Intersections of the “art” of Marcel Duchamp and Tamás Szentjóby

Sándor Hornyik

The starting point is the last intersection, which is, at the same time, also the most recent grafting, or, if you like, a mutant montage that places side by side the work of Tamás St.Auby, Marcel Duchamp, Franz Anton Maulbertsch and Christ.

As far as the physical dimensions of the montage are concerned, it is roughly the size of a postcard. Its author is Tamás St.Turba, who in 2010 entitled the work Duchamp auf dem Ölberg (Duchamp on the Mount of Olives). One side of the postcard shows two pictures, one depicts Duchamp’s work Étant donnés (Given, 1946–1966) and the other depicts Maulbertsch’s work Christus auf dem Ölberg (Christ on the Mount of Olives, 1768/69). One of them is a photographic reproduction of the work, the other is a photograph taken by Duchamp himself, which he amended with textual commentaries in order to facilitate the precise, albeit posthumous assembly of the legendary work. On the other side of the postcard a reproduction of another Duchamp work appears, a drawing tied to Étant donnés, which as such itself had a successful carrier. It depicts the groom of Duchamp’s last “woman”, the naked “bride” of Given, in whom some interpreters recognize the alter ego of the artist, although the title is merely Le Bac Auer (1968), which is the name of a gas lamp that was once popular. To all this, St.Turba, agent of NETRAF (Neo-Socialist Realist IPUT’s Global Counter Art History Falsifiers Front), added a comment questioning whether Duchamp was equal to Christ. The editorial commentary of the postcard (1) indicates that St.Turba, as a provocative gesture, positioned Maultbertsch’s Christ next to Duchamp’s alter ego as a kind of prototype. Compared with previous famous and canonized prototypes (or references), such as Dürer’s perspective print depicting a harlot (Artists Depicting a Nude, Four Books on Measurement, 1525) or Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (Origin of the World, 1866), this strikes one as a fairly provincial and occult analogy. Nevertheless, one cannot exclude the possibility of this initial visual impulse, as Duchamp may have seen Maulbertsch’s painting in the Hanfstängl Collection during his stay in Munich in 1912.

Tamas St. Turba (Agent of NETRAF/Neo-Socialist.Realist. IPUT’s Global Counter Arthist.ory- Falsifiers Front/): Duchamp auf dem Ölberg. Offset on paper, 187 × 151 mm, 2010

At the moment, my goal is not to provide a false art historical explanation of the justifiability and viability of the Maulbertsch-Duchamp montage or hybrid, because it might even come to light that the reinterpretation of the history of ideas in the Baroque (or the Enlightenment) period from the postmodern perspective is not as distant from Duchamp as we might have imagined. Instead, what interests me now is how the rather melancholic Christ of the Enlightenment lays his head similarly – as hinted by St.Turba – into the lap of the angel on the Mount of Olives, as Duchamp had drawn himself, while gazing from up close at the female figure of Étant donnés. Of course, the analogy stands on somewhat weak footing, as the dynamic of the movements of Christ and the angel are completely different, just as Christ’s posture differs largely from the position of Duchamp’s alter ego. While Christ lays his head on the thigh of the angel behind him, presumably weary and tormented by incertitude, Duchamp appears in an erotic pose, content and teased, with his hands clasped at his nape, indecently staring at the woman and her thighs spread wide, the model for which was presumably his former lover (1946–1951), the Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins. Despite this, the analogy or rather the equation (Duchamp=Christ) raises the possibility of a highly exciting discussion which seemingly is only provocation, but in reality is important information, not just concerning the art and the history of the interpretation of Duchamp’s art, but also concerning the art of St.Turba (aka St.Auby, aka Szentjóby).

It makes sense to begin the discussion with the author, St.Turba, Szentjóby’s allegorical alter ego and a compact genealogy of Turba, as the canonized Turba suggests a contradictory, indeed, a paradoxical authorial mentality. Namely, it suggests that Szentjóby adopts the concept of Turba from Jakob Böhn, through Béla Hamvas, referring to the degeneration, confusion and ignorance of contemporary mankind. Moreover, this condition is such that the individual lustfully enjoys and drives worldly pleasures without knowing anything about their actual makeup or about their satanic, demoralizing nature (2). The severity of the situation of a person in Turba stems from the fact that Turba derives not just from the degeneration of the existing world, but rather from the disorder of imagination and the creative faculty, which in Böhme’s case meant that the subject was no longer able to identify with the good residing inside him/herself, with the positive energy of love and humanity, with the Holy Spirit originating from Christ. In Hamvas’ view, the Turba does not merely signify the state of being neglected by God, but rather a state of desolation, spiritlessness, when the soul is only capable of pursuing material joys and falls into the traps of selfish, existentialist greed. In relation to this, Szentjóby leads the Turba back to the wickedness of the world and an uncritical identification with it, as it adopts the “worldly” capitalist value system. From this perspective, the apparent contradiction is resolved. St.Turba is not the saint of darkness, nor is he the priest of Satan, rather he is the prophet of a new Enlightenment, who preaches the new metaphysics of the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984 W and St.Rike.  


