Series. Multiples. Realisms. is one of the few long-term projects that engage in the most direct way in the exploration of the rural environment in Romania, a space allegedly idealized and romanticized, on which the national(ist) imaginary draws upon.
“Magazine” covers events and initiations of contemporary culture in Eastern Europe and beyond. As a start, this column examines projects that have recently taken place in Hungary and that also outline some of the major issues the cultural scene is facing here today.
At first sight the idea of placing a painting that has been gathering dust in museum storage for more than fifty years and a novel that barely anyone has read for decades together in a contemporary art context seems bizarre. Such a project is strange in the current museological context of Hungary, even though the end of the 1950s, the period in which the works were created, may become topical once again because of similarities in the institutional limitation of intellectual freedom through political interference in power structures and in the reactions of intellectuals. The laying out of such parallels presents today’s audiences with a difficult task, even though appropriation, or the concept of détournement and variations on it, already have a history going back decades and are built into the toolkit of contemporary art. Ferenc Gróf, a Hungarian artist based in Paris, sought to take on this task in the Kiscell Museum of Budapest with the collaboration of the author of this text as a curator.
In 1972 the artist Bálint Szombathy carried out a series of works under the title Flags – photographic documentations of performances that deconstructed the Yugoslav flag. The Yugoslav flag consisted of the French Tricolour, rotated by 90° and with a red star outlined in gold added in the centre. The colours of the Tricolour symbolized liberty, equality and fraternity, while the red star stood for the victorious revolution. The context for Bálint Szombathy’s Flags (1972) was the onset of stagnation within the alternative utopia of self-managed socialism.
On a double-sided postcard that someone handed me in Grozny, the capital city of the Chechen Republic, a young, armed soldier gazes with pride into the distance. The boldly-colored image—in a design ubiquitous in a past, yet not so distant epoch–is complemented by the slogan: 23 Fievralia, Den' zashchitnika Otechestva [23rd of February, Defender of the Fatherland Day; former Red Army Day]. Yet, when you turn the postcard over, there appears another, very different image: from behind a wooden fence, greyish faces look out at us sorrowfully, fearfully. The same date, the 23rd of February, is also referred to as the date of the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush nations.
The international conference "Contested Spheres: Actually Existing Artworlds under Socialism" co-organized by the Kassák Museum and the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art, took place on May 27–28, 2016 in Budapest. It was realized within the framework of the Kassák Museum’s ongoing research project focusing on Hungarian art of the 1960s and ‘70s. The general aim of the two-day gathering was to give insight into current research directions on art and culture in the ‘60s-‘70s, specifically inviting a younger generation of scholars from and beyond the Central and Eastern European region.
Beirut-based writers and curators Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti discuss some of the key aspects of their project that unravels the forgotten story and context of the large-scale International Art Exhibition for Palestine that took place in 1978 at the Beirut Arab University, at a time of civil war in Lebanon. Their work was transformed into exhibition iterations at MACBA (2015) in Barcelona, HKW in Berlin (2016), and recently at tranzit.hu in Budapest. Khouri and Salti touch upon their methodology; how political engagement and art played a crucial and intertwined role in the 1960s-70s, and how it is relevant for today; as well as in what ways geo-cultural constructions and transnationalism are meaningful today.
The exhibition Uncanny Materials was born from a feeling of uncanniness. Elke Krasny, the newly appointed head of the Department of Art Education of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, sensed the burden and the ghostly presence of the Nazi past when she was supposed to move to her office room. She felt it was somehow toxic. Instead of repressing this sense of uncanniness, she went right to the heart of the matter. The department was founded in 1941, which was also the year when WW2 took a violent turn on the Eastern Front, and when the Jewish community of Vienna was informed about the deportation, among other sinister events.
On the occasion of a lecture and a workshop organized by the Translocal Institute in Budapest, art and cultural critic Brian Holmes talked about the importance of realizing how in the current geological epoch, in the Anthropocene, human generated energies “overwhelm the forces of nature.”
