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SI-LA-GI Interview
by Bencsík Barnabás

Budapest, 200X

Through encounters with Japanese calligraphy, karate masters, and Tibetan lamas, SI-LA-GI embraced Buddhism and meditation as paths to understanding himself and transcending the ego. For him, the process of artistic creation becomes a form of meditation - a spontaneous "conversation" captured in fertile moments, aimed at allowing the spiritual essence to emanate independently. SI-LA-GI hopes his artworks can jerk viewers into new perspectives, emanating positive energy capable of breaking down walls and creating spiritual foundations. His practice seamlessly merges the artistic and the meditative in pursuit of profound communication and self-realization.

Note: You can find the integrality of the interview in the “Mirrors of the Void” exhibition catalog.

BENCSIK : After your first exhibition in Hungary in the Ernst Museum you had another one in the Obudai Pincegaléria in the autumn. This exhibition was pointedly built on the teachings and practices of Buddhism; a part of the exhibition room was transformed into a meditation sanctum. When and how did you encounter Buddhism and in what way has the ideology been absorbed by your creative activities?

SI-LA-GI (Szabolcs Szilágy): I first encountered Buddhism through Japanese calligraphic art. Later I had a Japanese master in Stockholm who taught me karate for 12 years after 1968, and through him, I got initiated into the living tradition of Buddhism since every training session begins and ends with meditation. The sport itself is a spiritual manifestation where spiritual power plays a very important part. When, in the case of karate, you are supposed to get into combat, the techniques you have practiced for years will only operate properly if you exclude thoughts totally, and you completely empty yourself, because you can achieve perfection only in an empty state. This is the true artistic manifestation of karate. You learn the techniques for years, just like you learn the alphabet, first the letters, then the words, later sentences, and finally the whole comes together in poetry. True karate is like that. Unfortunately in many places of Europe, it has been deteriorated and considered nothing more than a sport, although the greatest masters in Japan are still living and teaching in monasteries. So I got connected with Eastern ideology, Buddhism through my master. Then, in the early 1970’s I met a lama from Tibet who founded a monastery in Stockholm. He gave me the first teachings and I began to practice Buddhism, to meditate actively, and to go in for the practical besides the intellectual part. Later I traveled to India several times and visited holy places where I spent some time to find masters.

What are the criteria according to which you select your masters and what is the relationship between master and disciple like?

SI-LA-GI: On a basic level it does not have great importance as meditation is the same in most of the Buddhist schools. You purify your body, speech, and minde doing these basic meditations, and when you are done,- and they need very serious energy concentration and a long time- you become purified and more and more intuitive. It will become more and more obvious for you in which direction you should go to look for a master and you will find him and receive teachings from him. This is a mutual relationship, because if he consents to teach you, you will form a spiritual relationship, and he takes me just as I take him. It is a profound relationship with no trace of hierarchy, so much so, that beyond a certain point, it is important for the student to leave his master in order not to allow a dependency to be established between them. The relationship between master and student does not have any rules. If I have the time and the opportunity I go to live in a monastery, if not I just meditate on my own to my own abilities as it is in my own interest.

What is your master’s attitude towards your artistic activities ? Does he express an opinion? Does this topic have a place in your relationship at all ?

SI-LA-GI: He does not care about it. It is my personal need to make these works because they help me to understand who and what I am. From the point of view of Buddhist meditation artistic creation has no significance. On the other hand, art is a kind of meditation for me.

That means artistic creation is an aid to meditation and it is not meditation that helps you create ?

SI-LA-GI: They have a mutual effect on each other. What I create has a certain tendency, a direction, but it also contains a large measure of intuition, eventuality, and chance, but the end result has its washback effect by all means. Basically, both are means used to achieve purity. The aim is not to fortify myself, because if I try to fortify my ego all I do is set a trap for myself. The larger the ego you create for yourself in your life, the more difficult it will be to part with it.

You must constantly be prepared, continuously condition yourself, and look upon each and every minute as the most important one, otherwise you become lazy and then it will be difficult to grasp what is essential. Just like death, that may come at any moment. You must be ready for that, too. You must be alert in every moment. Because you must prepare very thoroughly for death, that is the task of life, then in death you prepare for life. Meditation is preparation for death. It is very important how you die, in what mental and physical condition you are in when the last moment comes. It is like a bullet shot out of a barrel. The soul leaves the body, and this means that, like in your dreams, or your imagination, everything is possible, every possibility of infinity may come true. The soul flying away from the body however needs a certain direction. After all, it is a very great gift to be born in the human form. You are pressed into a dimension but still, within limits, you can condition yourself, and, if there is a method, you may internalize it and with its help make certain things conscious in your thoughts, and when this state comes to an end you could use the period of relaxation and fulfill the concept you have have discovered. Everything that happens after your death happens to you still, that is still you. According to Buddhism if you take a drop out of the ocean that is an individual, when you put it back, it will become one with the Whole and it will be inseparable from it. But as long as you cling on to your ego you make it impossible for yourself to fall back into the ocean and become one with the Whole, to dissolve in infinity.

You’ve mentioned that you have traveled a lot, that you have been to parts of the world strange and far away for European people. What motivated these trips? Is this craving for adventure typical of your ideas about art as well?