The most important question, proceeding from here, could be the following: what role do Duchamp and Christ play in this new religion, or Myth, in the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984 W? Compared to the customary art historical interpretation, Duchamp auf dem Ölberg sacralises in a fairly bewildering manner the atheist Duchamp, as the goal of the work is presumably not the secularization of Christ. This sacred Duchamp, however, is quite odd in light of the current art historical understanding, according to which a new figure, embodied and eroticized and very much of this world, is in the process of canonization at an increasing pace. According to this new image, Duchamp in his works addressed social gender roles and stereotypes to at least the same degree as he ridiculed art theory and the art institutional system. Drawing on the ideas of Amelia Jones, we may describe this Duchamp, who reigns today, as the postmodern version, who, although together with Man Ray created his own female alter ego (Rrose Sélavy, 1921), nevertheless played chess with an unclothed beautiful woman (who was, not incidentally, an artist) in front of The Large Glass in 1963 (3). The seemingly degrading and misogynistic gesture, however, is typical of Duchamp. It is highly ambivalent, because while the woman is forced into a humiliating, subjugated role, Duchamp also mocks himself, the old voluptuary, and makes clear the eroticism of the cultic chef-d’oeuvre, The Large Glass, which according to most interpreters paints a fairly cynical picture of the mechanical sexuality and emotional household of mankind. The provocative eroticism hidden in Duchamp’s works, despite the 1963 act, only slowly began to surface, and the new, erotic, fetishist Duchamp came to be widely known only thanks to paraphrases, such as Hannah Wilke’s feminist performance entitled C’est la vie Rrose and Sherry Levine’s gilt pissoir (Fountain, After Marcel Duchamp: A.P., 1991).   

The sexual revolution of the Duchamp interpretation has escalated to the point that, by the 1990s, not only the obvious references but also hidden allusions had come to the surface, and his claim that all of his works are rich with sexuality was taken seriously (4). Rosalind Karuss, in one of her essays in her book on the optical unconscious, examines the complex relationships between sexuality, mechanism, physiology, psychoanalysis and illusionism. She analyzes the erotic and sexual content of Precision Optics (1920) and Rotoreliefs (1935), previously only regarded as a matter of playful physics (5). Furthermore, she also pointed out that in the case of Duchamp the negation of retinal art (art on which the eyes can feast) does not automatically mean the affirmation of pure and rational conceptualism. Namely, the grey material often referred to by Duchamp covers the grey substance of the brain, in other words, not merely the pure and abstract mind, but knowledge that impregnates the body, the flesh. In other words, when Duchamp claims that with his works he addresses not the retina, but also the grey material, he is not voting in favor of conceptual art, but rather is endeavoring to activate the body and soul in parallel. In the beginning of the 1990s, parallel to Jones and Krauss, the Spanish art historian Juan Antonio Ramírez also reached the conclusion that Duchamp’s art is not so much about art, as such, as one would have assumed based on his readymades and his carrier as a conceptual artist, but rather is about life and death, about love, instincts and desires and the visualization of all of these things. In Ramírez’s view, Duchamp is no longer the ascetic theoretician of dematerialized conceptual art, but rather is an examiner of emotions, desires and fears, somewhat like Jacques Lacan. As such, from the conception of The Large Glass in 1913 to the completion of Étant donnés in 1966, Duchamp was occupied with the – albeit mostly cynical – depiction of the sexual energies (Eros) that drive the world (6).

In St.Turba’s montage, the cynical, postmodern dandy, equipped with a wickedly sharp mind, turns into the Savior, the Savior who on the Mount of Olives, against his will, accepted the bitter chalice and played the inglorious role given him, by which he saves unworthy mankind from its sins. And this seems to suggest that in St.Turba’s reading, Duchamp’s spirit is disengaged from his body, and his revolutionary ideas on art are more important from the point of view of the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project than his occult and pseudo-scientific theories on the mechanisms of desire. In other words, it is as if on the Mount of Olives it is the old, modern, indeed avant-garde Duchamp who appears, who as a Savior brought new art, which mostly is known as conceptual art but which over the course of the last fifty years also became the basis of an intellectual creed that practically determines who can regard him or herself as a globally recognized artist. According to this creed, which nowadays is mostly referred to as post-conceptual, contemporary art is art only if it shares in the imperatives of conceptual art, in other words, if it is critical and self-reflexive, which of course also means that it reflects on the relationship between  art and society and therefore occupies itself with politically and culturally relevant questions. The Duchamp-Christ analogy, however, has a less convenient and more exciting side than this purely philosophical dimension, as St.Turba compares Duchamp not with the glorified, suffering Christ, but rather with the man troubled by doubts. In connection with this, one can raise the following questions: as Savior, what sins did Duchamp undertake to redeem, and what roles did he play in the course of his own career in art history?

