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with Andy Warhol

New York City, 1985

In this 1985 New York City conversation, artists SI-LA-GI and Andy Warhol discuss the nature of creativity and the art world. This conversation explores artistic philosophies and practices. SI-LA-GI discusses his approach to art and the importance of constant innovation, while Warhol adds his perspectives on presentation and creativity. Art historian Lorand Hegyi Land's analysis frames this dialogue, highlighting the evolving and multifaceted nature of art as viewed by these two artists.

SI-LA-GI (Szabolcs Szilágyi): By forming this book dealing with myself I would like to approach my activity and art itself from a new viewpoint. The analyses by the art historian Lorand Hegyi Land in the present interview are forming and deforming, like “overlapping layers”, the works of art. But it is precisely this variety of changes which among others – I am interested in. This impermanence applies to everything.

Andy Warhol (Andrew Warhola): I also constantly think of new ways to present the same thing to interviewers.

SI-LA-GI : Yes. There are very few who look for new ways. Especially if they already have success with their concept. I never understood, how some artists are able to paint one and the same thing for several decades. That’s no creative activity nor visual thinking anymore, but more self-repetition, because the serial repetition has its right to exist if it is as essential as a mantra. At the very most we have to do it with an aesthetical value, but beauty cannot be the aim, since it is present around us, in everything. From the human body through a gesture as far filth, dirt on the street. It is tragical indeed, that some people mistake self-repetition for maturity.

Of course, it is easy to recognize and identify a work of art of this kind – a prompt experience of success is almost granted. And if all works are as equal as bills, then it is the easiest thing to “change” them for it. I think art cannot be an ultimate manifestation, it is a search. The search for highly important things and contexts. The disclosure of life and death, of the possibilities, the correlations and the limits of the individual. Referring to myself: I try to disclose what is unknown to me and to form what is present in my subconsciousness; in the course of formation these “things” mingle with the accidental and occasional, they get limited or inspired by the possibilities offered by the medium. The interaction and mingling of media present new ways of approach. This is why I am working with video, sound, hologram, painting, sculpture and space as well as with their complete and free combination. The work is mostly expected to be homogeneous both in contents and form, although man is quite different while making love or fighting, in the morning or in the evening. The work (of art) must show this difference. Art must be alive, and to be alive means to move and to change.

Andy Warhol : I like it, it’s good

SI-LA-GI : When I was teaching arts, I noticed how people are afraid of freedom, of experimentation. They do not even dare to mix the different techniques, to start making something they don’t know. And I am speaking now of arts – in everyday life the rigour is still greater. But like the still picture is continued by the moving picture, so is every art attached to one another.

Andy Warhol : Now you have to tell me your life story.

SI-LA-GI : Biography, exhibitions, publications, lists, etc. – thats dull. A biography told in a few words is as banal and false as to find out the quality of a picture from the gallery where it was exhibited. People do not dare to assume the responsibility for their own opinion. They try to find a support, a security that does not exist. They believe in the authority of galleries and museums, although you know as well as I, that the guiding principles of similar institutions are based on personal contacts, on interests and money. Nevertheless, let me tell you a few words about myself. I was born in Tokaj, on September 17th 1949 at 11.36h, as the offspring of a noble family. At four years of age I began to paint. When I was six, I saw a Dici-type photo apparatus in the shopwindow and did not stop entreating until I got it. I remember my first film roll, I made snapshots of dead fish lying on the snow-covered ice of the frozen river. I was five when I had my first traumatic encounter with death. After a pneumonia with an almost deadly issue I was taken home from hospital. That night I slept in my father’s arms when he died. I experienced it totally, how his soul was leaving the empty body. About nine years later my sister, two years younger than I died of cancer.

Andy Warhol : How old were you then?

SI-LA-GI : Fourteen. We were living already in Budapest. A strange place. A blend of East and West, of love and hatred, of pettiness and grandeur. At the same time, it is limited by the relative homogeneity of habits, the absence of extremity, of overlook and removal. I attended a high school of arts, but there were so highly explosive energies working in me, that I needed more space for them. On a rather adventurous way I justify the country with my friend in 1966, through Yugoslavia and Italy, and after a few months I went to Sweden. The absolute contrast of anything I have experienced so far. A perfectly isolated country in the artistic, the historical, the emotional and the geographical sense alike. Even the major artistic trends such as renaissance, baroque or the isms of the 20th century failed to assert themselves or were at any rate long overdue, emaciated and bloodless when arriving. there exists a Puritan Protestant rural culture, far away from Europe’s intellectuality, visuality and emotions. People are afraid of the new and the force, and – first of all – of individuality. This incites you to either reduce the energies or to intensify them still more. As for me, I have chosen the latter. And thus started the experimentation with life.

