The Csakoda1 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 centers2, 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 Interchange3 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Dunaújváros, ICA-D (August 26–30, 2014).
Anna Juhász: How would you summarize the experiences of the first few years, during which you organized the cultural center tours that become your trademark?
Dominika Trapp: At that time, it was rather the movement or the mission that was interesting to us, and not so much the works themselves. What has changed since is that the projects we create nowadays allow for more preparation time, are site-specific, and the pieces or collective work are in the foreground. At the very beginning, everyone brought in their little bags what they had painted the month before. At that time, Csakoda was defined by the Image Migration project: we specifically wanted to exhibit paintings. We found it interesting that, in a way, paintings are currently in the worst situation: painting is the genre that is most confined to the gallery, the one that is the least communicative, or is primarily destined for the art market. We found this framework to be too limiting and chose to liberate paintings from these spaces. When we carry the paintings on our backs, in bundles, on trains, or bikes, it is a very important symbolic act.
AJ: I think it is also symbolic that you as the artists always accompany your works on this journey. Within an institutional setting, the visitor usually encounters the artwork isolated from its creator. You don’t abandon the works for the time of the exhibition. How would you, after the years that passed, evaluate Csakoda’s artistic praxis in its early phase? Especially considering the fact that you created Csakoda while you were still students, but, as you have all finished university since, you are in a very different life situation now.
DT: The questioning of existing structures and the pursuit of independence are always topical, no matter what the actual political situation or the public morale is at the time. However, in Hungary at the moment, these issues are especially relevant. We started doing this back when it was not this evident that there would be no other way to do art. This remained the linchpin of the project. How can one define Csakoda now? In the beginning, one could say that we went to the countryside, made our works travel with us, and exhibited them in cultural centers. But we don’t really travel to exhibit in rural Hungary any more: back then, we had much more time as university students and the student discount on train tickets are also long gone. Right now we are more into squatting institutions, and would be happy to continue this practice somewhere else.
AJ: As for squatting institutions, is the one in Dunaújváros your first such experiment?
DT: We were actually squatting in the cultural centers as well, but this one in Dunaújváros was the first such action on a larger scale. We really like the fact that there are these established institutions—in this case, the Institute of Contemporary Art—where a multitude of things get accumulated in storerooms. We discover these, take some of them out of the storage and reinterpret them. It is ideal if we can work with found objects that we cannot calculate with in advance.
AJ: Your action in Dunaújváros (and also your previous works) remind me of lifestyle experiments. Besides the works, it is equally important that you are present in the space, making things happen, being together.
DT: We have never spent time together quite so intensely before: it was like an artists’ retreat. I think that in the current situation in Hungary, this kind of strategy works perfectly well. You need a kind of tackiness, in the good sense of the word, a kind of nonconformity. If we weren’t on such good terms, the project couldn’t have been carried out. During the years of wandering around, we have forged a team of people who know each other well enough to be able to work side by side without disturbing each other. Additionally, artists like the PR group or Miklós Mécs were easy to integrate, simply because they could relate to our set of values.
AJ: You refer to an independent mode of working. Can you elaborate a bit on Csakoda’s sources of funding?
DT: We have never received state funding thus far, although we have applied for it. When we organized our first tour, I used the well-known economics weekly, HVG, to find out about the most successful Hungarian businesses. I took note of the top ten, and Márton Dés and I started asking around for funding. In the end, the Hungarian Sugar Ltd. supported us in realizing the first nine stations of the project. The exhibition in Budapest was financed by a private donor, and we received the train interiors from the French firm Bombardier. Nocturnal Interchange was funded by Smoking and an entrepreneur from Dunaújváros. A simple bit of research procured us all of these funds, and none of our donors attempted to tell us what to do.
AJ: The fact that instead of classical contemporary art spaces, Csakoda chose to exhibit in cultural centers, in a totally different context for a totally different audience, meant a kind of independence and an outsider position in relation to the art scene. I assume this makes Csakoda a kind of experimental playground for every member. You have the chance to do whatever you would like.
DT: Sure. By the way, it is also important to mention—if we turn now to the festival—that ICA-D and the curator Tamás Fehérvári trusted us completely, and apart from the basic rules and the theme we agreed upon, there were no other restrictions. ICA-D was a great place to work, as we could also sleep in the exhibition space. Since we received no funds from the National Cultural Fund (NKA)4, there would have been no other way for us to carry out the project.
AJ: In the case of Nocturnal Interchange, when ICA-D invited you to realize a project, how did you start working? The central theme was that of leisure time—can you elaborate on that?
DT: The general course of events is that one of us comes up with a topic and we discuss it together. I recommended the theme of leisure, and everyone accepted it. It’s a very versatile concept, always topical and problematic—think about what the concept of leisure might mean for unemployed people, prison inmates, or members of the precariat, but we can also go as far as the patterns used on ‘90s jogging suits.
AJ: You mentioned that you often work site-specifically. To what extent did Dunaújváros inspire you? Were you interested in the topic of leisure time anyway, or did you come up with it in relation to the town?