Did Duchamp really want to be the revolutionary of the neo-avant-garde and the Savior of art, or, as in the case of so many other roles, did he merely assumed this role when the time had come, in other words, at the beginning of the 1960s, when, after decades of silence, the young American Titans of new art, following John Cage’s lead, discovered the former occult Surrealist, who was regarded as the most intelligent artist by none other than André Breton. John Cage may well have shared this opinion when he realized that, in the second decade of the twentieth century, Duchamp had experimented with musical compositions akin to what Cage himself was doing fifty years later. In response to all this, Duchamp apparently said only that perhaps he had come fifty years before his time, and with regards to Breton’s comment he added that he didn’t particularly know what intelligence was. Despite this, the old readymades came to the forefront of interest in the conceptual art of the 1960s. Joseph Kosuth for example, traced the genealogy of this philosophical and linguistic conceptualism to the readymades of the 1910s, Fountain (1917) and Bicycle Wheel (1913). However, when the “Duchampian” “anti-retinal” revolution had passed, Kosuth and Cage, together with his students George Brecht and Allan Kaprow, remained unaware of Duchamp’s last work, Étant donnés, which was presented to the public only after his death, in 1969 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Only slowly and gradually did the last, fairly retinal, indeed even spectacular work prompt a revision of assessments of Duchamp’s entire oeuvre. Increasingly, the importance of questions concerning image composition came to take the art theoretical place previously occupied by readymades. In Duchamp’s case, of course, image composition points well beyond the traditional artistic questions of depiction and representation. It becomes a kind of meta-theory, which is directed at redefining not only art, but also mankind’s place in the universe. Thierry De Duve extended the theory of pictorial nominalism, which at first glance this seems purely linguistic, to the interpretation of the creator of the picture and the beholder of the picture (7). De Duve states that pictorial nominalism refers not only to the approximation of something as art through a linguistic gesture, but also signifies reflection on the epistemological and ethical projections of this gesture, this proclamation and naming in the Foucaultian sense. In this extended epistemological history, it is not so much the idiomatic games, the gags and the readymades which play the main roles, but also the paintings, more precisely the two last large “paintings”: The Large Glass (1915–1923) and the Étant donnés. The complete title in English is the following: Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas. In connection with the waterfall and the illuminating gas, it becomes wholly explicit that Given is a continuation or a correction of The Large Glass, as Duchamp himself stated in The Green Box (1924), in other words in his comments on The Large Glass, that the two most important elements of the large work are the waterfall and the illuminating gas (8).  

Marcel Duchamp: The Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, 1915–1923, 277,5 × 177,8 × 8,6 cm

The complete title of The Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even has recently been retranslated into Hungarian by Nikoletta Házas, who in addition to providing a new translation of the title has also offered a new interpretation of the work, as if summarizing all of the earlier defining analyses, from Breton to Jean Clair and De Duve to Hans Belting (9). According to her, The Large Glass should be regarded as a kind of meditation object alongside  The Green Box and The White Box: when one “looks through it”, something beyond what is depicted also unfolds, something that could even be the Great Theory describing the universe, for in numerous commentaries Duchamp alluded to the notion that the bride stripped bare, and thereby uncovered, by the bachelors is in reality the three-dimensional projection of four dimensional reality, which functions as an analogy to the laid-out image of the hyper square. Moreover, the fourth dimension in Duchamp’s time had not yet signified the space-time continuum in Einstein’s sense, but rather a kind of mystical essence, the true fourth-dimensional reality hidden behind the world’s three-dimensional veil, which could provide an explanation for the role of accidents as paradoxes in our world. Házas’ interpretation tends in the direction of understanding The Large Glass as an allegory for art, or rather for the interpretation of art with all the countless references, words games and information that Duchamp encoded into the work, which force the beholder to make continuous and almost infinite effort. This final upshot, however, somewhat eclipses the register of allegorical interpretation according to which the great work, as a kind of agnostic opus magnum, is an allegory for the unfathomableness of the world and, as such, of science and human knowledge. The highly complex bachelor machinery, with its numerous scientific associations, refers to this. Its goal, supposedly, is to “set off” the bride machinery, which reminds one perhaps first and foremost of a combination of an insect and a robot, although some recognize in it the driving mechanism of the automobiles of the time. According to the narrative of the great work, the goal of the bachelor mechanism is to distil and produce the fluid in the chocolate grinder, which through all kinds of optical and electromagnetic transformations revitalizes empty liveries and uniforms representing men, which then bring the fluid into an ethereal condition that it is capable of moving transgressively into another dimension, where the separate spaces of The Large Glass are not divided by the horizon or the hinge.  In other words, the primary goal of the opus magnum would be that the bride and her bachelors from whom she is separated, and as such nature and human cognition (in its heterogeneity), finally find each other. The work therefore symbolizes how and at what costs the most modern science can access the system which, because of its gender identity, can be identified with nature, and how it can breathe life into this mechanism, which is at once erotic, existentialist and epistemological and the starting point of which is the invisible waterfall on The Large Glass, which as an abstract symbol of the feminine nature sets in motion the bachelor machinery and the entire work.  

