.6 The workshop is distinguished by its respect for tradition, its understated and reasonable endorsement of the new, and a sober and disciplined bent for intellectual innovation – in short, by a very up-to-date application of classical frames of reference. The works of the colony’s artists owe their unique touch to the highest, often virtuosic standards of artistic execution, a distinctive authenticity, and the elegance, generosity, and perfectionism of their presentation. For nearly fifteen years, Erzsébet Katona Szabó has been a major force in shaping and nurturing this environment, fostering an artistic expression that draws on a wide spectrum of styles, languages, and forms, continuingthe legacy of the Art Nouveau, and cultivating intimacy with nature even it remaining open to abstraction. Indeed, for Katona Szabó, this communal activity must be seen as an organic, inseparable part of her life’s work and achievement.
FANTASY GOWNS, ROOTS-WEAR
For Erzsébet Katona Szabó, technique is not a constraint; it is a liberation. To this day, clothing design has meant a challenge for her for a variety of reasons, including the industrial uses of leather, theatrical modes of expression, the sacral function of folk costumes and, last but not least, because of the thin line separating the applied from the sovereign in the art of working with materials that touch the human body in the most intimate ways. Evidently, wool fabric, silk, and pigskin suede have all served well her propensity for improvisation, which relies heavily on a deep pool of Transylvanian erudition and a respect for order and discipline that harks back to the elaborate feminine grace of grand ladies of yore. It is paradoxes like this that render her magnificent fantasy gowns – those dubbed “Day” and “Night” – so dramatic, so complete in their evocation of the cycle of life and death. In the white gown interpretation, she intensifies the naturally rich folds of the washed wool to the point of making the material seem to take to wings, then holds it back using a tight-fitting, brocaded bodice embroidered with gold.
White is of course the colour of purity, innocence, triumph, perfection, and divine light. The textile achieves its dazzling effect by demonstrating the principles of luxury and splendour. The black silk gown, with its raised silver embroidery, triple-pointed, pagoda-like shoulder section, and the sharper, swishing folds that characterise mulberry silk, is evocative of the darker forces of night. The sweeping, sprawling lines of the embroidery strike a deeply familiar chord which we may not be able to identify at first sight – until we recognise the allusion to the gryphon motifs on the vessels of the Nagyszentmiklós Gold Treasure from the era of the great migrations.7
This kind of art leaves very little to chance, and when it does, there is always a point in the creative process where the random will merge with an archetype of truth discovered, of the simple miracle. Often, the topoi of archaic folk art come to the fore with a natural simplicity, enabling the simultaneous expression of universal harmonies and practical prerequisites, along with the rich semantic aura and emblematic nature of ultimate truths, crystallised as pure form and bequeathed from generation to generation. Needless to say, this can only transpire under the hands of someone who speaks this language as her native tongue. In Katona Szabó’s garments, the line of tailoring frequently evokes the contours of old peasant shirts, and her arsenal of motifs alludes to the handmade folk costumes of Kalotaszeg, even as it seeks to repudiate that legacy. Invariably, however, in her designs Katona Szabó preserves one of the original functions of all clothing: the primordial gesture of transmutation, the magical force embodied in the cloth.8 In textiles of all textures and descriptions, she always searches for new meaning to be vested in the ornamental motif at hand, as well as new ways of expressing the inherent plasticity of a fabric by folding, crumpling and shirring.
Katona Szabó’s so-called “Roots-Wear” pieces are rooted not so much in the adaptation of ornamental folk motifs from Kalotaszeg and the Galga Valley as in the recognition of the underlying logic that orders those motifs into distinct blocks. Each of the three white woollen garments – possibly seen as wearable woollen statues – speaks to a specific age, situation, occasion, and formal solution; together they send a “message to the fatherland”. Yet nothing could be further from Katona Szabó than stooping to nostalgia. A set of her silk gowns offer a paraphrase for the columns of the Pesti Vigadó, a building of Romantic architecture; another is devoted to the geometric problems entailed by folding and colour shift. Apparently, the alternation between smooth and crinkled silk is a source of endless inspiration for her. Her “Passion Gowns” transpose the formal principles of the Art Déco to fit the human body, to wrap it in a brownish gray monochrome that is lustful in its creases and ceaselessly self-multiplying. What they invoke is not the clothing of the period but the language of the period style, to convey the message of an era and, just as importantly, a sense of femininity.