The magazine, on the one hand, is a platform for the sharing of knowledge and the building of solidarity: while also connecting with other non-central geopolitical regions of the world, it initiates dialogues mainly among the art and cultural scenes of the region described as Eastern Europe. It endeavors to discuss how this region with a common but locally varied communist past confronts the influence of both global and local socio-political turbulences. On the other hand, Mezosfera also endeavors to mediate these local and regional discourses to a broader, international audience.
Artur Żmijewski led a three-day workshop in Budapest, during which he sought to find an issue together with the participants to which all of them could relate. The group worked together on searching various ways to connect with the issue, and gathered possible solutions to solve/articulate the phenomenon. The last day of the workshop saw the realization of three team works. The following interview with Artur Żmijewski was conducted by one of the workshop participants, artist Lilla Szász.
I conducted this interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes on the occasion of the recent publication of two of their books. River Ecologies and The Green Bloc: Neo-avant-garde Art and Ecology under Socialism show how environmental discourse, albeit an essentially global one, has important regional dimensions and specific local histories.
The Csakoda collective was founded in 2011 by artists Dominika Trapp and Márton Dés, after they were invited to realize an exhibition in a cultural center in rural Hungary. It was here that they came up with the idea of forming a dynamic group with a changing number of participants, who would primarily exhibit in cultural centers, further away from the elite art scene, but more in touch with local audiences. I interviewed Dominika Trapp about shifts in their praxis since 2011 and their most recent project in the framework of the art festival Nocturnal Interchange at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Dunaújváros.
In 2014 Andrea went to Budapest Pride again. Dressed in a priest’s cassock, he blew bubbles and blessed the crowd from atop the float named as the “International Gay Lobby.” A piece of cardboard dangled in front of him—outlined with the shape of Greater Hungary, patterned with the red-and-white bars of the House of Árpád, and in the center of which a large cock was splashed that easily could be decoded as a biker. The result: two months of rabid harassment (online, at work, at home, etc.) and a civil lawsuit against him that eventually was dismissed.
Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus were invited by tranzit.hu to realize a process-based action as part of the first OFF-Biennale Budapest that took place on April 25-26, 2015. In the following interview, I asked the Bucharest-based artists about enactment as a strategy, the relations of immaterial works and museums, and the sustainability of an “off-scene.”
The “System of National Cooperation,” as the government of Viktor Orbán named itself in 2010, has polarized every segment of society, not excluding the sub-system of contemporary culture and art. As the most effective means to serve this end, the Hungarian Academy of Art (HAA) has not only divided the community of artists and cultural workers owing to the circumstances of its founding and continuous institutional existence, but each of its programs, open calls, or invitations also imply yet another provocative pressure to make a statement: are you with or against us?
In unhappy times, people are likely to meditate more often on the possibility of time travel: they give more thought to the question of what they could have done differently in the past, or imagine ways of traveling to the future to escape the present. Since 2010, in the Hungarian printed press, online forums, and casual discussions, an increasing number of people have asked, in increasing wonder: “Exactly which era have we returned to?”
The tactical media campaign Abortourism took the form of a fictional travel agency operated by a group of artists in Budapest. The project was preceded by thorough research: its creators surveyed abortion laws, pregnancy termination and contraception technologies in various European countries. Based on this research, the agency set up fictional travel packages containing the costs of abortion (be it an operation or a pill), travel, and accommodation. Started in late 2014, the project called attention to the existing phenomenon of abortion tourism, a special form of health tourism, and, through this, to privileges, repressions, and taboos surrounding reproductive rights.
It was easy to be illegal twenty-five years ago. Maybe also because the whole world was focusing on perestroika, and how the Soviet Union had collapsed. At the same time, capitalism had just emerged in the east. Millions began to drink Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola and smoke Marlboro in the streets for the first time without fear. Living sans papiers was not a problem if you did not commit any crimes. I have been an immigrant in several countries.—In October 2015, Dóra Hegyi interviewed Babi Badalov on the occasion of his exhibition Poetical Activism at Mayakovsy 102, tranzit.hu's open office in Budapest.