Jaro Varga, Smuggling the Past into This Brief Moment / Interview for ASYMPTOTE by Eva Heisler
I Found It Somewhere, but I Cannot Find It. This is the enigmatic title of several projects produced by Prague-based Jaro Varga between 2013 and 2021. The first iteration has the artist, a newcomer to the town of Martin, Slovakia, asking residents the whereabouts of the Holocaust Memorial, a memorial that does not exist but for which the artist receives directions. The memorial is recalled but nowhere to be found. For each site said to bear a memorial plaque, the artist constructs what appears to be the remains of a plaque that has been removed. Does this not parallel our own relationship to the past? Memory is riddled with loss and fiction.
The relationship of touch to memory is emphasized in the 2018 and 2021 renditions of I Found It Somewhere, but I Cannot Find It. In a former synagogue in Šamorín, Slovakia, the artist stacks ceramic tiles—2,700 in total—and visitors help to tile the floor in a pattern that mirrors the ceiling’s design. As Varga describes the experience, “We look up to remember the fragment of ornament on the ceiling, the geometric pattern, the shapes, the colours of the islands of mortar, the patched holes.” One must recall what’s above in order to pattern what is at one’s feet. In 2021, Varga reproduced, in plasticine, one of six missing columns from a demolished synagogue in Martin. Viewers of the exhibition, following guided discussions of the synagogue’s history, sculpt the column’s relief following their own memories and experiences. The column, throughout the course of the exhibition, is an ever-shifting surface of invented commemorabilia.
In this interview, Varga discusses collective memory, trauma, history as performance, the failure of monuments, and his interest in creating non-monuments—“ephemeral situations that evoke in the audience a feeling of a monument, a statue”—as well as his ongoing projects with libraries.
Varga’s answers were translated into English by Františka Blažková.