During the 1990s, Katona Szabó developed an interest in fusing painting with leather work. Made from suede leather pieces of disparate sizes, her creations in this genre often assume the shape of a diptych and display a peculiar dynamism owing to a network of punctured holes of varying size and form. Her double-layered still lifes in leather represent more than just an experiment in painting technique. The image radiates a powerful, elemental light not unlike encaustic paintings do, but this is dampened by the perforated layer of leather placed on top. The effect is one of pictorial beauty playing a shy hide-and-seek with the artifice of the textile maker. By contrast, Katona Szabó’s low relief works – soft leather boxes displayed on postaments – speak the language of sculpture. As we glance at a piece of leather, it is always difficult to escape the lurking feeling that it comes from a being that was once alive, and thus identical to us. But also lurking inside that piece of leather are questions about the underlying attributes of matter. How much can the artist do with using this material? How far can she go in transforming it? Where is the limit? To add to this complexity, Katona Szabó always insists on devising a theatre-like milieu for her exhibited objects herself – an environment that generates meaning in its own right. The end result is a holistic creation in which the displayed work is inseparable from the space surrounding it.
The autonomy of the artist’s Weltanschauung within the complex project becomes a sovereign value in these works, which are tailored and stitched using a unique technique. The tension in the composition comes from the way in which the natural appearance of pigskin suede, which all but begs to be touched, the illusion of space that keeps cropping up from hiding – in other words the “thick-skinned” naturalism of animal matter – clashes and interferes with the transcendence of ecstasy and transmutation. This stepping over into another realm is executed in a twofold gesture, employing an intricate trompe-l’œil, the rational plotting of cutting lines that form a mosaic, alongside hints of leaf veins and the playful chiaroscuro of foliage – in other words, by the alternation between organic and geometric rules. Indeed, these interferences sometimes allow us to glimpse the outlines of an archaic motif. The convincingly elegant, refined yet philosophical stance of the artist mingles sensuality and intellectual adventure with a veiled and deeply personal female mythology. The act of paring with scissors – a multiplying use of symmetry – is nourished by an ancient tradition in the Orient. Katona Szabó, on the other hand, aligns herself with the European mode of improvisation, immersing herself in the state of inspiration during creation. She conceives of the artist’s role as a sort of channel between the spiritual, Platonic world of essences and the terrestrial, material world of shadows – between, one might dare say, her own instinctive and conscious selves and possibly also between the collective unconscious and motoric manual motion.
One of the pinnacles of Katona Szabó’s art to date, entitled Fal (“Wall”), was essentially created in 2002 and 2003, but – like a serial novel or a magnificent leather scrapbook of private mythologies – continued to swell until 2006. Consisting of a stitched and glued web of smaller and larger pieces of leather straddling a warm colour spectrum from dark yellow to brown, the work, 11 by 3.6 metres in size, reveals astonishingly illusionistic fragments of a pseudo-world, whichmaybethelong-vanished Atlantis or the web of virtual reality woven around our daily lives today. The handwritten textuality glimpsed here would become decisive and more explicit later on in Katona Szabó’s artistic evolution. Here, the woven pieces of text remain locked in substance. They are strata, inclusions, and currents from the bed of the Lethe, fragments of a confession about the artist’s confinement, constraints of time and space, and about her personal fullness and integrity. We are in the presence of an intimate transfiguration, permeated by a sense of humility that comes from the monumental achieved piecemeal by hard work. We witness a confession about the inscrutable, predestined ways of the soul.9 The identification of the artist by her work spawns an endless string of interpretations and acts of self-inspection on the part of the spectator.
