"One piece of paper can change the world"
Switzerland 16 Nov, 2018. Photos by Benedikt Ziegler.
The artist Piroska Szönye, from Chur in Switzerland, believes paper can change people’s way of looking at the world. With her paper and collage art she wants people to think outside the box, create magic and challenge their emotions about the value of things.
Switzerland’s most famous folk stories are the ones about Heidi. The young, orphaned girl who grows up with her peculiar grandfather in the Alps of Switzerland. Heidi sees good in everyone, is grateful for what she has and has a great love for animals and nature. Piroska finds herself relating with the character a lot, and sees much of herself in Heidi. She even lives twenty minutes away from the famous Heidi Village, right outside Chur. Piroska and Heidi also share the same values: to be noble and good. Piroska wanted to develop the strong connection she felt for the girl in the stories, but didn’t exactly know how. The only thing she knew was that she was destined to be an artist. Her biggest wish when she was a child was to paint. She was sent to an art school with a famous artist as a teacher, and the classes were late in the evening. Piroska was only ten years old - the youngest student at the school - but probably the most dedicated.
– My teacher thought me, that as an artist you live through your painting. When you paint, your ears hear the painting. You can smell and even taste your painting. In the end, you become the painting. Today, when I paint, I lose track of time and space, I forget to eat and I disappear into the painting and its creation. It’s amazing that I can be such an organized person outside the atelier, but when I create I really let go of that control, says Piroska.
"A piece of paper isn’t just paper and does not count as trash just because you crumple it."
Recently, she made a gallery installation of crumpled paper – a meter in height – involving 100 pieces of paper with an invitation on the front and a piece of art on the back.
The dreaming of ideas
In order to know what kind of art people wanted and to create the right styles, Piroska also studied Management of Culture. She wanted to know as much as possible about how the industry and market worked, and how, for example, gallerists looked at art and artists. Being able to stand with one foot in the artist’s creative world and one foot on the other side, where she understands how the art business works, has been of great benefit to Piroska. She explains that she sometimes feels like two people – in addition to her connection with the Heidi character – one of whom is very structured and organized and the other who doesn’t even remember to eat a proper lunch.
– I like both my sides, they have shaped me and made me who I am today. My mind and my thoughts are like a theater. It’s like I’m watching all the ideas that come in and which I then can process like an audience. It may sound strange, but it works for me, says Piroska.
The ideas for her artworks and her books, which often involve paper, come to Piroska in her dreams.
– What I imagine and then later create often has a starting point as a dream. In a book, for example, I can dream whole sentences, which I write down as soon as I wake up. Because of that, I try to keep an open mind, so I can be as receptive as possible to the dreams, says Piroska.
Challenging the value of paper
A piece of paper can change the world. Those are Piroska’s words of wisdom, which she always tries to demonstrate with her exhibitions, projects and books. Recently, she made a gallery installation of crumpled paper - a meter in height - involving 100 pieces of paper with an invitation on the front and a piece of art on the back. Piroska wanted to convey that the value of paper is in the eyes of the beholder.
– I tried to play with people minds and preconceived opinions about what art is worth. A piece of paper isn’t just paper and does not count as trash just because you crumple it. The art piece develops, takes new shapes and still has a value and a purpose, says Piroska.
Her art has brought her a lot of attention, and many people now know who she is. Among other things, several local newspapers covered a project where she built a house of children’s books. Many people appreciated the project and were astonished by her new way of thinking, while questioning that the house was outdoors and could easily be destroyed.
– I made it for children who die at a young age, and that’s the reason it was made out of children’s books and stood outside. Regardless the weather, if it’s raining, snowing or the sun is shining, we are carrying the love and the light with us in our hearts. That was my point. So, the house had to stand outside, become wet and, to some extent, fall apart. The motif with the artwork did not lose value because of it, it was elevated and the message strengthened, says Piroska.