In the early 1970s, Jean Clair, who after the erotic, art theoretical peep show of Étant donnés, had become known to the public, designated the direction of the aforementioned cosmological and scientific-theoretical interpretation, to which later Jean-François Lyotard gave a new, so to speak postmodern thrust when, while dealing with epistemological and political questions generated by the works themselves, he turned the attention to transformations defining certain works, combinations of genres and interdisciplinary approaches (10). Then, in the 1990s, De Duve’s Kant After Duchamp cast in its final mould the postmodern Duchamp in Lyotard’s sense, whose work is characterized by a distrust of grand narratives (Enlightenment, Modernism, the modern scientific conception of the world, liberal democracy), the love of irony and paradoxes and criticism of universalism, while also remaining loyal to the holistic horizon, in other words the Grand Theory, characteristic of Modernity (11). In connection with the holistic horizon, it is worth mentioning the scientist Duchamp, who at the dawn of the reception of The Large Glass appeared in the role of the Great Physicist, since based on his own pronouncements his contemporaries regarded him as a scholar of the mystical fourth dimension and the creator of an entirely revolutionary fourth-dimensional art. In great detail, Lynda Henderson surveyed the scientific context of Duchamp, but independent of the cunning references to Poincaré, Jouffret and Pawlowski, it is noteworthy that Duchamp – albeit ironically – created in The Large Glass a two-dimensional image of the three-dimensional “shadow” of the fourth-dimensional reality as the strongly sexualized allegory of human recognition (12). Thus, if we do not sharply separate Duchamp’s body and the sexual interpretation of his works from his mind, in other words from the provocative confrontation with the various linguistic games (poetry and scholarship) and epistemology (magic, alchemy, physics), then in their intersection we get the embodied mind, which maintains its critical sharpness precisely with an acceptance of bodily pleasures and material reality. And this hybrid, part postmodern, part modern, sexually compromised but epistemologically and politically sacralized Duchamp can now even play the role of St.Turba’s Christ in the beginning of the 21st century, from whom not the Holy Spirit, but Free Will elevated to mythical altitudes emanates, and who, according to the testimony of dead bride of Étant donnés, takes upon himself the sins not only of the egoist and fetishist art world, but also those of the entire capitalist imagery-industry.

Szentjóby Tamás: Make a Chair!, 1975, action performance, Young Artists’ Club Budapest


Redemption and ascension, however, have more than just a story of salvation, but also a historiography, which in Szentjóby’s case is not independent of the Mutant and the IPUT (International Parallel Union of Telecommunications) myth and genealogy. Because before Duchamp – ironically or not – ascended into heaven as Christ, he first fertilized the art theory of the Parallel-Course / Study-Track, which manifested its clearest form in the 1975 Make a Chair! action performance at the Young Artists’ Club. Indeed, this fertilization, or rather, this grafting can itself be regarded as the end point of an artistic process that leads back to the beginning of the Parallel-Course / Study-Course, Szentjóby’s first action-poems and the readymade concepts of 1965 which were inherent in them, but which only materialized after 1968. These texts and objects have since become integral parts of the history of conceptual art, Fluxus, Dada, Neo-Dada and the Hungarian neo-avant-garde, while their exact place and status are yet to be determined. Of these objects, two merit consideration in connection with the rediscovery and sacralising of Duchamp and the readymades. These two probably best fit the definition of the “ready found object”: the lead pipe and the pharmacy glass. But are New Unit of Measurement (1965) and Cooling Water (1965) really readymades? This question was answered in a highly sophisticated manner by Emese Kürti in her analysis of Hungarian conceptual art. Kürti outlined a genealogy around what she referred to as action-object, which tied the work to Neo-Dada, happenings and the hybrid, Eastern European actionism of the time (13). In her extensive essay on the first Hungarian happening (The Lunch – in memoriam Batu Khan, 1966), Kürti exhaustively unveiled the intellectual milieu and the horizon concerning the history of ideas that defined the beginning of Szentjóby’s “artistic” activity in the mid-1960s (14). Marcel Duchamp is located somewhere on this horizon, which curves from Gábor Altorjay, John Cage, Miklós Erdély, Béla Hamvas, Tadeusz Kantor and Krysztof Penderecki to Dr. László Végh. According to Kürti, the “happening-ing” poet first came across reproductions of Duchamp’s works in the Foreign Language Library.

