Ilona Németh

Ilona Németh, žije a působí v Dunajské Stredě a v Bratislavě

*1963 (Slovakia)
education: Hungarian University of Arts and Design, Budapest; The Hungarian University of Fine Arts, Budapest
lives and works in Dunajská Streda and Bratislava

Ilona Németh belongs to the post-revolutionary generation of artists whose work is directly linked to the space of Central Europe and its development before and after 1989. Németh’s work is usually classified as post-feminist and engaged art. She has created site-specific and “context-sensitive” installations in galleries and public spaces. In 2001 she realised a project with Jiří Surůvka for the Czechoslovak Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. From 2018 to the present day she has been leading the art-research project Eastern Sugar. In 2022 she exhibited at the Documenta fifteen in Kassel and at the Graphic Biennale in Ljubljana. At the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, she headed the IN Studio, and now she is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture at the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava, where she co-founded the Art in the Public Space study programme.

Marian Ravasz

*1963 (Slovakia)
studies: Slovak University of Technology, Bratislava
lives and works in Dunajská Streda and Bratislava

Architect, long-time partner and collaborator of Ilona Németh. He participated in her projects starting with the Venice Biennale 2001 and ending with the Parisian realization of When we arrived here… (2024). Of the two Olomouc installations, he has a direct authorial contribution to the project Memorial to Women Who Cooked Salt.

Németh – Ravasz:
Memorial to the Women Who Cooked Salt, Crikvenica – Olomouc, 2020-2024

Ilona Németh’s long-standing interest in gender issues and, in parallel, in the forms of contemporary public monuments is behind a project that leaves the walls of the museum and anchors one part directly in the streets of the city. “Memorial to the Women Who Cooked Salt” travels through time and space. Németh plans and stages the content transformation of Monument X into Monument Y, moving it from point A to point B or in the end C and D. The staged portability of the concept across the wide space of post-socialist Europe undermines the established schemes of universal solutions of when, where and what monuments to erect.

In Olomouc, the torso of a monument intended for the Croatian town of Crikvenica temporarily appears. There, as well as the strong domestic tradition of “male monuments” Németh adds a new piece of commemoration, which he dedicates to female heroines. He chooses a specific prototype and places its formal copy, filled with new content, at a carefully chosen distance in a new location.

Our idea to create a memorial to women in public space in Crikvenica is based on researching the history of the place, studying and listening to local people in the area. We were influenced by the story of local women who cooked salt during the Second World War. They boiled salt from sea water to help their families survive when the men were fighting or working abroad. There are still women alive who have personal experience of this process. We shot interviews with them. We wanted to create a memorial to the heroic act of these women.

We also studied the local artistic heritage present in Crikvenica: statues and monuments by local sculptor Zvonko Car and Zdenko Kolacio. The work, a memorial to the writer and politician Vladimir Nazor, by Zdenko Kolacia, was of great interest to us. It uses basic, simple forms on a large scale that are full of possible associations that resonate with the Croatian and Yugoslav tradition of outstanding and extraordinary concrete or stone sculptures. This tradition and monumentality amazes us.

In the basic concept, we have changed the work of Kolacia dedicated to a famous political and cultural figure – in our concept we will build a monument to the heroic efforts of local women. We have adapted the original work and transformed it with a new message. The form changes in significance and becomes an autonomous work of art.

We propose white concrete and salt stone as the material of the memorial. We implant pieces of salt stone into the white smooth concrete.

Our installation is dedicated to the women of Crikvenica, a symbolic story that speaks of female power in general. The project remains unfinished for now.

In Crikvenica an unrealised project is carefully documented, with partial models and 1:1 diagrams undergoing a new transfer. The concrete block with the exotic inscription “Ženama koje kuhaju sol” finds its temporary place in Olomouc’s Square of National Heroes … and Heroines. The modified name of the public space does not rewrite history, it only makes it more precise, updating its content through the general validity of a monument that does not need a fixed place.

Handiwork, 2006-2024
(Collaboration Marián Ravasz)

The local, Olomouc focus of Ilona Németh’s long-term project tests the city’s public space and views on it. We are moving in the area of a city conservation area, but in the middle of a parking lot.  The artist places her nomads, hard-to-define large objects that challenge traditional perceptions of the quality and value of urban space, in a square filled with cars. In its form and content, the Franz Kafka-like installation is based on the temporary substitution of two parking spaces directly for garages. A variant of the textile models from the former East Germany began to be produced on a large scale in Ružomberok, in Slovakia, after the revolution. In the 1990s, the commercially successful product symbolically completed the transformation period of slowly mutating socialism.

In their self-centred utilitarian ingenuity, the boxes took on a disturbing shape, whose scale and material underline the absurdity of their own existence in any urban situation. Prefabricated DIY handiwork balanced on the edge between sci-fi utopia and urban kitsch.

In addition to its associations to times recently past, the art installation conceptually problematizes the current use of Republic Square, a valuable urban space with one of six baroque fountains. Garages as a mystifying instrument of mockumentary, which we like to work with in the triennial, documents in a striking abbreviation the anomalies of post-socialist urbanism, which we often still do not know how to deal with today.