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Reviews / April 17, 2008

Balint Zsako in Review: Mythic… and a Little Bit Dirty

Balint Zsako Untitled 2005 Courtesy of the Bernardi Collection

Balint Zsako is a perfect example of the apple falling just far enough away from the tree. Born in Budapest in 1979, Zsako has absorbed the best aspects of his parents’ practices without becoming derivative—his father, István Zsakó, is best known for playfully surreal sculpture, and his mother, Anna Torma, creates intricate, hand-sewn textiles.

Zsako the younger has shaped a practice that is often described as quirky, disturbing, otherworldly and a little bit dirty. Zsako updates traditional Eastern European folk art motifs in a way that speaks to our contemporary anxieties about sexuality and technology. (This aspect of Zsako’s work was picked up by the New York Times Magazine. For its July 15, 2007, issue, the magazine commissioned Zsako, who now lives in New York City, to illustrate a cover story on advancements in reproductive technologies.) Although Zsako’s practice encompasses painting, sculpture, bookworks, collage and photography, the current retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) focuses solely on figurative watercolour and ink works on paper from the collection of Sarnia, Ontario, collector Roy Bernardi.

Despite all of the swollen sex organs and pendulous breasts on view in this exhibition, Zsako’s work doesn’t feel pornographic; rather, it feels mythic. Elements invoking primitive fertility rites and creation legends inform much of the work. Delicate, brightly coloured flowers sprout from the tips of figures’ nipples and penises. Leafy trees emerge from between the meaty, peach-colored thighs of Zsako’s women. Figures buried beneath the ground serve as the roots of plants, and the ends of arms and legs morph into branches. In other works, finely drawn cogs and gears complete bodies in a somewhat menacing fashion. From Zsako’s fertile imagination has sprouted a race of beings that are at once strange and familiar. Like us, they are attempting to negotiate a balance between nature and technology. (952 Queen St W, Toronto ON)