Standing apart to bring things together anew
"we have to write, talk, and think about (Computer Art), to call it into being. "(Tamás Waliczky 1989)
In 1994, the ZKM Institute for Visual Media began publication of the ZKM Digital Arts Edition whose distinguishing feature was its monographic attention to outstanding interactive works by individual artists. Fittingly, the series opened with a new creation – Focusing - by Tamás Waliczky, who was also one of the first artists-in-residence at the Institute. Working there during 1992 and 1993, Tamás produced his highly acclaimed computer-animated film, The Garden. Looking back one can better understand the groundbreaking significance of this pioneering expansion of 3D computer graphics. It represented the achievement of an artist steeped in the traditions of (East European) experimental film animation, who had discovered the radically new expressive possibilities of computer-generated images and who was working at a level of creative freedom and inventiveness that was in marked contrast to the prescribed clichés that were (and still are) the outcomes of industrial computer animation.
In one bold step Tamás had established in The Garden the characteristics of a highly personal aesthetic and narrative identity that would inform all his work and constitute the signature of his unique oeuvre. Firstly all his works are autobiographical in the sense that Tamás is one of those artists who takes his understanding and inspiration from his daily life, from his family and his geographical, social and cultural surround. All his works are copyrighted together with his wife, Anna Szepesi, and both she and his daughter, Annamária, are central protagonists in a large number of their scenarios. The physical and psycho-geography of the locations where he is living are also ever present, as is the socio-cultural dialectic of his Hungarian identity in a European (and most often German) context.
Secondly, his work is essentially experimental in the modernist sense of the word. Taking Moholy-Nagy as the paragon of this research ethic, Tamás sets out in each of his works to discover and explore yet another new formal language, new technique, and new mechanism of narrative expression (for most artists the discovery of just one would have been enough). In the great tradition of experimental cinema, Tamás understood that technical experiment went hand in hand with the release of new expressive capabilities – that stories could be articulated and made more forceful through the invention and articulation of new techniques of representation. In The Garden, this mean the invention of his so called ‘water drop perspective' with which he could imaginatively re-embody the world as seen through his young daughter's eyes. This unassuming yet astounding aesthetic achievement was matched by its scientific value as a unique perceptual tool that transcended the ideologically embedded illusion of single vanishing point perspective. In The Forest he invented the method of a threedimensional concentric tiling of images of the Black Forest, so that the viewer can explore it in every direction, and experience its sublime and infinite density as has never before been shown. And in The Way, Tamás confounds Escher by building an inverted world of ceaseless movement where the horizon becomes the locality of proximate experience, and the immediate recedes before one's eyes before ever having been present.
These and all his other artistic forays into such new realms of representation are all afforded by the capacities of technical invention and scrupulous craftsmanship that are a hallmark of his artistic practice. Yet these dexterities all serve an underlying formalism throughout Waliczky's work, which is his commitment to narrative, to procedures of story telling that allows him to articulate his autobiographical approach to art making, and anchors his work in the great narrative traditions that have been at the centre of the history of cinema and film animation. One after another, his works simply tell stories, usually of the kind that have the directness and profundity of a folk tale or Haiku. In many we often meet Tamás himself, as progenitor and protagonist, somewhat proud but also always the everyman. And we meet his family and friends, who characterize both the immediacy of an everyday and (usually humorous) solemnity of a more timeless story. This impressive commitment to the power of narrative also explains his cautious and considered approach to interactivity in his work. It enables him to take control of the interactive modality only where it is appropriate and serves the fuller articulation of a narrative argument.
When Tamás left the ZKM in order to take up his subsequent prestigious academic appointments, he also left those high-end computers that he had been using for his productions. Yet before and since then he has demonstrated his ability to maintain his intellectual and visual ingenuity even using the most modest computing resources, thereby making it clear that artistic quality in media art is not dependent on technological expenditure. Tamás, the artist programmer, is equally capable of making works for installations, video, interactive CD's and the Internet; the multifarious media technologies constitute a wide range of creative possibilities that he precisely instrumentalises to serve the aims of his conceptual and aesthetic research. For example, Focusing is a CD-ROM work par-excellence; its multi-mediated space exploits digital photography both as the tool and the correlation of a new form of interactive narrative documentary. The Fisherman and his Wife is an animated film whose visual virtuosity and emotional pull is on par with the best that has been done in that medium. In his numerous Internet works, Tamás conjoins necessary economy with expressive inventiveness to constitute products of such narrative elegance that it gives that medium a new raison d'etre.
I have welcomed this opportunity to underscore just some of Tamás's exceptional achievements as a (media) artist, and to welcome what I hope will be an ever-growing and appreciative public to the enjoyment of his work. And also to signal the pleasure it has been for me to work together with him in varying conditions of proximity and purpose for so many years.
The author is a media artist, founding co-director of the Center of Interative Cinema Research (iCinema) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.