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Sári Ember | Glorious Times

Geometric marble masks, fragments resembling the silhouettes of Greek statues. Eternality meets with passing, remembrance with oblivion. Meanwhile, everything is laid on the ground, as if we were at an archeological site rather than in a gallery. The atmospheric space of the Sári Ember’s latest solo exhibition titled Glorious Times and organized in Karlin Studios in Prague allowed visitors to take account not only of the past, but of the present, too. Interview!

How did you first get in contact with Karlin Studios?

For me it was a very good experience how this exhibition came into being. I wanted to go to Prague for long, I didn’t really know it, but I was very much intrigued by the local art scene. By the way, I contacted Futura, as a collaborating institute to apply jointly for the artist exchange program of the Visegrad Fund at the very last moment. They told me that they have already followed my work previously and they wanted to invite me to exhibit at Karlin Studios, and so finally I got a chance for both the residence and the exhibition: I could spend 3 months in Prague in the fall, and my exhibition opened in December.

Exhibition interior

It is not your first time working with the past, with processing the past and with remembrance, either on a personal or collective level. This exhibition also gives opportunity for this, as the arrangement of the works and the installation resembles a burial ground, where people tend to ponder the past.

I am interested in how we approach happenings of the past, how we interpret old objects and how we define our own identity through arranging these objects and images. Here you could think of old family relics, but also how museums interpret the objects left to us, found or appropriated.

Large green mask, 2019, granite, 132x90x2 cm

The personal experience underlying the exhibition is the recent death of my grandmother, and the processes preceding and following it. I focused on this more closely at the exhibition of the Pannonhalma Archabbey titled Silence, to which I was invited by Nikolett Erőss. This is what the two pink stone masks that can be considered the starting points of the exhibition at Karlin Studios were made for originally.

Exhibition interior
Double mask (pink) 2019, marble, 96x70x2 cm

Here I designed an installation, which resembles an archeological site and a burial ground. Many times, we know ancient past through the stone objects associated with the cult of death. The main goal of creating the portraits is immortalization, the fear of death. This is what I was thinking of in the course of processing the death of my grandmother and I created portraits that are not the portraits of specific people and through which I could deal with my personal experience from another angle and at another scale.

Mask No 10. 2018, marble, 21.5 x 11.5 x 2 cm
Head made out of stone. 2018, marble, iron 130x90x60 cm

The title is quite telling, too: Glorious Times. In your opinion, are there any times that could be considered glorious?

This is exactly what I wanted to imply with the title: I think there are no such things as glorious times. Maybe there are some periods in one’s own life, when everything is good – I am having one right now. But the world surrounding us is so unstable, we don’t know what is going to happen, as there are several processes – climate change, disturbing political happenings – that give us reasons for worrying. At the same time, owing to the growth of life expectancy or developed communication, it may seem that we live in a glorious time. 

Exhibition interior

With the fragmented objects placed outside of time and through their placement on the ground I ask the question of when we look back, will we think of our time as glorious or as decay.

Column out of four black heads and Column out of four white heads. 2019, granite and marble, 119x35x45 cm

This exhibition is partly related to my previous solo exhibition organized at Artkartell Projectspace in April last year, titled There will come the time of decay. I would say this was a glorious installation, resembling a crowning hall, with the portraits of kings and heroes. A nice and high room all lit up, with collages all around the walls. With the title, I wanted to allude that every glorious era suggests that it will come to an end some time.

Your concept is complemented with a very exciting design. The choice of materials and forms recall the universal beauty ideal, and all in all we can see works that are strong from an aesthetic point of view, and that are also in harmony with contemporary design trends. Is this a result of an intended effort?

I am interested in zeitgeist and current design trends, that is what we like to surround ourselves with. Anyhow, I would like to create objects that I would not call beautiful, rather appealing. I consider the question of what makes something desirable for us an exciting one.

Moon masks (black), excerpt. 2019, granite, 64x64x2 cm 

I use many kinds of references, I am trying to identify the recurring elements in the different cultures, different ways of portrayals, such as the eye simplified to an almond and the triangle nose. I create hybrid pieces: they are very new but could be very old at the same time. We don’t know whether they are male or female, and they don’t tell us their age or the color of their skin, either. For me, this does not even out to a universal beauty – what I consider appealing in it is that instead of our reality imagined fundamentally as opposites here we can imagine transient states, too.

Untitled (Mask 6) 2017, marble, 29.5x23x2 cm

You mentioned that you are having a good period right now. What are your plans for the future?

The next solo exhibition I am preparing for will be in New York in April, at the gallery named Pablo’s Birthday. Before that, I will participate in an exhibition opening at Budapest Gallery, curated by Flóra Gadó. She invited me with the photo series that I have been making as the continuation of my diploma project (album for M), but I haven’t shown any pictures from it for a long time now. I am happy that they will be exhibited in an exciting context.

Crying mask, I. II. 2018, marble, granite, 30x40x2 cm

The exhibition is supported by Leopold Bloom Award and Maurice Ward Art Handling.This project was organized in the frame of a residency supported by Visegrad Artist Residency Program – Visual and Sound Arts. 

Photos: Sári Ember, courtesy of the artist and Ani Molnár Gallery

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