Miklós Erdély

Feri’s Home

1979–1980

Not on display

Artist
Miklós Erdély 1928–1986
Medium
Tar paper, matzoh, glass, sand, oil, photograph on paper, bitumen and other materials on plasterboard
Dimensions
Object: 1220 × 740 × 35 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2020
Reference
T15506

Summary

Feri’s Home is a wall-based assemblage relief made between 1979 and 1980 that incorporates some of the most symbolically laden materials that the neo-avant-garde Hungarian artist Miklós Erdély used within his practice. A matzoh (a type of unleavened flatbread used in Jewish cuisine), a photograph of a young man, a piece of glass, sand and oil are assembled on a rectangular surface of bitumen and plasterboard to make up the work.

As an artist, architect, teacher, theorist and filmmaker, Erdély had a particular belief in the capacities of an artwork to create meaning, developing a set of theories that he verbalised and which likewise were articulated through non-verbal means within his practice. Together with his 16mm films, that developed and built on Erdély’s theory of montage, Feri’s Home sits alongside his objects, photomontages and environments that both built on and helped to further his specific understanding of semiosis, or the process of signification. Materially, the work directly relates to the large-scale environments Erdély would go on to make in the 1980s, such as In Memory of the Council of Chalcedon 1980 (built and performed in in the exhibition room of the Bercsényi Dormitory / Student Hostel, Budapest), made of tarpaper, glass plates, matzos and cast lead; and Südstrand 1980 (built in the German coastal town of Wilhelmshaven). In such works he used a repertoire of materials that built up into a set of gestures and connections that alternately borrowed from various scientific, philosophical, psychological, political and mystical realms. Discussing In Memory of the Council of Chalcedon in a lecture he gave in 1981, Erdély addressed the materials that both the environment and the earlier Feri’s Home shared:

The tarpaper [bitumen-infused paper]: insulating material. Paper used to winterize buildings. Here used to signify empty space, the nature of being buried – thus, it also means earth, soil – death, nothingness … The tarpaper obviously originates in my architectural past. If we look around a building site, we see so many sad objects. The whole process of construction has a certain endless cumbersomeness, which manifests in the effort to overcome the force of gravity. Tarpaper is one of the poorest construction materials, barely noticeable, but at the same time it leaves a deep imprint on any construction site.
(Miklós Erdély, Lecture on the Exhibition (In Memory of the Council of Chalcedon), 1980 https://post.at.moma.org/sources/32/publications/293, accessed 29 May 2019.)

Likewise, in an earlier lecture the same year, he had discussed the associations he attached to his recurrent usage of other materials in Feri’s Home: ‘The matzoh: bread, body, Jewishness, … Glass: water, timelessness, rest, fragility, muteness, transparency; or opacity when laid on the ground.’ (Miklós Erdély, Lecture on the Exhibition (In Memory of the Council of Chalcedon), 1980, quoted at https://post.at.moma.org/sources/32/publications/293, accessed 29 May 2019.)

In contrast to the relatively direct references each material had within Erdély’s statements, Feri’s Home, like other works within the artist’s practice, does not build up these references into a directly accessible meaning. This is underlined by the allusive nature of the work’s title. Art historian and curator Annamária Szőke noted in the guide to a 1998 retrospective exhibition of Erdély at Műcsarnok, Budapest that, ‘The Feri’s Home caption refers back to a memory from the 1940s, the one of “Being Feri”, that is the mode of existence of an unemployed neighbour with the same name, whose life “was hell itself”.’ (Annamária Szőke, quoted in correspondence with Kisterem Gallery, Budapest, 1 November 2018.) Erdély’s son, on the other hand, in an essay on the history of his family, suggested the work could point to a family tragedy, namely the deaths of Erdély’s siblings in the Holocaust: ‘Twins were born in 1907, Laci and Feri. Three years later Pista came into the world, who was the only sibling surviving the war apart from my dad.’ (Dániel Erdély, Our Life with Mi Ki, n.p.) The cumulative indeterminacy and ambiguity of meaning that arises out of the assemblage of elements within Feri’s Home is characteristic of Erdély’s practice, whereby elements point in different directions rather than building up into a coherent whole. Erdély himself saw indeterminacy as preferable to categorisation and interpretation, preferring instead a multiplicity of meanings that ultimately ‘extinguish each other’. In 1980 he delivered a set of theses at The Marly Conference (named after the northern French town of Marly), in which he articulated his own set of ideas on semiotics, the making of meaning, using semiological terminology. Referring to a work of art as a non-arbitrary, iconic or indexical sign, he stated:

It has the capability of becoming a ‘super sign’ carrying many meanings, potentially infinite in number.
The meaning of a work of art does not derive from the sum total of its diverse references rather it makes these possible, virtually containing them, as it were.
Because of its analogue and communicative aspects, a work of art can vary at different points of space and time – or it can have various meanings simultaneously… in the case of iconic, indexical signs, polysemy leads to attenuation and devaluation of manning, and ultimately, as in the case of the work of art, to the loss of all meaning.
Therefore a work of art may be considered to be a sign that amplifies and multiplies the various meanings at the expense of each, and causes them to extinguish each other, thus making it impossible for the work of art as a whole to have any meaning.
(Erdély 1980, in Hoptman and Pospiszyl 2002, p.100.)

As such, Feri’s Home sits in opposition to the idea of an artwork as a set of signs to be decoded and interpreted, but rather points to a set of directions that preclude being connected to a meaningful whole. Resisting coherence, didacticism and legibility, Erdély’s practice, as described by art historian László Beke, acted as ‘The “arbitrary” association of “ill-sorted” elements’ that was characteristic of Erdély’s work: the confusion of immeasurable quantity and quality constricted by measures; he create[d] similar connections and combinations in the strikingly wide range of genres and branches of art that he cultivated.’ (László Beke, ‘The work of Miklós Erdély, a chrono-logical sketch with pictures up to 1985’, in Szőke, Miklós Erdély 2008, p.6.)

Further reading
Miklós Erdély, ‘A History of Chance; Art as an Empty Sign; Theses for the Marly Conference of 1980’, in Laura Hoptman and Tomáš Pospiszyl (eds.), Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 2002, pp.95–101.
‘Miklós Erdély’, in IRWIN (eds.), East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, London 2006, p.213.
Annamária Szőke (ed.), Miklós Erdély and the Indigo Group. Fotoworks from the 1970s and 1980s, exhibition catalogue, Kisterem, Budapest and Georg Kargl BOX, Vienna 2008.

Dina Akhmadeeva
May 2019

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