Maja and Reuben Fowkes: Your work, The Library (Nor Tortoise Shell nor Blade of Grass), is a result of your five month residency in Seoul, South Korea: why do you think that cycling and walking was the most appropriate way to get to know the city?
Oto Hudec: Cycling and walking are ways of transport which are much slower than any motorised option. So it allows us to observe the surroundings over a longer time. I also realized that I prefer to discover a smaller range with more insight than to discover the whole city (practically impossible) in much less detail. I also used a subway to get to more distant locations. This usually happened when on different occasion I discovered a beautiful tree, and I wanted to return to paint it. But most of the trees I painted were in walking distance from my residency. I really loved Chang Dong neighbourhood. It is home to lower middle class families and older people and it is not very spoiled by high-rise apartment buildings.
MRF: Your library is made up of paintings of trees from around Seoul – why did you choose to focus on trees rather than urban structures, architectural features or the inhabitants of the city, which are more usual subjects for representations of particular localities?
OH: From the beginning my intention was to go behind the portrayal of the city to shape the direction in which we look at the space around us. Of course I wanted to bring this non-traditional documentary to people in Europe, but I also wanted to stimulate the Korean people, passer-bys. Some trees I painted were 100 years old and protected, in beautiful locations, but others were more like forgotten, ordinary beings. Choosing to paint them in situ meant giving them a special value, turning them into a monument. And people who observed me had to shift their perspective from me, as a stranger/artist, to the object I was painting.
I also discovered that traditional Korean culture has a very strong relation towards nature, and trees especially. Heavily populated Seoul still has many trees, which were planted with clear intentions. Every apartment building or industrial complex (including the Korean factory in Slovakia, Kia) has a group of pine trees planted in front. The streets of Seoul are also covered by Ginkgo trees for their symbolic meaning and the leaves have a beautiful colour in the autumn, although the foul smell of their nuts causes some trouble at a particular time of year.
MRF: The title of the work, as well as the Taoist story from which it comes, is enigmatic, as it does not give a straight forward answer to the question of the right way of living - what relevance does this ancient wisdom have for today?
OH: The way, I see Taoism, is as an enigma in itself. I would say it is the philosophy/religion which is hardest to understand and also hardest to discover the flaws of, because it is so enigmatic and relative. I am aware that through my explanation of this story I am going to take a lot of beauty away from it, but I will try anyway.
I believe that in our (mostly Western) world we believe in the deepest corner of our soul that there exists a way of living which is ideal for our well being, for our soul and for others. Some people don't look around much and take for granted traditional religion and customs. Others look over our borders for the new or old ways of different cultures. Instinctively, my travel to East Asia triggered a hope to discover these ways. But what the question of the ‘right way of living’ has no answer at all? Or if we, simply, will never reach it? Not knowing – in that sense, might even be an answer, and a very liberating one.
MRF: In your practice we come across boats, pickup trucks, flying carpets, what is different about walking as a way to experience the world?
OH: The vehicles from my work aren't really those I use. Besides their symbolic meaning, my interest in them comes from my boyhood and can be traced to the awe that every boy feels in front of a truck, large boat or airplane. However, I never had an interest in owning a car for example. I also see here a tragic element: I am from the generation that realized the relativity of the benefits of the biggest technological achievements of humankind. From kerosene-burning planes, through container ships bringing goods across the globe, to pesticide-spraying tractors, not even mentioning tanks and fighter jets. Beautiful machines. Some of them can save lives too. But the utopian worship of them is gone.
Walking on the contrary is slow and “ineffective”, comparing to motorised transport. Often, I am late on meetings. Walking offers time to observe the surroundings, or time for myself. Walking is a moment when one is not working, is not online and often alone. It is not surprising that one of the forms of meditation is a walking meditation. For me it is a time to think.
MRF: How does walking as an artistic and social practice inform your understanding of ecological thinking?
OH: Walking in itself is part of ecological living. Of course, it reduces one’s carbon footprint, it is also a most natural physical exercise and as I wrote before, while it can have benefits for the mind too.
But in a symbolic meaning it can be a synonym for ecological thinking or living: walking takes more time and so it focuses on our physical presence, living and experiencing instead of producing. In that sense walking can be a form of rebellion against the idea of forever increasing production. Maybe quick transport was designed to diminish the time necessary to move from home to job, from job to supermarket, then from there back to home and from there to exotic destinations. The time spent between those actions is considered a waste.
Choosing to walk wherever it is possible, in strictly economic terms, might mean some years of human life spent without producing or consuming. And I like that.
Oto Hudec, The Library (Nor Tortoise Shell nor Blades of Grass), digital photo, 2014, photo credit Oto Hudec, courtesy Gandy gallery
Oto Hudec was born in Kosice, Slovakia and he created his recent work in USA, Portugal and Slovakia. His paintings, drawings and prints explore both personal and social themes. He also creates video and work for public spaces about immigration, refugees and the impact of globalization on the environment. In 2007, his project “Million Stars Hotel” explored various ways of documenting a Moroccan landscape and its people in the Atlas Mountains through large scale painting, documentary video and sketches. In 2007 he realized first of his concerts for landscapes, when he performed “Concert for the Great Cold Valley” for 7000 feet mountains covered by snow. Interventions in public spaces, which combined painting and performance, include “The Skier” in Porto, Portugal and “The Night” in Valencia, Spain (both in 2008). In October 2009, as a member of Van Driver group prepared “Home” a street art intervention bringing ecological facts and home energy saving tips to Porto citizens. In the fall of 2009, he also produced his second solo exhibition “Paradise in State of Emergency” in KubikGallery, Porto (2009). In 2010, his wall piece portraying traditionally dressed African woman on skis was installed in Cova da Moura in Lisbon, a neighbourhood of mostly Cabo Verde immigrants. In 2011 he prepared large scale drawings portraying globalized world market to cover the walls of gallery Miscellanea in Barcelona, Spain (solo exhibition “Traffic Jam). A life size car Skoda 100L made out of plywood together with serie of aquarells and interviews, was an attempt to discover family history for the exhibition “Voices from the Center” in threewalls gallery in Chicago. His latest project, “The Price of Water” has been explored during a one month residency in Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, USA and shown in Espaço Gesto in Porto, Portugal in 2012. Oto Hudec graduated as Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Bratislava, Slovakia. He is member of creative team of “Make Art with Purpose”, an international platform for art that creates change.