The first small Duchamp retrospective, which made a big stir, was organized in 1963 in a relatively tucked-away location, the Pasadena Art Museum. After it, the creator of The Large Glass and Fountain was discovered, not only in New York, but also in Paris and the rest of Europe. Publications such as The New York Times and Art Forum in America and Studio International and L’Oil in Europe published articles on him. The latter two were accessible in the Foreign Language Library in Budapest. According to Szentjóby’s recollections, Duchamp and the pissoir were used only as damning words in the Budapest art scene, but he was captivated by the artistic potentials inherent in the re-contextualization of everyday objects, which he tried to set into action against the fetishism of artworks characteristic even of Pop Art. Cooling Water and New Unit of Measurement were both made for an anti-pop Dadaist exhibition, in which the works of Szentjóby and Gábor Altorjay were displayed in the home of Pál Petri-Galla. In the end, the exhibition was never held, so both works were first on view at the II Iparterv  exhibition of 1969, where they were displayed among works which converted them into fetishized objects and pictures from the perspective of the aesthetic politics (Fluxus) of Cooling Water.   

Cooling Water, or warm tap water poured into a pharmacy glass, can be tied to a relatively widespread Fluxus practices and artists: among others, John Cage, the Mieko Shiomi work mentioned by Kürti (Water Music, 1964), and the George Brecht musical score and event that presumably inspired it, but especially to Drip Music (1959), part of which Szentjóby was also familiar with, as in his Make a Chair! action-presentation he established one of his famous equations: Duchamp’s dripping, or more precisely stopped-up/clogged faucet + Pollock’s dripping, or more precisely dried/clogged paint = Brecht’s Drip Music. But while dripping and action painting find echoes in numerous art historical registers, there is only one work that can be compared with New Unit of Measurement: the famous Trois stoppages-etalon, translated into English as Three Standard Stoppages (1913). For this work Duchamp – a good thirty years before Pollock, the first action painter – dropped three one-meter-long pieces of thread onto a canvas painted with Prussian blue. Following the form of the new measuring units, he sawed out three modified rulers. The three odd and non-identical standards and their originals (threads on canvas glued on glass) were placed in a decorative box, and, by emphasizing the role of the accidental, Duchamp ridiculed not only the artist attempting to depict the world but also rational science trying to describe and measure the world.  

Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984

In comparison with this series of tricks played on pictorial and scientific theory, it becomes evident that Szentóby thought in an entirely different register when he created a new readymade unit of measurement out of a 60 cm lead pipe. As in the case of Duchamp’s scientific Dadaism, he was motivated first and foremost by negation, but in the meantime many other things began to resonate in his consciousness that were based on an idea – a meter smaller than a meter – that was essentially different from Duchamp’s action:

“…perhaps with this perplexing object, although quite obscurely, I tried to suggest, meaning with it being smaller than a meter, something along the lines of the idea that we are generally in need of a new unit of measurement, but on all fronts, that at the same time our human dimensions or measurements are shrinking in comparison to reality. Yes, I wanted to create precisely an object as perplexing and obscure as this sentence, in fact it is lead, because that it the most obscure material, the material of death, a dead metal, and I truly believe that it is infernally oppressive for everyone. It is a tube, because it is tubes that one can purchase that are made of lead and are cheap, but as in the case of the pharmacy bottle, here too I approved it, because obviously there is no one who would occupy him or herself so intensively with a hole that is not his, but in this case I had to reconsider all of its elements, and that is why I approved this readymade faculty, because the hole also directed attention to this sphere of thought, a hole, a trace of aggression or something like it, lots of things fit here, or of course specifically in connection with lead or touching on it I had a feeling that this deathly measurement or unit is in fact permeated by air, light and the sight of life at the other end of the tube.” (15)

Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project, 1996, Kunsthalle, Budapest

The 1975 Make a Chair! also reflects on this Dadaist – Actionist – avant-garde genealogy in a fairly complex manner when Szentjóby came from Duchamp through Brecht to the IPUT and its revolutionary program (16). Namely, according to the 2006 reconstruction (St.Turba’s work) of the authorial intention, Szentjóby originally not only contorted George Brecht’s chair vents (Three Chair Events, 1961) and his use of chairs, but sought to invalidate the entire readymade discourse as a series of equations that does not offer a solution for the question of art vs. non-art. Duchamp had labelled everyday objects and presented them as works of art. Brecht, however, did not label, but simply presented such objects, often placing the most prosaic of such objects, the chair, into a non-art artistic context. Szentjóby took this diabolical, self-consuming circle or, in other words, artistic context, and as such he wanted to disregard it by, instead of making a conceptual, philosophical and actionist gesture, simply requesting that a chair be made. In Szentjóby’s 1975 interpretation, the great act of Duchamp with the readymades was that he declared non-art to be art, while Brecht practiced non-art art as art. However, he himself wanted to return to non-art as non-art, while also reckoning with the brutal paradox that all this, according to the criteria of the avant-garde, would become art either way. In somewhat simpler terms, Duchamp displayed everyday objects as works of art and labelled them as readymades, while Brecht used his own readymade artefacts as everyday objects in his artistic actions. The situation was somewhat complicated by the fact that Duchamp remained in the traditional (artefact and viewer) aesthetic category, while Brecht not only transformed everyday objects turned artefacts back into everyday objects, but also transformed the viewer into an artist. Szentjóby strove to cut this Gordian knot with a simple thesis, which at the same time also gives an answer to the question that arises at the outset, namely, if all non-art has become art and non-art art, then what is there to do now?

