Picture Gallery

In the garden of ideas

Emily Floyd, Owl of Minerva (2019) 
Owl: cast aluminium, two-part epoxy paint; lantern: cast and fabricated aluminium, lighting insert
150 x 130.65 x 99.7 cm
Photo: Jacqui Shelton

 

Emily Floyd, Umlauts (2019)
Set of three sculptures: (a) 81 x 55.9 x 20 cm; (b) 61 x 43 x 15 cm; (c) 40.5 x 27.9 x 10 cm
Cast bronze with black patina
Photo: Zan Wimberley

 

In 2019 I travelled to Budapest for a discussion with the great philosopher and political dissenter Ágnes Heller. Ágnes was a member of an intellectual circle known as the Budapest School, whose key protagonists found shelter in Australia following their persecution under Hungary’s communist regime. I was curious to learn more about the time Ágnes and her husband, Ferenc Fehér, spent in Melbourne from 1978–86. I wanted to ask her thoughts on the recent destruction of the archive of her former teacher, György Lukács, by Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian government. The state-sanctioned closure of the Lukács Archívum continues to provoke international protest against the global rise of strongman politics.

During our meeting, I shared with Ágnes a wooden maquette for a sculptural installation based on her seminal text 

A Philosophy of History in Fragments (Blackwell, 1993). My idea was to create a discursive space or ‘knowledge garden’ inhabited by ‘philosophical characters’, each of whom would articulate a theoretical concept. I imagined Ágnes as a ‘counter-meme’, embodied as the Owl of Minerva, speaking out against the cartoonish patriarchy of political strongmen, her thought guided by the lessons of history and the search for an ethical life. Ágnes was delighted by the miniature wooden owl and consented to the image of herself being cast as the familiar and non-human companion of Athena or Minerva. Our interrogations of the artwork became thought bubbles, and when I returned to my studio in Melbourne, I scaled the maquette by a ratio of ten to create the installation documented in these pages, Anti-totalitarian Vectors.

 

Emily Floyd, Umlauts detail (2019)
Set of three sculptures: (a) 81 x 55.9 x 20 cm; (b) 61 x 43 x 15 cm; (c) 40.5 x 27.9 x 10 cm
Cast bronze with black patina
Photo: Dane Lovett

 

Emily Floyd, Tactics and Ethics, Art and Objective Truth (2019)
Aluminium and two-part epoxy paint
250 x 170 x 30 cm
Photo: Zan Wimberley

 

Emily Floyd, Tizatáj (2019)
Aluminium and two-part epoxy paint
250 x 170 x 30 cm
Photo: Zan Wimberley

 

Emily Floyd, Tactics and Ethics, Art and Objective Truth (2019)
Aluminium and two-part epoxy paint
250 x 170 x 30 cm
Photo: Zan Wimberley

 

Emily Floyd, Anti-totalitarian Vectors detail (2019)
Thirty screenprints on Arches BFK Rives paper, screenprint film, title page
41 x 59.3 cm each
Photo: Jacqui Shelton

 

Ágnes Heller died in July 2019 at the age of ninety. She is deeply mourned by academic and philosophical communities, vectors of exchange that she helped foster over decades of practice. As 2020 brings a series of shocks and crises, Ágnes’s words take on new urgency – they guide us towards a relational understanding of culture, supporting spaces for heterogeneous thinking and warning against nostalgia for twentieth-century utopias, the end game of linear history: ‘bloody and lethal is the parody of Apocalypse, and it has no other legacy but corpses’, she writes in A Philosophy of History in Fragments.

 

Emily Floyd, Umlauts detail (2019)
Set of three sculptures: (a) 81 x 55.9 x 20 cm; (b) 61 x 43 x 15 cm; (c) 40.5 x 27.9 x 10 cm
Cast bronze with black patina
Photo: Dane Lovett

 

This project would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of Ágnes Heller’s friends, colleagues and students. Special thanks to Peter Beilharz, Sian Supski, Katie Terezakis, John Rundell and the Thesis Eleven community. Anti-totalitarian Vectors was generated via the International Studio & Curatorial Program in New York and funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and Monash Art Design & Architecture.

Images courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

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