István Orosz

Randomly intersected
Pure moments perfected
Through frozen frames of times
Onto a heart an arrow flies.

You will certainly remember Zeno of Elea, who invented the proof that the image formed by emotions in clever situations is deceptive. I have tried to evoke one of Zeno’s parables in this old fragment of poetry. His famous paradox of the motionless arrow is perhaps an appropriate point of departure to speak of the relationship between my work and time. The arrow paradox, of course, is only the second most famous – after the renowned race between Achilles and the tortoise, at the end of which the swift-footed hero slinks off, defeated, the symbolic arrow of shame in his heart, while there is a more real arrow in his heel – but this is already another story, if you will, the blood and flesh arrow of another dimension.

  But now we have to imagine only a single flying arrow, and for now it is not its target that is important. At any point in time the arrow remains at a given point in the air. This moment has no temporal range; consequently, the arrow is at rest. With similar reasoning, it is foreseeable that in the moments to follow it is also motionless. Since this can be proved for any moment of time, according to Zeno, the arrow does not move at all: its flight is merely illusion. As a practising animation filmmaker, I am confronted with such things on a daily basis. If I were to animate an arrow that was shot, I would have to draw on a sheet one at rest, and then on another one another arrow, just the same as the previous one, but still not exactly the same. In principle then, we could draw as many as we would like, so that we could reduce them until the movement between them would be infinitely small.

  Zeno, and the primeval animation filmmaker break down time into the mere now, similar to some extent to the way we should interpret space in the allegory of the tortoise as the mere here. This certain now and here comes into being with the infinite division of the range of time and space, sliced all the way until they cease being a continuum. In other words, Zeno reduced the continuity of time – and together with this, that of space as well – to the sum of countless slices of time and space. Insomuch, however, as discontinuity in this case means “timelessness”, and “spacelessness”, in following him, we would be compelled to deny the existence not only of motion, but at the same time, of time and space. Before we settle the matter with a simple wave of the hand, let us recall that independent of Zeno, one of the past masters of Zen in China, Hui-shi, also arrived at a very similar conclusion, moreover in connection with a launched arrow. And simply as an encore, I will mention that according too German philosopher Eugen Herrigel, it is the Zen Buddhist exercises of archery that lead most closely to an understanding of existence.

  Sometimes I believe that the paradoxes judged to be unacceptable by the rational mind are perhaps suited after all to allow us with their aid to surmise more from the world than we could comprehend through traditional logic. We receive sceptically seemingly obvious assertions, and we believe in them that there is another, hidden reading of the world, which though we experience more circuitously, sometimes the search itself already promises more excitement. Can the trajectory of the arrow be checked; is time reversible; can something be redeemed, which we feel to be irredeemable?

  I was born in 1951, a strikingly undistinguished year even among insignificant years, whose heroic emptiness I illustrate with the title of the volume of the emigrant author, Arthur Koestler: Arrow in the Blue. The book, which happens to have been written precisely in 1951, naturally was not published in Hungary. In my infancy, there was a picture that I always gazed at, long and shuddering. There was an album among the many books of text and few of pictures of my parents, and in it was a picture with an arrow. I seem to recall that my mother’s name was written on the upper corner of the title page, although my first memories in connection with this picture derived most certainly from the time when I could not yet read. An old man with a kind face sat in the forest, protectively reaching toward a deer, that seemed to flee towards him seeking shelter. Between the trees – I can almost see him now – another man is also visible, who targets the fleeing creature with his arrow. Even up to this point, the picture gives one the shudders, but that which however was most seductive, and due to which I practically ran from the picture, so that some sort of unspeakable compulsion drove me back immediately, was to come only afterwards. The arrow is already in the heart of the peaceful man stroking the deer, the guileless – while he waits with forgiving patience, for the arrow to be shot. The very same arrow that the evil one has not even yet launched. Since then, I learned just who was the gentle martyr: Saint Giles, the Benedictine monk, protector of the disabled and lepers; but I must confess that ever since, I have been haunted by the vision of the arrow that was not yet launched and yet inflicted a mortal wound. I have perhaps even dreamed of it. Or perhaps I just would have wished that a dream were to reverse the order of events, that which we deem natural? Since the dream is capable of this – moreover, perhaps this is precisely how it works: inverting time. Time progresses from the future toward the past, or if you like, the clock revolves in them from right to left. Who has not woken with a start from a dream to a sudden noise, which blared in the dream as the result of lengthy events ensuing from one another? What else could explain this, if not the reversal of the direction of time, of its symbolic arrow? From the future in the direction of the past, we proceed from the consequences toward the causes, we could actualise “our future is passing” with the title of Gáspár Nagy’s volume of poetry, and we might think further to the iconic Father Florensky, Stalin’s most innocent victim, who exemplified the path to God precisely with the theological explanation of inverted time.