The obvious answer is; nothing, but unlike the chess playing Duchamp and the non-piano playing Cage (4’33”, 1952), IPUT managed to formulate in a mythical theory the notion that its existence was justified by a complex, mystical-metaphysical-religious-scientific grand theory. This was the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984 W, the emblem and monument of which is Throne (Throne of the Immortal, 1984–1996), which seemingly has little to do with the aesthetics of the readymade. One of the elements of SLSP1984W, the oak door of Étant donnés labelled with the inscription strike (Given: The Strike, 2000), however proves that Duchamp and the status of art continued to play an important role in the thinking of St.Auby even after 1980. Moreover, this status cannot be described as static. In the 1980s, associations with 1984 and George Orwell were still quite strong in the SLSP, the double u is a reference to doublespeech, which clearly had a critical edge in the geopolitical circumstances of the Cold War. Incidentally, in the 1940s Orwell himself used the expression doublethink in his novel, but later, in connection with interpretations of his work, the terms doubletalk and doublespeak became widely used, referring to the schizophrenic situation in which the subject living in a totalitarian state is forced to live. The original doublethink denotes how a subject is capable of believing in two realities: in his own memories on the one hand and in the collective, mediatized and clearly falsified historical memory that contradicts them. Accordingly, the first three phases of SLSP in the 1980s generated primarily political and geopolitical associations, while in the 1990s, in the course of defining the fourth and the fifth phases, epistemological dimensions also came to the forefront, alongside the political creeds, and it was precisely against this complex background that the “faculties” of St.Rike and Duchamp’s ascension become comprehensible.  

T.Taub: Marcel Duchamp being surprised. 1984, A/5.

In 1980, the first phase of SLSP for the most part meant the definition of IPUT and the realization of the mutant project in the laboratories of the Genevan headquarters of ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which in Orwell’s phraseology meant that in the Big Brother headquarters St.Auby created the Big Sister, in other words the Mutant, whom he later presented in the Genevan centre of hierarchy and anarchy, i.e. the Museum of Natural Science and the Museum of Ethnography. St.Auby created the Mutant, this new type of human who is able to see through capitalism and socialism and the myths of creationism and evolutionism by seating a model, a young woman (on a chair!) in the vibration free, sound proof laboratory room of the ITU, with electrodes on her head and her body connected to a biofeedback device. The female model studied a diagram of the evolution of Homo Sapiens and in her thinking confronted it with I Ching, or Classic of Changes (placed next to her), and with the assistance of St.Auby, she became acquainted with the task of IPUT and mutated of her own will. With this mutation, St.Auby, the dispatcher of IPUT, can be compared to Dr. Frankestein as justifiably as he can to Zen-Buddhist masters, or indeed, to Saint John the Baptist, especially if we keep in mind the rechristening of Duchamp in 2010. At the announcement of the fifth phase, Heterarchia, St.Turba said the following on the 1980 action, the subtitle of which was Heterarchic Self-Initiation:   

(…) Only the application of the Saint Heterarchy: the constitutionally disbursed Subsistence Allocation redistributed at the expense of the military budget for those participating in the Mythical St.Rike can ensure the functioning and fulfilment of the myth: the development of Free Will: the termination  of the subordination of women, of the painful labour of giving birth, of the enticement of progeny to overconsumption,  of work and of physical immortality.” (17)

As a continuation of the first phase, the second phase strove to establish a new social class, which was christened the Mutant class. In 1981, as the third phase of SLSP, IPUT created a homeland for this new type of human, the 24th canton of Switzerland (which until then had not existed), which provided a new home for the new class.

“The fourth phase, the Katabasis Soteriologike, which means Descent of the Story of Redemption, occurred between 1984 and 1996. The site of the descent, of course, is inevitably the mythical Hell. While traditional katabases are merely descriptive, the 3,334 sketches of the location, constat images and the corpus delicti of the Katabasis Soteriologike actively intervened in the course of the turbulent operation: Lucifer was baptised, which thus eliminated hell from our myths.” (18)

