An Interview with Szilard Gaspar
Transforming Energy into Matter
Photo: YAP Studio. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Szilard Gaspar, born in 1991 in Satu Mare, Romania, is a performance artist and sculptor residing and working in Cluj, Romania. It is clear to say Gaspar has two main avocations in life. The first, being a professional sportsman as a boxer, the second, as an artist. These two activities do not co-exist in separate spheres in the life of the young Romanian, in fact they are intertwined, one drenched in the other. As a result, the first is a thread throughout the latter, transforming boxing into an artistic practice. One could argue the work of Szilard Gaspar is an ultimate way expression, to embody and externalize a person’s passions and experiences throughout performance and sculpture. Transforming energy into matter.
When did you first realize that boxing could be a part – or rather the impellent, driving force – of your artistic practice? What was the genesis of the concept?
Szilard Gaspar (SG): The idea of my first project appeared in my mind during my Masters degree. I knew I wanted to bring my sportsman energy into my art, I didn’t exactly know how and when, but the conceptual framework existed already in 2012. My first performance appeared shortly after that.
Let’s talk about some specific works. First, the Action Walls. What are they about and what place do they have within your oeuvre?
SG: My Action Wall performances (and artworks) tell the story of those fights where I battle against an imaginary opponent; these specific interventions give me the opportunity to discharge energy, in a subconscious manner guided by an unseen adversary. The actual wall for me is an ephemeral element and only a stepping stone to reach the final desired outcome, the videos and photos. Going forward, my aim is to reach monumental dimensions of the artwork, through larger strokes and hits and larger scaled walls.
Szilard Gaspar working on his Action Wall (2018). / Photo: Marton Zoltan. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Szilard Gaspar standing in front of his Action Wall (2018). / Photo: Marton Zoltan. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Three Action Walls (2017). / Photo: Andriana Oborocean. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
How should the viewer approach these works? Should we approach the Action Wall, the final object as the artwork, or, is the process of performance the artwork?
SG: Action as performance represents the core of my approach, the transfer of energy between myself and the artistic matter (clay or other different materials). Everything that results from that registers the trace of the action through various mediums – fiber glass, photography, bronze, casts of any kind – they all stand as witnesses to this energy discharge. Practically, through my final artworks, all I do is record the momentum of a singular, unrepeatable action.
Would you say the Action Wall is a painting, a bas-relief sculpture and a performance artwork all at the same time?
SG: My Action Wall artworks – the objects – represent the visible trace of my energy discharge; each stands as a unique piece that encapsulates the artistic momentum of one and unique performance gesture. The action wall is not a painting, it can be categorized as a bas-relief sculpture, but it is definitely a performance. One must give the utmost importance to witnessing the process of the making, in order to have a deep understanding of the outcome.
You work with different forms of art, as stated above, performance and sculpture. How do they relate to each other? Could you talk us through the material qualities of your physical works?
SG: I was trained as a professional sculptor and boxer. The common ground of my approach in all the mediums I experimented with so far, is the integration of boxing techniques within artistic expression – thus, every artwork I ever produced during this last half a decade, talks about the transfer of energy between me and the artistic matter, whether it is clay, canvas, bronze or fiber glass, the message is the same – my interaction with and upon the matter.
The preparation of the materials is of vital importance. For instance, mounting the different media on the wall and making sure to seize the best moment for the action. Or, making sure the two selected tones of clay are in the perfect condition for the performance, not too soft and not too hard. Although the performance itself takes up to twenty minutes, setting up and preparing everything in advance can take up three to four days. However, not noticeable for the eyes of the viewer who is only looking at the final outcome of the performance, the last stage of the artwork.
Further, behind every performance we collaborate with a team of photographers and cameramen. For the optimal quality of the final photographs, which are all printed on Hahnemühle Artist Papers, we use Phase One and Hasselblad.
Red Action Wall (2019). / Photo: Marton Zoltan. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Further, we have this shiny red Action Wall. Could you tell us something more about the monumental traces in this piece, as if a giant has been boxing.
SG: The big red Action Wall is a future project, which talks about this energy transfer at different power, my human energy scaled into a different size... That’s one of my artistic surprises to follow, I assure you. The big red Action Wall is a teaser for a future project, which will talk about the same discharge of energy, but of a stronger, bigger force, transferred by a special technique which will allow me to give the impression of monumental fists impacting the surface of the material, resulting into such monumental artwork. The color red represents victory in sports, also being a very carnal color, used as a metaphor to symbolize a human embodiment of the imaginary opponent.
Clay sculpture (2017). / Photo: Marton Zoltan. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Next, we have the Boxing Bag sculptures and performances. Could you tell something more about them?
SG: As for my Boxing Bags it is also about this fight against artistic matter, against an imaginary opponent, battling to leave a trace as a result of a singular performance, meanwhile producing a singular sculptural artwork reflecting all my artistic beliefs. The main difference between the Action Wall and the Boxing Bag performances is that the first is a static surface, while the boxing bag allows a more dynamic performance.
