/peter horvath —memoir
/PETER HORVATH’s web-based and multi-channel video works concentrate on issues of identity and psychic and emotional relations. He is interested in creating works that are linear in format but fractured in storytelling—video-based narratives that are atmospheric investigations of states of being. Horvath develops fragmented plotlines that weave layers of documentation - journal entries, sketches, written records, photographs, voiceover and music - into cinematic experiences, both on the web and in video installation. These video sequences are frequently suspended, disjunctive and blurred, distorting the viewer’s visual and emotional sense of place.
/PETER HORVATH works in video, sound, photo-based and new media. His past exhibitions include the Whitney Museum Of American Art‘s Artport, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, venues in New York, Tokyo, London, and net.art.
/A LIFE IN PIECES
"I don’t care about the definition of truth that most people live by. I don’t think truth and fact are the same thing. I think truth is an incredibly subjective individual thing … what means something to me is telling a story in the way I think is the right way to do it, and if I need to I’ll use factual elements or fictional elements or things that live in the gray area between."
A memoir, by its very definition, contains some degree of fiction for the simple fact that it relies on someone’s memory and interpretation of events. The extent to which memoirs are susceptible to fabrication was brought into popular discussion in recent years with the highly public exposure and condemnation of the fictional elements in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2003), a story written about the author’s recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The ethical implications of marketing a deliberate fabrication as a “memoir” was the central issue, but the controversy was most remarkable for revealing the presumptions many held about the supposedly clear lines between fiction and non-fiction.
Peter Horvath’s video installation Memoir falls into the same category as Frey’s novel in the sense that it commingles fact and fabrication. Horvath blends the stories of two women into one fractured and disjointed account to acknowledge the reality of how memories function. His story becomes a wider memoir about the ways in which circumstance and adversity alter the course of our lives, and how one life can become a series of lives-within-lives in the course of rebuilding and starting over.
Memoir presents two voices — that of a young woman (Denise) and an older one (Eva) — recounting their stories against a split-screen backdrop of recent and archival footage. Horvath’s introduction discloses that the women’s narratives are a blend of fact and fiction. 2 One might suspect that the two characters are related, perhaps as grandmother and granddaughter or mother and daughter. But as the dual tracks of their narratives ebb and flow with one another, and images of different women flit across the screens, they merge into a single yet disordered account about women who follow their childhood desire to become dancers despite paths that bend and break their efforts.
Horvath’s narrating voices also interweave the lives of others, particularly the influence of Denise’s grandmother and Eva’s mother, who were also dancers. Interweaving narratives creates a web of histories, punctuated by moments of adversity and circumstantial disappointment. Denise’s career in ballet was brought to a halt when her stomach was pierced by a sabotaged corset, for example, and Eva made a dramatic escape to Canada from Hungary after the 1956 revolution, illuminating how our lives have multiple starts in response to unforeseen changing circumstances. To be strong despite personal dramas and start a new life is, as Eva says, “really a miracle.”
Denise and Eva’s accounts connect at points of a history of dance in their families and Hungary as a place of origin and departure. The notion that girls dream of being dancers, or that aspiring ballet dancers must struggle, is not unfamiliar to film; The Red Shoes (1947) and Black Swan (2010) are cases in point. Horvath’s film suggests cinematic affinities but recasts Hollywood’s approach in a fractured structure that weaves together disparate moments of time. Black-and-white footage of a young girl elegantly performing for the camera is, for example, followed by colour footage of a woman walking down the stairs in a slinky red outfit with a feather boa wrapped around her neck. Here, Horvath presents burlesque and ballet as occupants sharing quarters, if uncomfortably, creating a suggestive comparison between hierarchies of dance and social classes.
Horvath leaves us keen to memory’s fallible nature and the gaps it creates, losses which we inevitably fill with imagination and personal knowledge in the attempt to establish coherent narratives. Viewers of Memoir will undoubtedly experience gap-filling and perhaps through the process come to know the power of fiction in memoirs, whether accidently or by design. The James Frey incident may have pushed the author out of the literary and publishing community, but now he thrives in the New York art world, his most recent novel facilitated by Gagosian Gallery. 3 This high-profile incident helped provoke a wider discussion on how memory is an unreliable source and the memoir, as with other non-fiction forms, involves fabrication and gray zones. Horvath’s Memoir, with its fragmented and incomplete recollections and diverse images, keeps us in the gray zones. It thoughtfully represents the imaginative process behind which we retain and construct the stories that comprise our own and others’ histories.
1 James Frey, “The Truth Set Me Free,” transcript, Big Think, May 16, 2011, http://bigthink.com/ideas/38450.
/SHANNON ANDERSON is an independent writer, curator and editor. Her recent projects include a feature essay on Sara Angelucci’s photographs for Amsterdam’s Eyemazing magazine and a catalogue essay for Kai Chan: A Spider’s Logic. Her upcoming curatorial projects include group exhibitions for Oakville Galleries and the Varley Art Gallery in Markham.