The story of SLSP1984W and its highlights can be best studied through documents, though there is an emblematic word-object, Throne of the Immortal, the “origin and culmination” of the Katabasis Soteriologike, which in its material reality links the SLSP with the Parallel Course/Study Course and its last expression in Budapest, the Make a Chair! action-presentation. Incidentally, the chair-turned-throne depicts, in a highly allegorical manner, the change in Szentjóby’s career, which points from art theory towards a theory of the universe. Throne, conceived in 1984 and reminiscent of minimalist artworks, unambiguously raises associations with the sacred, while also setting into motion the history of avant-garde art, following in the footsteps of George Brecht, as well as Joseph Kosuth (One and Three Chairs, 1965) and Andy Warhol (Electric Chair, 1964). Throne, according to St.Turba’s plan, came about as a mutation of the letters in the Hebrew word “svita”, but through some cryptographic work it leads back to the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project and the freedom of existence and thinking, as the root of the Hebrew word svita is svt, which is the same as sbt, i.e. sabbat[t], the word signifying the “sacred day of rest” known from the Ten Commandments. Indeed, it is the same as smt, the root of the word shmita, which designates the Sabbath year, every seventh year in agriculture, when man must not cultivate the earth in order to give it back to its owner, the Creator, and to allow the ground to regenerate. In Sabbath years, only fruits and plants that yield produce on their own can be consumed, and only in moderation. This unambiguously harmonizes with one of the most important goals of SLSP, the elimination of the original sin, the consumption of the Forbidden Fruit, capitalist over-consumerism. Resting from work is directly connected to idleness or its reflective version, a strike, the goal of which, within the framework of IPUT, is not to achieve better circumstances in the labour market, but – in a fairly provocative manner, as a critique of the modern subject – the elimination of work as such.  

TNPU: Given: The Strike, 2001

Of course, the notion of art strike and the “Never Work!” sphere of thought are highly complex and are in certain respects part of the Duchamp mythology, as in his interviews he noted on numerous occasions that he had never worked for money, in other words, he had never worked in the capitalist sense. The phrase “Never Work!” became part of the 1968 mythology through Guy Debord (the 1953 Paris graffiti of “ne travaillez jamais”) and the situationists, and then in the 1980s, in the wake of the work of Stewart Home and others, it was once again revived in the Art Strike movement. Parallel to this process, St.Auby outlined his own Swiss project, according to which artists would be given life annuities with funds taken from the military budget so that they would never have to produce any profit. The chief goal of Mutant Class, however, was not idleness, but Myth-correction, the tool of which was the Mythical St.Rike and its symbol, Throne of the Immortal. The operation is currently in its fifth phase, the awaking the consciousness of Heterarchy, which is the assurance of the free presence of fluctuating Hierarchy-Anarchy, both in epistemology and in politics. With respect to heterarchy, St.Auby’s source was the neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch, who as a brain researcher arrived at the conclusion that the functioning of the human brain is fundamentally not hierarchical, but heterarchical, in other words there is no subordination, rather we think of in terms of operations taking place side by side (19). Accordingly, heterarchy, i.e. parallel connection, infers – using the expression of Gilles Deleuze – a kind of rhizomatic thinking which organizes grand narratives into parallels (20). In accordance with this, the Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984 W also has a goal that reaches beyond the direct political projection of “earthly” democracy and is much more elevated, holistic and mythical in epistemological and ontological respects. It is: “The Grand Four is what our Myth would like to combine, Jewish-Christian-Muslim theology with Monotheism, natural science with the Grand Unified Field Theory, liberal economics with Globalism, Roman law with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” (21) Much as the process of art strike can lead to the achievement of everyday goals which would paralyse the activity of the art market and the profit oriented art world, the metaphysical goals or the modification and mutation of consciousness are achievable through the mythical St.Rike. St.Turba links these two in a highly effective manner in his work Given: The Strike, which covers Étant donnés, i.e. the spectacle of the existing spectacular order (which is defined by the parallel flow of capital and libido), with the inscription “strike”. (22)

The sacred significance of a physical and metaphysical strike is also demonstrated by the fact that visitors to St.Turba’s homepage (public archive) can arrive at the gate if they click on the number 665.9, which undoubtedly refers to Satan, the Turba, in other words to viciousness and the coming doomsday. According to St.Turba, the way out lies in the development of Free Will, which however is only attainable if we “forego the joys of the Turba, of Pleonexia, which lures us to consume the Forbidden Fruit, the excess.”  (23)

And we forego the almost pornographic spectacle that Duchamp allegorically visualized in the Étant donnés. Looking at it from this perspective, Duchamp’s last “bride” is not merely a realistically created nude woman, nor is she the source of visual enjoyment for those who peek, who suspiciously reminds one of a witch placed on a bed of kindling. She is an allegory for the dangerous and humiliating pleasure of the picture and the pictures. And just as Make a Chair! twisted Duchamp’s readymade, Given: The Strike twisted Étant donnés, turning it right side up on its feet, as it were, as Marx did with Hegel’s dialectics, which, in St.Turba’s view, turned Böhme upside down. While Duchamp cunningly ridicules the beholder who, brooding over the interconnections between the painted waterfall, the photographic landscape, the realistic nude, the vagina and the illuminating gas, as well as pornography, criminology, psychophysiology, optics and enlightenment, nonetheless resigns him/herself to the pleasures of spectacles, with a provocative and performative gesture St.Auby calls for the rejection of this entire passive enjoyment  and, in the spirit of Make a Chair!, incites activity and activism. From this perspective, Duchamp as Christ reminds us that the continuous renewal of art is possible if art regards itself as non-art, which implies that it refrains from the sacred and pseudo-scientific domain of Art written with a capital A. Only in this manner does the absence of a final answer (the precise designation of the type and quality of the activity) in Duchamp’s ironic affirmativity and St.Turba’s radical negation transform into something, namely a performative gesture, which shows how consciousness can be shaped in the direction of reaching the grand unified theory and the final myth: contemplation and meditation, or you are kindly asked at last to reflect on the state of things, as Christ did on the Mount of Olives.  