THE PERIOD OF THE OBJET TROUVÉ
Since 2007–2008, the diary-like intimacy that had characterised Katona Szabó’s work has been augmented by improvisations on the theme of lacework cut from leather. Her approach as an artist – graphic, descriptive, epic, intellectual – began to converge with the emotional-modal expression of painting. The finely filigreed latticework of the Lomb (“Foliage”) series appeas as imprints of a psyche that finds solace in observing nature. With sensuality and intellectualism in the undertow, these compositions are suffused by a meditative spirit, devotion to nature, and a profound lyricism. The Térbe-lépő (“Entering Space”) series expands on the virtuosic but embryonic three-dimensionality of the Wall to the point that it marks the beginning of a new period in Katona Szabó’s career: the unfolding of a geometric- organic space. The miracles of the visible reflect the miracles of an inner world, abolishing the boundaries – or walls – between the probable and the improbable. Vortex, Secret Garden, Labyrinth – these works proffer the gift of experiencing light and colour, dark veils, rarefied lacework, and a pure sense of the corporeal and the carnal. The quandary of existence in time is absolved in a Pantheistic perception of the world.
SCRIPT AND CALLIGRAPHY
From the out set, the work of Erzsébet Katona Szabó has been pervaded by a sort of spontaneity best likened to handwriting, by a contemplative spirituality and cult of beauty that preserves discipline by abolishing it. As many have observed, writing presupposes a state of serene calm and elegance. More than just the expression of thought, writing implies contemplating the meaning of every single word. According to the masters of calligraphy, the simplest letter demands that we give it all the force and power it is inherently capable of absorbing and expressing, as if we wanted to carve its meaning into stone. Thus when a sacred scripture is committed to paper, it will have incorporated the soul of the person who acts as the means of its dissemination.
Indeed, this holds true not only for sacred texts, but for everything ever set on paper. For the hand that guides that line will inevitably reflect the spirit of the writer. As logos incarnate, writing itself is a sacred act. The Mediterranean religions have seen it as a paradigm of cult that defines the rules of living one’s life and the relation of the people to the deity. The mystery of utterance is engendering being, while writing and reading are the means of divine revelation. In Islamic and Hebrew calligraphy, the shape of letters carries significance. The sheer existence of inscriptions in a temple is more important than whether their meaning is comprehended. Even though the majority of Chinese ideograms are only understood by the initiated, they play a vital role in the mental hygiene of the people. They may be incomprehensible in their entirety, but they certainly enable an infinite storehouse of meaning. This ancient corporeal nature of language, which returns in the postmodern, the tangibility of the word, the physical-ontological attribute of writing precede any interpretation.
Whether consciously or not, these recognitions have actively informed Erzsébet Katona Szabó’s creative methods. The begetting of tactile familiarity with the law, the unravelling and representation of the fabric of substance, the rendering of the invisible visible and actual – these pursuits have formed the core of her mission from the outset. It is in this spirit that she keeps weaving, sewing, cutting, working lace, tending the garden, and fostering new creative communities in Gödöllő.
SHAKESPEARE SONNET CYCLE
The letter appearing in woven tapestry is a latter-day relation of ancient magical symbols. Writing does not merely present meaning but it has a presence of its own, a being-there, which carries magical power. This is how words and texts are presented in old Flemish and French tapestries, intensifying the validity of representation.
Erzsébet Katona Szabó has for many years entertained the idea of a paraphrase on Shakespeare’s poems. She connected deeply and sensitively to the kindred spirit of the Bard, whose sonnets, shrouded in mystery, enigma and riddle, speak eloquently and timelessly about love, desire, passion and mutability. Thanks to writing and printing, her aesthetic affinity has taken the form of a yearning, intoxicated by catharsis, to hide in the skin of the past master so deeply as to be disembodied and dissolved in his identity. The calligraphic transcription of her alter ego’s poems meant a unique experience for Katona Szabó. As she performed the irresistible act of writing, using touche, nib and quill, an extraordinary relation sprang up between her and Shakespeare. What is at stake here is not the rendering of some notional content in image, but a twofold creation, a double birth. Crumpling, shoring up, tormenting her calligraphic fabric on tissue paper, she manages to intensify the original text’s and her own ardent, overflowing reticence, using the tactile surface as absolution for herself and her long-past soul mate.
