Cry Me A River

What do love confessions and artworks have in common? Or what do banknotes and lyrics have in common? Furthermore, how does a baroque space relate to the dance of riot policemen in uniforms? They are very much interconnected – Carlos Aires’ exhibition proves no otherwise.

Lyrics of pop and jazz songs are imprints of our memory. They can help us out in many life situations with their cheering and healing power or are there by our side in our sadness. Music characterizes the persona – says Carlos Aires and he is certainly right – because it is not only accurate for teenagers to identify themselves along different styles and performers. Well of course, these categorizations fade a little with time but our taste in music defines the horizon of our nature and interests. In songs we can discover our feelings’ true essence. At times lyrics can say out loud such things we cannot, in fact such things that do not even come to our mind.

Why it is no coincidence that Carlos Aires randomly quotes pop and jazz lyrics is that if you take a line out of its musical and textual context, you can find meanings that become topical in unexpected ways, whether they add to historical, social or private situations, regardless of the original intention of the lyricist. These lines accompany us throughout life and can gift us more and more fulfilled moments on a day-to-day basis.

The line from The Smiths’ Rusholme Ruffians – just to stick with love songs like Carlos – “So scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen, it means you really love me” has meant something to me ever since I was a teenager, a timeless expression of selfless love, regardless of whether anyone associates it with a melody or the band’s unique sound from the eighties.

Aires uses these timeless lines to confront them with representations in different media, for example when pairing them with images of archival photographs or portraits on banknotes. The series of black and white photographs shown here evoke the tradition of medieval text strips to put messages in the mouths of various characters, written in gold, gothic letters. The Gothic letter is, of course, a reference to the National Socialist texts of the 1930s, and the subjects of the images are also confrontational, but it is these contrasts that give the works their meaning: power weaves its way through private life regardless of time and space, and we consider this the most natural thing in the world.

Just as lyrics interweave our lives, money is the comfort of our everyday lives. Salary is only a number but its materialized form is a banknote. As an object, a banknote is owned by the National Bank of the issuing country and damaging it is a crime. Our relation to money is ambivalent, it’s problematic if there’s too little and it’s problematic if there’s too much. We in this room don’t have the knowledge of the illegal ways of obtaining it, neither have the knowledge that it’s illegal to damage or destroy it. Carlos made his work of the Obama couple dancing in this illegal way. Symbolic for many because of its depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the $2 bill features dancing Barack and Michelle cut from the original banknotes. Where Carlos’ lyrical and money related works cross each other is the other series from the artist, from which we can see one piece in the exhibition, a print depicting the Queen of England with a quote from a Queen song which can be only read if one moves in front of the work – real and reality, true and false, they are all cardinal themes of his works.

If we are talking about power, the individual, good and evil, life and death, love and its passing, then the policemen in riot gear tangoing in a baroque castle represents not only the reconciliation in beauty, and that tango was originally a dance between men, but also the mutually supportive relationship of the bourgeoisie and power. While watching the beautiful dance steps in the abandoned, picturesque baroque room, we might think to ourselves that under that uniform, which can serve as an image of aggression and inviolability, there is sensitive soul, that we can sense the best in clips of showing their eyes’ movements.

Another main work of the exhibition is also a reproduction of eye motives from banknotes, which appear on circular, gold surfaces – but its title refers to a movie. Reflection in A Golden Eye, John Huston’s 1967 Hollywood film starring Marlon Brando and Elisabeth Taylor, originally presented a dramatic story unusual for an American film in black and white with a golden tint. The artwork is a mirror in which we can see ourselves, but it looks back to us with the banknotes’ eyes – do we need more to understand our addiction to money and our vulnerability to work? No, we don’t.

The works of Carlos Aires, let’s confess it, look damn good. And this must be emphasized because, contrary to conceptualism, Carlos argues also for the appearance, saying, if there is no primary attraction in the works that stems from their appearance it is difficult to convey any message to the audience. So, in this exhibition, you don’t have to deep-dive into the descriptive text, you just have to simply give yourself over to the enjoyment of the artworks and let them affect you without any hesitation. Come hell or high water, with these words I will open the exhibition.

Zsolt Petrányi. 2022