Between Hope and Trap

On the State of Social Transition in Ukraine

The Greek prefix mesos, meaning intermediate or position in the middle, is representative of Ukraine today—a situation in flux—and also in line with other post-Soviet or post-socialist countries. It is worthwhile thinking about and responding to the repurposed notion of mesosphere put forward by the editors of the issue. Mesosphere, in a way, likewise articulates the socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions of these countries in transition that, since 1989–1991, have started to re-establish their identity.

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Without Index by Ferenc Gróf

Artwork in focus

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.

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Flags by Bálint Szombathy

Artwork in focus

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.

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People of No Consequence by Aslan Gaisumov

Artwork in focus

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.

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Mezosfera: Future Scenarios Now

An Introduction to Issue #2

In the Earth’s atmosphere, the mesosphere is the layer between the stratosphere, where the airplanes travel, and the thermosphere, where the spaceships fly. It is thus the strata that is the least impacted by human activity, and one which we like to think of as carrying hope. Taking this layer of the Earth’s atmosphere as a metaphorical point of departure, the magazine Mezosfera—with a fictitious “pan-Eastern European spelling”—sets out to look at, connect, and engage initiatives that can be conceived as working in the middle ground, in the mezosfera layer of our contemporary art and cultural world, in-between grassroots and institutionalized practices.

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The “Independent” Condition

Perspectives on Eastern Europe’s Cultural Sector

It would be difficult to identify, within the post-1989 Eastern European landscape, another realm that has undergone an equally intense labor of dispossession and resistance, of redefinition and reconceptualization, than the realm of the “public:” the state and state assets, public life, public institutions, and the public space. There is hardly anything, at the same time, that challenged the public heritage of the socialist state more than the neoliberal understanding of the primacy of the “free,” “unconstrained,” private initiative.

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Undisciplined Unacademic Zone

Having recently had some time to indulge in guilty pleasures, I watched through four seasons of the Star Trek: Enterprise TV series, originally aired between 2001 and 2005. I enjoyed the show more than one might expect; nevertheless, I could not guarantee the same would hold true for someone who does not have a soft spot for science fiction. What is unquestionably interesting, however, for anyone trying to understand the dominating symbolic order we are all submerged in is an ideological reading of the series. Seen through the lenses of ideology critique, it turns out not to be about the future at all.

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Walking Theory

My interest in “walking theory” initially came from an education in art and humanities, which taught us that art was an intimate activity of the artist-genius who creates directly from his guts, while theory was an abstract speculation, which, if you let it come closer, can castrate artistic freedom. Paradoxically, all this was promoted in Belgrade in the 1990s, in the context of the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, the international sanctions, the regime of Slobodan Milošević, and the transition from socialism to capitalism.

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Shaking the Status Quo*

Notes on Unlearning

It is difficult to imagine unlearning. One thing that stands in our way is our initial understanding of the word. Is it even possible to simply leave dominant knowledge behind? My immediate answer is “no,” for two reasons. First, there is no way back. There is no path that leads us to a time or place before the history of relations of power and violence that are responsible for what we know today. Secondly, unlearning is not an easy task. For these reasons, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at how it is discussed in postcolonial theory.

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Public Space and Resistance

On Budapest’s Living Memorial

For East-Central European countries emerging out of the period of state socialism, it was only after 1989 that the civic sphere and civil society could make themselves felt as constructive elements of democracy. An agent of the development of the democratic order, civil society represents a significant force in opposition to political power, for instance in its capacity to thematize sensitive social questions, form public opinion, assert values, and keep the government in check.

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Polite Quietness

Current Waves in Eastern European Art History

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.

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A Form of Contemporary Resistance

An Interview with Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti

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.

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Toxic Places, Toxic Images

An interview with Elke Krasny

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.

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What is Mezosfera?

About tranzit.hu's new magazine on art and culture.

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.

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A Weird Geography

An introduction to issue #1

The first thematic issue of Mezosfera contributes to the on-going societal debates around migration and migration politics in Europe, introducing and examining related work by artists, activists, and thinkers from diverse cultural and geographical contexts. It addresses overarching key issues, from the crisis of citizenship and the challenges of a post-identity politics to the unequal access to rights and privileges that pervades all phases of the migration experience from the freedom of movement to the right to work.

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Appealing to the State to Become Stateless

An interview with visual artist Núria Güell about the right to self-determination, the failure of the nation-state and how art can be used to challenge the possible

Nationality is the quality that infuses to a person the fact of belonging to a national community that is organized as a state. The project emerges from my dis-identification with the structure of the nation-state, as well as from my refusal of the construction of the self in relation to national identity, since I consider it fictional and imposed. (Núria Güell on her work “Stateless by Choice. On the Prison of the Possible”)

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