  In my films, in which there is also real time, historical questions sometimes arise, and thus the problematic of historical time appears. I attempted to reverse the linear flow of time in my film, Ah, America!; I reflected upon events of the recent past in my film entitled, Mind the Step!; and the individual representation of time in the film, Panoramas of Time was its own. Disconnectedness of time, and intensive, emblematic compression are generally symptomatic of animation film techniques. Events occur alongside one another, in connection with each other, somehow condensing time, as space observed through the viewfinder of a strong telephoto lens is also compressed, and things that are near and far land alongside each other. When I began my career, I existed in exactly this strange state of timelessness. They endeavoured to separate my generation from the historical past with artificially raised caesurae, while it was not acceptable to doubt the historical future. Since I was young and healthy, even the time coordinates that I experienced personally did not have a great influence on me. During this time, many emigrated from Hungary. They went to live in other countries. The question came to my mind: would it be possible to do just the same in terms of time? To be transplanted somehow in other eras? I readily imagined myself within the course of historical time: Renaissance, Baroque, Mannerism…

  In my youth I had often heard the expression to “read between the lines”, or to look on the other side of things. It was clear that the most important artworks had multiple meanings, at least two, and it was even more obvious to me that the more difficult it was to discern a meaning, the more significant that meaning was. The correlation of the pictures of dual meaning with time was obvious. They meant different things depending upon whether you regarded them from near or far. If one view presented a portrait, the other was a landscape. In such cases, the viewer becomes a co-author, as it is up to her/him to seek the pertinent viewpoint. While s/he searches for this, s/he must also experience her/his own temporal and spatial coordinates. S/he also identifies her/himself. And this is not always so simple. Even real three-dimensional objects can have different meanings if we look at them from elsewhere. The majority of my spatial paintings are at the same time real steps. This spatial form with its representation of repetition concerns time from the outset. Its levels are the keys on the keyboard of time. The columns and colonnades, which are recurring elements of my pictures, fill exactly the same role, but due to their repetitive nature, the projection of shadows and reflections are also a type of time-formula. We are familiar with the correlation between the flow of water and time – you cannot step twice into the same river – and naturally the mirror-images of water-inhabitants are also the preservers of time. And only one step more is required to reach symmetries from mirror-images. I use the plural because there are many types of symmetry, but their common denominator is that they are all directly related to time.

  When I draw similar architectural impossibilities, in actual fact I am experimenting with the visualisation of spatial paradoxes that are never independent of time. The levels of reality and imagination building upon each other, their strange loops intertwining in each other often produce the illusion of endlessness – or timelessness. I have made an attempt to graphically visualise my notions in connection with time – I confess, mostly unconsciously – in every one of my works collected under various titles on the following pages. Leafing through them again and again, and viewing them together, for me it is only in this way, in the metaphysical aura of their succession that time has been rendered self-evident, the determining role of time made visible. That is also possible, however, that it is only for lack of something better that I call this time. Those who are astonished to find that looking into Heraclitus’s river, it is not into the face of their own reflection that they gaze, will perhaps call this melancholy, or the enigmatic sorrow of geometry, the majestic solitude of symmetries, the eternal doubt of the inhabitants of mirror-images, or they will perceive the hopeless Platonic relationship of perspectives with the infinite.

  While I searched for the correlations between my own works and time, I also had to face the augustinian dilemma: What is time? If the question is not asked, I know precisely what it is, but if I have to express it, I would be incapable. But I am a visual artist, and so if I cannot tell it in words, I can try to draw it. I have made an attempt at this with the cover drawing. I wanted to describe graphically that the barely discernible rhythms of the human body, the throbbing of the bloodstream palpable in the pulse, and the movements of the stellar systems describable in complicated formulas all conform to the very gauge. Yes, finally I surmise that I could have used another word instead of “time”, but there are some names that are traditionally forbidden to speak, and in writing it is also better to omit them…

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