Tamás Kaszás

Shanty Tower


Not on display

Tamás Kaszás born 1976
Steel, wood, acrylic, paper, glass, acrylic paint, cardboard and other materials
Object: 3500 × 1200 × 1100 mm
Presented by Zsolt and Kati Somlói 2015


Shanty Tower 2014 is a three and a half metre tall vertical structure constructed out of beams of cheap, commercially-sourced shelving systems by the Hungarian artist Tamas Kaszás. Attached to the steel skeleton, on different levels, are simple wooden shelves painted in grey carrying small maquettes of provisional shelters and self-made houses constructed mostly of plywood and cardboard. The horizontal elements of the composition are balanced with vertically placed wicker-work panels and elongated transparent Plexiglas sheets. At the base of the construction is a wooden blue stool. The installation is lit by seven bare light bulbs suspended on white cables at different heights. The object is accompanied by a wooden notice board measuring 1200 x 2000 mm, displayed on a wall near the sculpture. The board is pinned with colour and black and white images on paper constituting a collection of historical and contemporary references for the work. It is divided into two fields: one side presents images connected to Nicholas Schöffer’s (1912–1992) cybernetic tower CHRONOS 8, built in Hungary in 1982, while the other features designs for simple shelters and do-it-yourself kit houses, as well as printed matter from activist organisations dealing with global housing issues. The work was commissioned by and made for the nineteenth Sydney Biennale in 2014.

The material displayed on the noticeboard sets up a comparison between utopian modernism and the challenges of contemporary urbanism. This is reflected in the work’s title, Shanty Tower, which references both shanty towns – informal and often illegal settlements constructed on the peripheries of cities – and the promise of high-rise architecture. The vertical and horizontal structure of Shanty Tower recalls abstract geometry and the designs of Russian constructivism including the work of Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953), particularly his Monument to the Third International 1917, otherwise known as Tatlin’s Tower. The use of transparent Plexiglas panels also pays homage to the work of Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), who was among the first to employ the material in his art. However, the most direct reference embedded in the work is to Schöffer’s cybernetic light tower CHRONOS 8. Schöffer, considered by many a father of cybernetic art, had an optimistic vision of the influence that art combined with science could have upon modern societies. However, Kaszás’s reinterpretation of Schöffer’s project in Shanty Tower, with its self-made character and combination of natural and artificial materials, suggests the younger artist’s scepticism about the advantages of technological progress in the contemporary moment. Instead Kaszás articulates a new kind of promise rooted in ad-hoc and do-it-yourself processes.

Kaszás’s installations and architectural structures often make use of discarded materials and everyday objects to investigate the potential for self-organisation and self-sustainability in the face of the global ecological and economic crisis. Earlier works, such as Collapsist Monument 2011 and Megashelter 2011, which are larger in scale than Shanty Tower, also explored the possibilities of an alternative urbanism. These concerns have been the focus of Kaszás’s solo exhibitions, such as Ersatz Utopia at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, in 2014, and How to resist and object to conditions of the present? at the Open Space, Vienna, in 2009.

Kaszás has entered into a number of artistic collaborations which further evidence his anti-globalist activism as well as his socially engaged practice. Since 2002 Kaszás has worked with Anikó Loránt as the Ex-Artists’ Collective. Inspired by neglected folk science, the duo have built a series of wooden structures that function as miniature living places and centres of education, to investigate methods of survival on both a theoretical and practical level in preparation for a perceived impending crisis. Practical survival techniques are also the focus of randomroutines, the group Kaszás formed in 2003 with Krisztián Kristóf. Together the artists have staged playful improvisations in unusual situations and explore the concept of learning-by-doing. Since 2006 Kazsaz has also participated in the activities of Plágium2000, a grassroots art collective that organises street art shows and mail art projects, and publishes fanzines and multiples.

In Pangea, Visual Aid for Historical Consciousness, a publication accompanying his contribution to the twelfth Istanbul Biennale in 2011, the artist wrote:

We are witnesses to an ecological and economic crisis, for which our modern society is responsible. The crisis may be a harbinger of imminent collapse as the current establishment is globally unsustainable. While the collapse will be painful, it is an opportunity for the rise of a better social establishment in the future, which will be granted to those few who have prepared for a life without electricity, oil, food industry and other present-day comforts. Those who prepare for survival in the future become more independent from the prevailing world order.
(Quoted in Ligetfalvi 2013, unpaginated.)

This thinking underlies not only the concept of Kaszás’s works but also their material and formal realisation. His installations use recycled, easily accessible or reusable materials that take into account the economic and ecological impact of the work. As such his artworks might also be seen as guides for new kinds of construction, something foregrounded in Shanty Tower by the inclusion of small maquettes of huts and shelters. Likewise the leaflets from activist organisations pinned to the board register the artist’s interest in and celebration of a more sustainable and do-it-yourself urbanism. As one of the leaflets states, ‘we are suggesting an informal approach to cities and settlements: stripping away the need of highly specialized professionals and replacing them with a community of shared skills’.

Further reading
Barnabas Bencsik, ‘Kaszás Tamás / Collapsist Monument’, in Katalin Spengler (ed.), Contemporary Art in Hungary 2011–2012, Budapest 2011, pp.53–5.
Gergely Ligetfavli (ed.), Tamás Kaszás: Visual Aid, Budapest 2013.
Gábor Rieder, ‘Tamás Kaszás Kassák Museum, Budapest’, Flash Art Online, 24 October 2014, http://www.flashartonline.com/2014/10/tamas-kaszas-kassak-museum-budapest/, accessed 13 December 2014.

Kasia Redzisz
December 2014

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