Suzanne Ko : But you have attended the Academy of Fine Art in Stockholm.

SI-LA-GI : Yes, for a few years, but then I ceased, for there was a naive amateurism prevailing there too, and on the other hand, we were supposed to paint political agitations which did not interest me at all. My best “academies” were my journeys. I stayed several times and for a long while in India and it’s surroundings. It was there I felt a genuine respect for individual life. Spirituality is omnipresent there. Over here, in America, it actually also is, because history is not indoctrinating here. Cosmic consciousness is much stronger over here than it is in Europe. Europe is unable to detach itself from lineal thinking, from the historic and national conceptions. The cosmic Boom is missing. A most important step was for me the absorption in Japanese Martial Art; (karate) it gave me not only a physical discipline, but also taught me the physical transformation of spiritual force. By this way I have discovered the combination that is harmonious for me, where idea and emotion, intuition, spontaneity and force, softness and hardness are all together. Of course, this is an ideal combination which not always goes in a body, but eventually shifts to the advantage of one factor and to the detriment of another.

Laurie Rosenquist  : Is there a teacher or relative who has especially influenced you in your work?

SI-LA-GI : Duchamp’s intellect, Picasso’s transforming force, Buddha’s teaching, the love of my wife and works like Tarkovskij’s Stalker.

Laurie Rosenquist : What does money mean to you?

SI-LA-GI : The possibility of quickly realizing my projects and conceptions. Of financing my assistants and the technical means. Otherwise, the organization, the search for cheaper techniques, etc., would absorb much time and energy from creative work. As soon as I shall be able, I am going to establish a foundation for helping experimental projects and artists.

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Laurie Rosenquist : What does the school mean to you?

SI-LA-GI : The ideal school is a place where you have the possibility for every kind of experiments and where the teacher is experimenting together with the student in an affectionate, merry and creative environment. Besides imparting concrete technical and material knowledge, the most he can contribute to creative work is to indicate intentions.

Laurie Rosenquist : What is needed for success?

SI-LA-GI : Well, success is actually necessarly, although it has many negative aspects as well. Unfortunately it is not enough to be a. good artist for having success, you also need good managers who procure a place, facilities for exhibitions, publicity, etc., and you may call yourself lucky if you find somebody like that. The recognition of giftedness is almost as rare as the genius himself.

Laurie Rosenquist : Why aren’t you better known?

SI-LA-GI : For three reasons. First: because I did not yet find the manager I was speaking about Second: because my works, being of experimental and medial character, are hardly identifiable Third: because I am living in Sweden.

Laurie Rosenquist : How fast do you work?

SI-LA-GI : If I am not hindered by technical or material difficulties, I work rather quickly. Although I should rather speak of three phases First: when I get charged with new experiences and penetrate into new domains Second: establishment and adjustment of certain alignments, outlining and composing conceptions Third: The execution itself, which is further inspired and altered during work, begins to live and may lead me on new ways. For instance, a formerly half-finished work may now find all of a sudden its conclusion or explanation. The proportions of these three phases are most variable, sometimes even undiscernible.

Suzanne Ko : You often use photo, newspaper, xerox. Why?

SI-LA-GI : As already said, I am interested in changes. For instance, how to fill a news-photo made by someone else with entirely new contents, with spirit. Thats is somewhat like kneading man out of earth and inhaling a soul therein. As for my xerox-works, I have the feeling as though they were petrified prints of animal, or plant fossils. I mean, it’s a direct print of the human body, without any transmission.

Laurie Rosenquist : What is your opinion about Trans-avantgarde?

SI-LA-GI : Trans-avantgarde had its role contrary to the very important Concept art of the 60s, which dried out, become boring – to return emotions and enjoyment I believe that philosophical spirit of the concept is coming back, but combined with visual force of the Trans-avantgarde.

Suzanne Ko : Death is a recurring item in your works. Are you afraid of death?

SI-LA-GI : Sometimes I manage to “master” this consciousness and sometimes not. Creative work is actually the projection and construction of Ego, death is precisely the opposite, that is: contradiction. At the same time, I think it is one of our most important tasks to resolve it and to work on its comprehension. See from the perspective of death, life will also get a different sense. Like Romans used to say: Memento mori.

Suzanne Ko : I have the impression that we had a most interesting talk; what I am missing in this interview, that’s the explosiveness which is so very characteristic of you.

SI-LA-GI : Maybe, some other day you will get nothing than explosions.