The philosopher of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, dismantled the modern- formalist notion of langue, showing the impossibility of constructs possessing ultimate meaning.10 The rediscovery of utterance as the essential manifestation of language upstages its written expression and yields the recognition that the meaning of being itself is not so much like a monolithic core as it is the interweaving of scattered, disparate meanings. In this way, the reception, absorption, interpretation, and subjection to various intellectual constructs of a work of art all constitute an act of engendering being. The work of art is not some finite totality existing in space but something that awaits augmentation, opening up in time to obey the exigency of continual completion. Games, including rolegames, and bricolage are acceptable forms of creation; even the author’s own consciousness does not hold absolute sway over the meaning of his words. The person who comprehends a text accesses meaning by linking the signifiers with other signifiers, setting up reciprocal relationships between them. The text does not exist in itself in isolation but solely in the intersection with other texts. In other words, all texts are intertextual, and their specificity is influenced by the reader’s desires, misreadings, and constantly changing agenda.
It is fitting that Erzsébet Katona Szabó writes poetry herself. Also, she led a paper collage workshop at a three-day Shakespeare festival in Wales, held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Sonnets. She exhibited her “own Shakespeare sonnets”, and managed to coax interested participants to try their hands at a similar creative act tracing the shifting boundary between handwriting and poetry.
But why Shakespeare, of all poets? Any poignant experience can be a source of inspiration, after all. Artists articulate and sublimate intense joy and pain. It is beside the point to search for clear-cut equivalences between the artist’s life and work, for he is hardly interested in sending encrypted messages to his audience. What he wants to do is create a valid work that corresponds to his own ideals, which keeps him busy, and for which he must put in a fight, so that in the end the work may glance back at him as a sovereign being in its own right, as his other, to enhance his self-esteem. The recipient has much the same task to accomplish with respect to his own person under the influence of the work: to carry on and answer questions exposed by the work of art in question. Great works of art always present the spectator with a rare opportunity for self-examination. This holds even truer for serial works, which is one reason why it is so difficult to analyse such works by individual instalment. The sonnets of the Renaissance, too, were commonly published in the form of a cycle. Stephen Greenblatt claims that Shakespeare never found the person who could satisfy all his desires, in or outside marriage. He is in love with a youth he can never possess, and with scorching desire he possesses a dark lady whom he is unable to adore. These two stand in for the deep feelings that the general mores dictate he should have had for his family.
Another relevant aspect here is Katona Szabó’s mastery of the English language as a source of intellectual pleasure, and in general her frequent consultation of the mysteriously brilliant sonnets Shakespeare wrote between 1592 and 1596. In her rendition, the lines of the poems alternate between the English original and the Hungarian translation. In addition, the translator, the modern classic Lőrinc Szabó (1899–1958), brings in to play a third person, almost as if to make the intertextuality even more compelling. The firmly drawn, squarish letters of the calligraphy sometimes overlap veiling one another, and often shift direction from the horizontal to the vertical. Some are blurred while others have keener outlines; yet others have left no trace on the surface. On the crumpled and distressed paper, the lines file by almost maniacally, side by side or one below the other – evidently on the hands of an artist in the blessed state of inspiration. The presence of beauty and delicacy is unbroken throughout. As in all of Katona Szabó’s work – and this is perhaps the single most distinctive feature of her artistic gestalt – the mind works in unison with the heart; there is no discontinuity between the body/hand and the soul. The spectator of her work experiences what Henri Focillon, writing about tapestries, describes as “a profound interest one reserves for rare and precious objects crafted with tender loving care”.11 One catches a word here, glimpses another one there, endows them with meaning, and delights in the sheer beauty of the paper surface, the abundance of the shades of brown, the subtle watercolour effects. One recognises the artist’s unmistakably refined, intellectual approach to creation, marvelling at her perseverance and diligence. One bows to the humility behind the monumental, derived from the intimate ecstasy and painstaking, meticulous craftsmanship that holds at bay both the planned and the unexpected, chaos and order, intuition and reason, even as one remains unimpeded oneself in taking advantage of the possibilities inherent in reckless abandon, playfulness, and pure chance. Then one finally locates and experiences the ulterior web of emotions spun from desire, ambivalence, and desperation.