(1) St.Turba published this postcard in the 2014/1 issue of Artmagazin and sent it to important museums the world over.
(2) Béla Hamvas: Egy csepp a kárhozatból (A drop of damnation). http://www.hamvasbela. org/2011/12/hamvas-bela-egy-csepp-karhozatbol.html
(3) Amelia Jones: Postmodernism and the En-Gendering of Duchamp. Cambridge University Press, New York, 1994.
(4) Marcel Duchamp: The Engineer of the Lost Time – Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp. (1967) Képzőművészeti, Budapest, 1991. http://www.artpool.hu/Duchamp/beszelgetes4.html
(5) Rosalind Krauss: The Optical Unconscious. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993.
(6) Juan Ramírez: Love, Death, Even. (1993) Reaktion Books, New York, 1998.
(7) Thierry De Duve: Nominalisme pictural. Marcel Duchamp, la peinture et la modernité. Minuit, Paris, 1984.
(8) Along with Duchamp, the Surrealists also regarded The Large Glass as a chef d’oeuvre. Following the publication of Étant donnés, Jean Clair was the first person to suggest that Duchamp’s last grand work, Étant donnés, should be regarded as commentary, an ironic paraphrase of The Large Glass.
(9) Nikoletta Házas: A dobozba zárt gondolat. (Thought enclosed in a box) Marcel Duchamp. L’Harmattan, Budapest, 2009.
(10) See: Jean Clair: Marcel Duchamp, avagy a nagy fikció. Kísérlet a Nagy Üveg mítoszanalízisére. (Marcel Duchamp, or the Great Fiction: Attempting a Myth Analysis of the Large Glass.) (1975) Corvina, Budapest, 1988 and Jean-François Lyotard: Les Transformateurs Duchamp. Galilée, Paris, 1977.
(11) Thierry De Duve: Kant after Duchamp. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1996.
(12) Lynda Dalrymple Henderson: Duchamp in Context. Science and Technology in the Large Glass and Related Works. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999.
(13) Emese Kürti: Ezoterikus avantgárd. A koncept/konceptuális paradigma. (Esoteric avant-garde. The conceptual paradigm) (2014) http://exindex.hu/index.php?l=hu&page=3&id=934
(14) Emese Kürti: A szabadság anti-esztétikája. Az első magyarországi happening. (The anti-aesthetics of liberty. The first Hungarian happening) (2015) http://exindex.hu/index.php?l=hu&page=3&id=967
(15) László Beke: Beszélgetés Szentjóby Tamással. (A conversation with Tamás Szentjóby) (1971) In: Tamás Papp (compiled by): Szógettó. Válogatás az új magyar avantgárd dokumentumaiból. (Word Ghetto. A Selection of documents of the new Hungarian avant-garde) Jelenlét (Presence), 1989/1–2. p. 261.
(16) St.Turba Tamás: FIKA (Fiatal Mûvészek Klubja). Interjú St.Auby Tamással. (Young Artists’ Club. Interview with Tamás St.Auby) (2006) Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, 2013. pp. 49–57.
(17) Tamás St.Auby: LSP 1984 W, avagy ez lett az egysejtűből. (SLSP 1983 W, or this is what became of the single-cell organism) Brochure, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, 2013.
(18) Written communication by Tamás St.Turba in 2016. See: St.Auby Tamás: Subsist.Ence Level St.Andard Project 1984 W (phase IV.): Katabasis Soteriologike (1996) http://www.sztaki.hu/providers/nightwatch/szocpol/stauby/tarlatvez/
(19) Warren McCulloch: The Heterarchy of Values Determined by the Topology of Nervous Nets. (1945) http://vordenker.de/ggphilosophy/mcculloch_heterarchy.pdf
(20) See: Gilles Deleuze – Felix Guattari: L’Anti-Oedipe. Minuit, Paris, 1972. Jean-François Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition. (1979) University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
(21) Tamás St.Turba: FIKA (Fiatal Mûvészek Klubja). Interjú St.Auby Tamással. (Young Artists’ Club. Interview with Tamás St.Auby) (2006) Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, 2013. p. 63.
(22) See: Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle. (1967) Black & Red, 1977.
(23) Written communication by Tamás St.Turba in 2016.