DT: We were interested in leisure anyway, but Dunaújváros, having previously been a “workers’ town,”5 was an especially interesting location to explore the theme. It is mostly in the small details of the exhibition that the city’s influence can be detected, such as the Uitz paraphrase fresco in the Uitz-Hall6, or the Orientation Run and Visual Steeplechase in the Statue Park (a project by artist Gyula Várnai and curators Tamás Fehérvári and Annamária Nagy). In the BudMeal Restaurant 7, we offered a menu based on the town’s flora and fauna. On the last day, we cooked from the leftovers we found at the local market.
AJ: The basic structure was made up of smaller exhibitions that were opening continuously during the five days, the BudMeal Restaurant, the evening gigs, and your constant presence in the space. What exactly happened during this one week? How much space did you leave for improvisation or cooperation on the spot?
DT: There were certain elements that required preparation, such as the “Hungarian abstracts” leisurewear collection, as we had to have it produced (Éva Farkas, a painter from Dunaújváros, was helping us with the sewing). Silverware at the BudMeal restaurant was made by members of the Roman District8 Senior Citizens’ Cultural Association a week before the festival. Artist Zsófi Keresztes’s Beaumax installation and artists Virág Bogyó and Márton Mózes Murányi’s prison project required a lot of preparation, and so did Bence Bálint and Márton Dés’ exhibition Smoke Culture, which was accompanied by a zine. As for the Csakoda camp, the only thing we discussed in advance was that we would build from whatever we find on the spot, which eventually resulted in a mega-installation in the Uitz Hall. There were points where we already reckoned with the necessity of improvisation, but obviously this could only work because we knew and trusted each other. We had the rough outlines of BudMeal, but Miklós Mécs and I elaborated on the menu on the spot. I came up with the idea of the fried sphinx, for example, at the market, but to have fried things in new form was Miki’s input, and the name Laci Cuisine9 was our joint invention. Originally, Secco&Fresh KO (artists Botond Keresztesi and Árpád Szigeti) wanted to commemorate the now abandoned amusement park in Dunaújváros, but then, the night before, they came across a work by Uitz, and it was finally this piece that served as the starting point for their fresco.
AJ: Apart from ICA-D’s attempts to attract local audiences, when you were roaming the streets of Dunaújváros, to what extent did you try to make connections with people?
DT: Miki and I tried to have a performative presence in the town. We were picking fruit from the top of the public toilet and we were giving out leaflets. One day, members of the Senior Citizens’ Club—the ones who made the porcelain pots—came in to the gallery to have a look at their creations and they really liked them enameled. The audience of Interchange is used to the fact that it is usually local performers and artists who participate, and this was also evident from the number of visitors. A bunch of strange youngsters from Budapest dominated the program schedule, but there were also local performers who actively took part.
The interview was conducted and first published on tranzitblog.hu in Hungarian in October 2014.
Translated by Júlia Laki
About the author
Anna Juhász is a Budapest-based art historian and curator, who currently works at the Kassák Museum, Budapest. In 2014-2015 she was co-curator of the OFF-Biennale Budapest and program supervisor at ACAX | Agency for Contemporary Art Exchange. Her fields of research include ephemeral artistic practices, the possibilities of artistic self-organization, and the cultural legacy of socialism.
- The phrase Csakoda, made up by the artists, is best translated as “One way only.” ↩
- The countrywide network of cultural centers was a central element to the cultural politics of socialist Hungary. However, after the political change of 1989, these once evident sites of access to culture have become marginalized, are struggling with financial difficulties, and are often not used to their full potential. ↩
- The title of the annual festival in Hungarian, Éjszakai átszálló, has ambiguous meaning in Hungarian. While “átszálló” literally means “interchange,” the phrase “éjszakai szálló” can refer to cheap accommodation or even a flop-house, rooming house, or workers’ home. ↩
- The National Cultural Fund in Hungary; the most important source of public cultural funds that anyone is eligible to apply for. By the time of the publication of this interview’s English translation, the NKA has lost its relative fairness and became subordinated to the value preferences of the right-wing conservative government and the overwhelming power of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) that prioritizes national culture over everything else. ↩
- The village of Dunapentele was transformed into Dunaújváros (literally meaning “Danube new town”), the first Hungarian “socialist town”, the beginning of the 1950s, when an enormous ironworks was established there. The town was called Sztálinváros (Stalin city) between 1951 and 1961. ↩
- Exhibition space named after Béla Uitz (1887-1997), Hungarian painter, graphic artist, and prominent figure of Hungarian Activism. The Uitz Hall is now part of the ICA-D building. ↩
- It is a reference to Budmil, a Hungarian leisurewear brand. ↩
- The area, under the name Intercise, was already inhabited in Roman times. ↩
- It is a reference to the Hungarian word “lacikonyha” (literally: “laci kitchen,” in which “Laci” is a Hungarian name). It denotes a very basic open-air restaurant (sometimes located under a canopy) that can either be permanent or more temporary, often located at markets. ↩