SI-LA-GI: I went to different countries, to different places for different reasons. But basically I was always intrigued by the unknown, to step on unfamiliar ground, to experience the unknown physically, in person, and to feed on the physical experience in a spiritual way. The purpose of my trips to India and Nepal was to visit Buddhist masters. In the majority of the cases, I had to overcome serious difficulties, to cross mountains and glaciers, to go through terrifying adventures to reach my destination. During your travels, you have to face various kinds of ordeals and the way you overcome them is very important. These are the teaching points of the trips. When you run into a new problem you must react and this gives the stimulus, that brings out your true personality. The same thing is true when pursuing art. I experiment with things the final outcome of which I cannot exactly foresee that is what makes them interesting. I am not interested in repeating or recreating things because then I would lose the spontaneity and what I do would be too manipulated and too predictable.

I have never had a theoretical attitude towards the process of artistic creation. But I have always been intrigued by change, transformation, the difference between the phenomenon and its manifestation, the relationship between material and spirit, reality and unreality, and the infinity appearing through repetition even in meditation. The manifestation of good and evil energies, the constant and parallel presence of good and evil spirits in man, in the world, and in works of art. How is it possible to trap the spiritual in matter? Primitive rhythms for example contain good and evil forces and connect them to a given space, how is it possible to comprise these contents into works of art? In African, Asian, and Australian cultures where these things manifest themselves in very emotional and intuitive ways, if you are open enough, you can acquire a lot of knowledge. For me, it is much more important to live through things like that, than process them rationally and analytically.

Does that mean that these are rather emotional concepts than intellectual creations?

SI-LA-GI: Yes, so to speak.

What are the criteria you consider first and foremost during the process of creation? Do aesthetical considerations have any influence on you at all?

SI-LA-GI: I think if something is made really well, it will become aesthetic to a certain extent, or its innate anti-aesthetic quality will change into an aesthetic one. Anyway, I like to make things perfect for myself and use materials in a way that they become a compact unity. Eventuality is involved in the process but the final result should not be a matter of accident or luck, presentation should be the framework that emphasizes the essential, so that content should have a form constructed exactly and meticulously. Aesthetic quality however is not an objective in itself, only spirituality is important.

When I create something I want to convey the feeling that is in me at the moment. It is almost like a conversation. If you paint a mark in a picture it will change it immediately. The painting reflects like a mirror. A conversation will be established between the work to be born and myself. This appears in the “fine-tuning” of the details at times, at other times when I feel that I have been too preoccupied with the details and neglected the essentials, I need to gather some more energy to fill my own work with spirituality again.

Do you have a desire to record this process on a canvas to make the various phases of the “conversation” retraceable?

SI-LA-GI: Of course, because this is what makes or keeps the work alive. The subject emanates the spiritual energy, the spirituality which I have always wanted to express. To make it operate on its own, without me, to make it become a spirit, a spiritual subject. When you are working on something it happens that you get stuck, you cannot go on creating it anymore. In order to get moving forward again you need to grasp the essentials again and not to struggle but to put the spirit that is the essence of it all into it.

Is it possible to control it consciously?

SI-LA-GI: Just like in the case of karate, you need to achieve an emptiness that the process of action and reaction can take place in an absolutely pure environment, because that is the only one where it can really work. Analysis slows down and weakens action. There is only an empty space. Meditation is a great help. I don’t always begin painting with the same attitude. Sometimes I begin to work in an entirely spontaneous way, just looking at my photographs or situations around me differently with a certain tendency. But is it not unidirectional. It is like warming up. Softness and hardness- these two pulsate in everything, creation as well. You cannot maintain the moment of orgasm for hours, you can push it up close to the peak but it can only last for one single moment. Similarly, in the process of creation, you can only grasp the really fertile moments at times and not for long, but that is inevitable.

Are you interested in the fate of your works after you have finished them? Do you attribute a certain function to works of art beyond the emotional and intellectual excitement of artistic creation? Do you consider it important to show your work to the public?

SI-LA-GI : Once I have completed something I like to show it even for myself in a new context, to place it in a 'strange environment' where it usually acquires an entirely different meaning from what it had in the studio. At the same time, a piece of art is a surface for communication between the people and me. It is very important how much they can draw, and how much they can learn from it. Whether communication has been established or not. The most important thing is that my work should have some kind of impact because that’s when they fulfill their task properly. As far as I can see, unfortunately, art does not have a real function in Hungary. Very few people are involved in it as much as it deserves, nobody calls the attention of the public to it, although without it, the majority do not know how to use it. And art must be used.

Do people elsewhere know how to do it ?

In West-Europe many people can benefit from a strong manifestation. The owner of the gallery who sells the works, the critic, the journalist, who writes about them, the art-directors designers who steal ideas from it. The museum that exhibits them and the viewer whom they may jerk out of his normal way of thinking and in this new state he might have a different view of his problems, and his own life. Art has very far-flung effects. People are happy when something good and extraordinary happens because everyone benefits from it not only in the financial sense. the task of a work of art is to emanate positive energy; to pull down walls in certain cases to create firm spiritual foundations in others.