Catalog Essay by Rakia Faber:
Katalin Hausel's work emerges from a set of formal and cognitive problems. Her choice of medium allows her to approach issues around language, the material world, and the structures that allow us to apprehend them. In her paintings and installations, Hausel explores her fascination with bodily forms and their echoes in the shapes of words and letters on a page, and draws parallels between built forms and language's deep structure. Her installations largely echo the materials of their surrounding site.
For Drift, Hausel constructed plywood letters arising from swirling stenciled texts on the concrete floor of a downtown exhibition venue. Taken from Noam Chomsky's "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," the fragmentary sentences frustrated the viewer's attempts to read them, scuffing under the feet of many visitors and fading or overlapping with other passages. Plywood letters emerged from the text, embodied and monumentalized like standing stones in a landscape (to me, the curves formed by sentences resembled topographical notations on a map).
In outdoor settings, Hausel creates geometric shapes such as Reflections, whose plexi cubes she stenciled with text from a German poem and buried in a grid beneath the ground. Other works are more organic, such as Transplant, where the text becomes a winding line of white plastic panels curving between plywood supports. The line continues at ground level, outlined in white gravel, and refers to Hausel's interest in the metaphysical properties of all lines – mathematically non-existent, yet calling into existence a whole set of spatial relationships. The text itself she takes from the first written Hungarian text, invoking narratives of nationality and displacement already suggested by the installation title.
Expel takes shape based on the constraints of the gallery environment. Rather than working with biological or bodily references, Hausel responds to the space and calls the viewer's attention to the ways in which that space constructs or constrains his or her experience. Her constructed curves of plywood peel off a structural element of the building, forcing the viewer to move around and through them. Her chosen text, the Ten Commandments, refers to a cultural moment in which the texts around us are being erased or elided in certain contexts. There is a political charge to this choice, whether we choose to read the Ten Commandments as a victim of misguided secularism – as in the recent removal of a privately funded display of the text on federal property – or a symbol of our current administration's hypocritical adherence to the representation of a set of moral precepts while in practice undermining and setting aside those moral precepts in any number of arenas.
Hausel's own early life, in an Eastern Bloc nation, prompts her urgent address of questions of national memory, constructions of history, and their effect on the interior lives of individuals. An earlier piece, Peel/Monument, explicitly referred to the Soviet context by echoing the shape of Vladmir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (1919). The texts Hausel stenciled over this plywood spiral, which curled away from the wall as if shaved off by a woodworker's plane, were from Thomas Mann's novel of individual seeking, The Magic Mountain, and John Stuart Mills' On Liberty. Both writers were deeply involved with ideas about human development, inner and outer. The words, stenciled lightly onto the construct, were barely legible, but Hausel wished to reinforce the viewer's awareness of constructs – linguistic and architectural - and to meditate upon the complexities and contingencies they create around us. In this way, the choice of writing she includes is crucial to the artwork, regardless of its legibility to any given viewer: "I am interested in…how much our own intellectual and historical heritage is unknown or useless to us - although it is there for us to use it," she writes. With Expel, Hausel moves towards legibility, explicating a familiar set of words that have become unfamiliar and even unwelcome in some contexts.
By uncovering the physical limitations of our constructed
landscape and putting them in direct contact with embodied
language, Katalin Hausel's installations force her viewers to
recognize the limitations of language as well. Acknowledging
the delicate negotiations we make every day between the
world and the inescapable web of our ideas about the world,
Hausel asks us to remain conscious of shifts and inversions
in our constructed order that allow us to maintain a
semblance of balance in everyday life.