There is an ineffable quality to the most recent work of Ilona Szalay – it demands to be experienced physically. Her characters exist in a rare dimension hanging, or oscillating, between power and vulnerability. This is truly female work, female as Nature, Gravity or Reality. Her works are elements in their own right, beautiful yet confrontational, elegant yet ruthless. Through the work the artist asks us to examine our most intense anxieties and taboos and brings to the foreground, in a literally transparent manner, the viewer’s deepest feelings and most base sentiments.
These see-through entities, these works on glass, function as a non-reflective mirror, a confrontational frame that, rather than representing human emotion – as art so often does – conjures it raw and naked, a human emotion captured or petrified within a sleek glass tank.
Eminent is the struggle for identity, the urge towards belonging whilst maintaining one’s individuality. The artist emphasises the vast importance of the visible in a culture of concealment and it is this violent interior struggle that is brought face to face with the viewer in the setting of Mermaid. The works look the viewer straight in the eye – they are human, obstinate, glorious, instinctual and unavoidable.
Visually Ilona Szalay has mastered the interplay between the surface and the illusion of a presumed depth. The dynamics of power, violence, authority, subversion and oppression are, as in life, real and prominent here, mirroring our own ineffectualities and impulses. There is a sense in the work of a secret truth exposed, a feeling of unguarded nakedness which brings with it its own particular kind of strength and integrity. This delicate vulnerability is reminiscent of Marc Chagall. He too was able to guide the viewer’s eye in order that they become lost in delicate and sharp lines, protrusions, waves and curves which interact between the surface and the illusion of apparent depth.
Szalay explores – in a similar manner to Chagall – the complex world of power relationships between humans which brings with it all manner of violence, suppression and domination. Through her own assumptions and predictions she highlights the silent ‘unwritten’ rules of our society, challenging us to posit new questions about the status quo.
The ‘Mermaid’ exhibit by Ilona Szalay, which opens on Thursday 4 December 2014 in Tart Zurich, shows a diverse spectrum of current works in glass and lightboxes. It is her first solo show in Switzerland. Born in Lebanon, Szalay has had several international exhibitions and is collaborating with Saatchi Art.
Margarita Tristi, 2014
“The dark, roiling liquidities of Szalay’s lightbox paintings are simultaneously menacing and compelling, powerfully primeval.”
Gabriel Coxhead, art critic of Time Out magazine, London.