Over the years, there have been shifts in the artist’s relation to individual sonnets in the cycle, to herself, and her surroundings. Let us highlight a few pieces. Being your slave, what should I do but tend (2002) is one of the first pieces in her series. In fact, this sonnet reappears in several guises in Katona Szabó’s work. At first, it did not occur to her to correlate the text with the spectacle. The page was empty, ready for her to fill. How careful was I when I took my way (2009) moves away from that spontaneity toward a more formally composed spectacle in which a stream of text incorporates fragments from several poems. Those hours that with gentle work did frame is a confession about art and the artist. Little wonder Katona has devoted several of her works to this sonnet. Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will (2002) is a textile-ridden drawing with dense surfaces – a true test of perseverance in work – that seems to challenge the limits of the palimpsest. A few words have remained legible, though, but this could be laid at the door of pure chance. Her composition on the famous sonnet playing with the word/name will/Will is indisputably illustrative in its purpose, with fragments of text flying across the surface just as the poet’s “wills”. This more light-hearted work, from 2011, seems to mark a gradual disengagement from the Shakespearean inspiration.
Like the bilingual collage poems of Gyula Kodolányi, for which they served as a source of inspiration, the works of Erzsébet Katona Szabó demand slowly paced contemplation and deep immersion. Whether they constitute applied art or high art of the highest order is a silly question. Perhaps the term fine art could come closest to capturing both her creative self and her works. Artists are not there for us to search for the truth and produce it, but to enrich and enhance our fragmented, value-stripped lives. In Erzsébet Katona Szabó’s example, the love of beauty, nature, materials and the creative act, the fullness of the senses and emotions, the archaic and renewed tradition of artisanal handicrafts generates beauty that is value.
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel
1 Júlia Jankovich’s introductory essay in Ferenczy Noémi. Budapest, Corvina Kiadó, 1983.
2 Judit Pálosi’s Introduction in Magyar Gobelin 1945–1985. Műcsarnok, Budapest, 1985.
3 Mária Husz: A magyar neoavantgárd textilművészet (Neo-avant-garde textiles in Hungary). Budapest, Dialóg Campus Kiadó, 2001.
4 “Kontaktus és új trendek. 2. Textilművészeti Triennále Szombathelyen.” (Contacts and new trends. 2. Textile artists’ triennial in Szombathely) in Magyar Iparművészet 2006/3, pp. 12–21, and www.netlevel.netpeople.hu.hu/cikk.php?c=287
6 Tibor Wehner: “A jelenkori gödöllői textil” (Contemporary Gödöllő textile) in Új Forrás, vol. 40, 2008. no 3 (March).
7 Mária Husz: “Negatív szövés” (Negative weaving) in Kritika, July–August 2002.
8 Ernő P. Szabó: “Katona Szabó Erzsébet”, http://artportal.hu/lexikon/muveszek/katona_szabo_erzsebet/
9 Catalogue of the works of Erzsébet Katona Szabó and essays, 2004. ISBN 963 430 821
10 Antal Bókay: Irodalomtudomány a modern és a posztmodern korban (Literary theory in the modern and postmodern age). Budapest, Osiris, 1997. pp. 53-383.
11 Henri Focillon: Vie des formes. Paris, 1934.