We talked with Hungarian sculptor Bence Magyarlaki, who aims to reveal the connection points between architecture and body politics while exploring themes such as privacy, body memory and sexuality.
Who is Bence Magyarlaki? Can you briefly tell us about yourself?
I am a Hungarian artist currently based in Paris. I graduated from BA (Hons) Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, London in 2017 and have since been travelling a lot before finally settling down in France. I work within the medium of sculpture, installation and sound, and my artistic practice seeks to uncover the connection points between architecture and body politics, while exploring themes such as intimacy, body memory and sexuality.
Can you talk about your production practice in your intuitive process, where you combine architecture and body language? How do you use body memory as a production space?
When I start a sculpture I don't necessarily have a plan of the entire body of it, I start by forming material and letting its resistance or volume guide me. Found objects, namely furniture parts often become the main constructors of the inside of my work, and their shapes and textures influence the outside. It is an exchange of push and pull, as each found piece has a different density and ability to twist. I find this process to be similar to how we formulate our identities in a society. The body is a political site, and the various external and internal impacts - be it societal or intimate and psychological - mould it into a specific thing that we believe it to be. In this process there are moments in which we conform and others in which we find gateways for personal freedom, self realisation and authenticity. I find this process to be fascinating, and I aim for my work to stage its dynamics in a narrative sculptural environment.
I always speak about sculpture as a form of expression situated between the solidity of architecture and the fluidity of the moving body. Sculpture has the material, structural boundaries similar to architectural constructions, and yet its reason for coming about is often to give form to something quite fleeting and vulnerable. The language that my sculptures speak is related to body language: it is rooted in gesture, posture, mimicry, languages of the body that we employ to communicate, touch and mirror each other. A lot of my recent work communicates through ‘a gut feeling’ rather than through words. Gut feelings are manifestations of our body memory at work, it is through this peripheric and rhizomatic intelligence of the body that we formulate our spatial, linguistic and habitual memory. It also contributes to the way we relate to others, social schemas and stolen gestures we build into our behavior, and ultimately in how we formulate our character and sense of self.
In your works, you use hard cast materials (concrete, plaster) to create soft and bending forms that invite the viewers to question the concept of fixed form. What is the inspiration behind this approach?
This is an attempt to disrupt the architecture of the self: I am interested in architecture not only in its role as a container and concealer of bodies, but also as a signifier of social norms and hierarchies of power. I am interested in the politics behind how bodies occupy space, whether it is the space constructed by urban planners and architects, or the social space of our nuclear families, chosen families, and peers, or whether it is the inner space of our body, or spirit. These softened forms in hard containers propose a deviation in form, a certain resistance to normality. As a genderqueer person I think it is quite obvious why I do this. None of the socially constructed structures we believe to be fixed truly are, we have come up with them as a means to organise into specific kinds of societies. If we observe the history and political philosophy of European societies, these rules have often been at the service of a violent, oppressive, white supremacist, misogynist, male dominant vision of the world. The idea of normalcy we use today raised directly out of this system (largely assisted by the racist pseudoscience of eugenics for example), and if we are ever to deconstruct these wrongs in what we consider 'normal' , we have to start by observing and elevating what is deemed twisted, abnormal, inapt, different or othered.
“The base forms of the sculptures are usually quite geometrical, so the bends and twists allow them to relax into a certain vulnerability that I believe is an advisable state for all of us to approach the deconstructive process towards love (of ourselves and of the other) and equity.”
Can you tell us a little about your production process? Are you closer to analog or digital techniques?
I mostly work with my two hands, it is a very classical, analogue way of working. But I always had a design practice on the side of my art practice, so when I sketch up spaces or furniture, I also work digitally. I have recently started taking furniture design more seriously, and I am hoping to launch a series of limited edition sculptural furniture pieces very soon! In a way I don't see a clear division between these practices, I just apply a sculptor's thinking to space and objects. So it is just another channel for creativity to flourish, and the digital is definitely very useful there.
Which of your works has excited you the most regarding the design process and the final product?
My largest sculpture to scale is a 2.8m tall outdoor sculpture produced during a residency at Montresso Art Foundation in Marrakech entitled Body Schema: Our Own Private Matriarchy. It was very challenging to make this work, it took us 3 months from start to finish. At the same time it was one of the most exciting things I have done in recent years. It started very intuitively, I was just filling up a doorway with dozens of tubular sponge pieces to play with what constellation I wanted to see, and based on an initial idea that had a single plane, I then expanded the planes into 3D by building a wooden box. It was such a massive scale that just to figure out how we engineer the project, how the sculpture can stand by itself and how we can move it around and turn it for sanding was quite interesting. It was just epic to see it come to life, I am very happy with this work.
Who are the names you follow with curiosity in this field or different disciplines?
From contemporaries who work with sculpture, I love the work of Tai Shani and Sarah Lucas, but also Erwin Wurm. I follow a lot of contemporary ceramicists, architects and furniture designers, I love the work of Anne Holtrop, Halleroed, Wendell Castle and I get a lot of inspiration from theatre and contemporary dance . I am also an avid fan of my artist friends' work who build up my queer family and home community: artists Inês Zenha and Divine Southgate-Smith and ceramicist Sharlen Nozowa.
Are you excited about the future, and what are your plans?
I am not exactly excited about the future of the world, but I also know that all we can do is keep going and keep putting messages out to the public that are worthwhile. Something needs to change, otherwise we will destroy each other even before the climate completely collapses. Artists have the possibility to induce this change (when given the right platform of course), so I am trying to embody the kind of artist I want to be more and more, and that keeps me going. I am currently working on a project in Lisbon through the support of La Junqueira residency, a show in Budapest with Heart & Cherry Limited Editions as well as developing new work for an upcoming solo show in Paris.