Ilona Jetmar - 'Motion' (online exhibition)

Wednesday 4 -  Saturday 28 May 2022

Click here to see the exhibition

Of Hungarian heritage, Ilona Jetmar’s identity as a child of diaspora is, as she sees it,
shaped by transferred memory through family archival materials such as family stories, objects, photographs and restaged cultural practices.
Whilst a part of a much larger and expansive body of work, the paintings selected in this online solo exhibition focus on cultural practice - and specifically the shared experience of folk dance.

Traditional dance is revered in Hungary, held in such fervour believed to be matched only by Greece and Ireland. So important, several of the Hungarian folk dance houses established in the 1960s to preserve and popularise traditional dance are listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Hardly surprising, therefore, that Jetmar looks to the karikázó or csárdás along with many other traditional dances for her inspiration in capturing moments of identity, reconciling and connecting with a lost heritage.

With the mood-setting sounds of magyar népzene - and Béla Bartók in particular - playing in the background evoking a sense of place and time, so the curation of this body of work came together.

A sense of joy pervades the work in spite of the anonymity of the female dancers. The escaping cries of joy, the clip of heels, the stomping of feet, the swirl of rustling skirts are almost tangible. They may be serious, respectful rehearsed moments of choreographed movement, but the women can still enjoy their moments, immersed in individual as well as shared experiences.

Jetmar, like Degas in his images of 19th century dancers in the Parisian ballet, at times defies traditional composition, opting for asymmetry and radical viewpoints. In the Fracture series (2020), swirling skirts from the waist downwards are the focus, our attention forced to the feet of the dancers. Even with the more traditional composition of the dancers centred in a line (Fracture 3718, 2018) or in small groups (Fracture 3518, 2018), the eye of the viewer travels across the canvas, absorbing the fluidity of gesture of the artist’s hand in her application of paint to the canvas along with the movements of the dancers themselves.

It is this immense sense of movement in the work that invites the viewer to share its tempo. Blurred facial expression or, in photographic terminology, out of focus costumes twirling and swirling across the stage, soft and hard shadows slicing the polished floors create a sense of identifiable rhythm to the work. But, particularly in the earlier pieces included in Motion, a more abstracted figuration is presented, unquestionably increasing that sense of visual flow.

Interestingly, a selection of these 2014 works are on the cusp of two bodies of work, part of a solo exhibition, Refraction, at the Walker St Gallery in Dandenong.

Figures moving united in a single direction (Refraction 1714, 2014), possibly choreographed, are only too apparent. Such work links closely to the more readily identifiable becostumed dancers of tradition of the later work. Yet, at the time, Jetmar’s practice looked to the idea of the spiritual in painting, inspired by Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Looking to create mood and atmosphere using light, influenced by the Romanticism of JMW Turner and Caspar David Friedrich, she looked to moody land- and sky- scape imagery in an exploration of the sublime in art. Works suggested brilliant sunrises - or, it being Australia, the very real threat of bushfire. From these more overt scapes evolved such work as Refraction 1014 (2014) with a rhythm that suggested fire destructively burning through the landscapes of the sublime - or, inversely, the choreographed movement of fabrics and figures closely aligned to Refraction 1514 (2014).

Transitional, such work saw the artist move away from the immediacy of the present. The result for Jetmar (for the time being at least) is the taking of a journey of nostalgia, a shadow of memory that makes the past accessible and through it an exploration of self and self-identity.

Keith Lawrence
May 2022