The Boxing Bag performance is always a challenge as we need to recreate and suspend the bag which is made out of two hundred fifty kilograms of clay.
The Boxing Bag represents an allegory of an imaginary opponent. A child that is raised as a boxer, is taught to see his childhood enemy in the boxing bag, which he learns to provoke, attack and fight against, thus creating the dynamic of the action. Regarding the Action Wall, the fighting technique needs to change, as the Action Wall represents a more static imaginary opponent, caught in a corner, with reduced mobility. The importance shifts from the technique towards the power of the hits.
When fighting the Boxing Bag, it does not seem as if you are training like a boxer would do when hitting a boxing bag. Instead, it seems as if you are having a real fight, however without a true opponent. Why?
SG: The entire concept behind the Boxing Bag series refers to my childhood as a boxer kid – and it makes me think of all kids in competitive sports out there – but at the same time it reflects my artistic path. As mentioned above, as a child you are taught the boxing bag is your adversary and that thought contains such innocence and such force at the same time, a mixture which I haven’t found anywhere else except in art.
Is there some kind of metaphor within this notion of ‘fighting alone’? Fighting with yourself? Or, in this case very literally, the artist fighting with his work?
SG: Every fight performance is a fight against or, better said, towards myself. As any trained professional sportsman, I was taught to keep pushing my boundaries to a higher level, which is something very similar to being an artist. Both artists and sportsmen try to push things forward in a way.
Szilard Gaspar preparing a Boxing Bag sculpture. / Photo: Andriana Oborocean. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Szilard Gaspar performance (2016), London. / Photo: Andriana Oborocean. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Could you tell us something more on the Human Punch Bag?
SG: The Human Punch Bag is a mirroring project, a research within my artistic path. I step over my own personal boundaries. Within this specific performance I’m inviting the public to participate in the magic of the momentum, it is all about here and now. By suspending one of the participants in the performance, we imply that a boxer is visualizing his opponent as a piece of meat, dehumanizing him. I specifically chose someone with the same physical features as me, so the viewers can focus on the performance itself, rather than focusing on the artist. Also, in boxing it is said that the first fight you have is against the scale, trying to reach the optimal fighting weight, hence being suspended is a metaphor of the fight with my own weight.
Human Punch Bag (2019). / Photo: Mihail Onaca. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Let’s talk about performance in general. What is your view upon contemporary performance? What makes Performance Art relevant today?
SG: First, that it has to be authentic and true, the meaning coming from deep within the maker. Recently, I passed my PhD with my dissertation on this subject, so I can clearly see the red line of Performance Art within the bigger frame of art history, from its early days in the 1950s and 60s up to now, one can see there is an evolution, or, rather, a development to be more exact, of this 'genre'. But I believe there are still many pathways to be explored.
In 2015, you did a performance called Personal Traces. Could you tell something more about it?
SG: Personal Traces in 2015 was a challenge for me. I received an invitation for a performance and I thought to do an action which shows all the visible traces of my approach. I invited a former boxing champion and together we realized it. At the end of the performance, one could see all the traces of the punches thrown through the paint of the boxing gloves and, also, all the marks of the footsteps left in the 1 tone of clay which we used for the podium of the fight. As a viewer, you could see all the vertical and horizontal marks of all the movements which happened during the performance.
Personal Traces by Szilard Gaspar (2015). / Photo: YAP Studio. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
You live and work in Cluj, Romania. Could you describe the current artistic environment in Cluj and in what manner does it influence your work and career?
SG: Cluj Napoca is the first Romanian city that became visible on the international art scene. Think of internationally established artists such as Adrian Ghenie, Mircea Suciu, Victor Man, Marius Bercea, Șerban Savu. I started off from the same environment as they did at the 'Paintbrush Factory', where I also had my first exhibition in 2014 and have been working more or less in the same community of artists for the past six years.
The reality is that in Cluj, more attention and focus goes to painting compared to other forms of art. However, I had a good start and good working conditions. Today I have a nice studio in Cluj-Napoca where I can carry out my artistic vision and produce my artwork. I also have very productive collabrations with the Arts and Design University in Cluj-Napoca and a foundry/melting house Faurar Art Baia Mare.
Finally, I would like to ask you what’s next? Do you have any upcoming show or projects?
SG: As for the future, I have many plans. For example, I was supposed to perform in Tokyo in the summer of 2020, but the show got postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic. Also, my gallery (Zorzini F Gallery) has plans for shows around Europe mainly. But let's focus on staying healthy and art will follow!
Thank you very much, Szilard Gaspar. It has been a pleasure and we will definitely keep an eye on you the years to come. Mulțumesc (‘thank you’ in Romanian)!
Szilard Gaspar Performance. Courtesy of the artist and Zorzini F Gallery.
Interview directed by Julien Delagrange Special thanks to Szilard Gaspar and Zorzini F Gallery Photographic material by Marton Zoltan, Andriana Oborocean, Mihail Onaca and YAP Studio.
Published online on 1/11/2020 by Contemporary Art Issue
Latest update: 9/12/2020 © 2020