Csilla Klenyánszki, Pillars of Home

JTF (just the facts): Self published in 2019 (here). Hardcover, 148 pages, with 98 color reproductions. Includes a short explanatory essay by the artist. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by Virág Bogyó. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comment/Context: The work-life balance that artists face, especially those that are young mothers at home, isn’t a topic that generally gets much attention in the art world. We tend to focus on the resulting work itself, rather than on the many trade-offs, sacrifices, and struggles that took place off camera while it was being made. But the constraints and priorities of available time and energy undeniably influence artistic outcomes. So if we make the effort to consider the framework of those invisible factors and emotions, we might be able to better understand where the critical impetus for some artists’ creativity actually lies.

For the Hungarian-born photographer Csilla Klenyánszki, having a young son at home provides a set of very real limits on her art making. When he’s awake, she’s far too busy with his needs to be making photographs, so her only available time to make work during the day is when he settles down for his nap. Then, like a contestant on a beat-the-clock game show, she has roughly thirty minutes to create something, using the materials available in her home, all without making too much noise, as any crashing wakes up the child and ends the session.

Klenyánszki’s photobook Pillars of Home is the result of this daily exercise in improvised experimentation. In 98 separate instances (made in 2016-2017), she has successfully gathered, planned, constructed, and ultimately photographed a performative, sculptural installation in one of the rooms of her home; we can only guess at how many other unfinished efforts resulted in the boy waking up before that day’s image was complete. Each picture represents her creative response to the same test (almost like an art-school prompt), with the aggregation of photographs offering a wide spectrum of solutions to effectively the same artistic problem.

Aesthetically, Klenyánszki’s photographs recall the elegantly precarious installations of Fischli & Weiss as well as the more suffocating efforts of Melanie Bonajo in her Furniture Bondage series (reviewed here), while still finding her own sense of playful originality. The common thread in Klenyánszki’s arrangements is balance – using walls, floors, ceilings, and door frames as fixed points of resistance, she places an astonishing variety of mundane household items into piles and towers (some of which include her own body) that distribute the combined weight into a moment of unlikely equilibrium. For that fleeting instant, and in obvious contrast with the everyday chaos of young motherhood, everything is exactly where it needs to be.

The stuff that makes up the subject matter of Klenyánszki’s photographs is in many ways a taxonomy of practical domesticity. There are plastic buckets, brooms, mops, feather dusters, spray bottles, and rubber gloves; an ironing board, a folding ladder, a clothes drying rack, a vacuum cleaner, and a garbage can; a rolling pin, a coffee pot, various kitchen utensils, some serving trays, and a bunch of plastic cups; badminton rackets, a butterfly net, a wading pool, a swim ring, a beach ball, and a swing set; and various plants, pieces of luggage, books, chairs, tables, and even a blow-up mattress. Klenyánszki has clearly raided every room in the house at one point or another, and the jumbled mixing of all of these parts of her life attests to her pulled-in-multiple-directions existence.

The mood of these photographs is consistently light – the constructions are unpretentious and humble, even when they have been exactingly built. Some glibly anthropomorphize the objects into “bodies” with heads, hands, and feet, while others bring a touch of absurdity to the process, the oddball combinations opting for quirkiness rather than seriousness. And when Klenyánszki herself enters the frame and becomes part of the sculptural assemblages, they take on a more performative aspect, her extremes of bending, holding, carrying, and reaching reminding us of the often wearying physicality of parenting.

At just 8×6 inches, Pillars of Home is an intimate single idea photobook, one that settles into your hands with ease. The cover graphic uses clever typography to recreate the process of tower construction, the letters turning and piling up as they descend from top to bottom. The images are presented either full size on one side of a spread or smaller on both sides, with colored pages introduced every 10 images to break up the flow and image numbers arranged in the corners using the same twisting letter motif as the cover. Overall, the design is clean and unobtrusive, smartly echoing the playfulness found in the photographs.

While at first glance, I was tempted to discount Klenyánszki’s images simply because this kind of in-studio construction has become so prevalent, I must admit that the backstory to the photographs of the young mother frantically making her art during naptime enchanted me. With that reality in mind, there is a stubborn persistence to these photographs that makes them richer than just readymade sculptural abstractions. These pictures are the story of artistic multi-tasking, of successfully shoehorning an artistic life into the middle of everyday realities. In this way, Pillars of Home delivers an optimistic message of get-it-done accomplishment – even with a family at home, Klenyánszki has proven that creativity can still flow freely.

Collector’s POV: Csilla Klenyánszki is represented by TRAPEZ Gallery in Budapest (here). Klenyánszki’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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