Residential programs can be an opportunity for precarious cultural officials to experience the feeling of temporary stability and comfort in the refreshing atmosphere of a new place. I do not want to generalize, it certainly does not apply to everyone, but for me the offer of a shelter (my own flat!), adequate financial valuation and an exemplary program represented the luxury of certainty I rarely if ever enjoy at home. But where does one start to write about his or her residency in Budapest? A chronological approach suggests itself, starting with the arrival or the journey itself. But it is not that easy – when I arrived in Budapest after a four hour nap, I still had a terrible hangover whose nosy presence greatly affected all the experience. The surrounding reality has obviously changed, but the hangover works as a link to home and past. The evening before departure I was in hurry to leave Prague (where I had presented at Pecha Kucha night) for Brno to catch Jasss in Kabinet Múz, and to dance to her great set for about four hours continously, and finally refused to go to bed and stretched the evening in Modráč, already kind of creepy, till the morning. Luckily, by the time I got home, I was reasonable enough (although I tried to give precedence to myself, when I was leaving the elevator) to pack for the road before I fell asleep for three hours, and so I could wake up just before the train was leaving. But does this explain anything? If I go honestly in the footsteps of all the pertinence, I should also mention that Jasss in the Cabinet was the third stop of my party marathon that had started with Blank Bansheem a week before and continued with Rise Above in Scala. And when I go even further, it seems to me that everything started in the summer, when I broke up with Danuška after six years and I went to England to pick up trash, which – due to various circumstances – led to a monthly harvest of cherries on a farm. And the diploma – after six years at university and twenty years at various schools, I have finished the institutionalized self-education phase and then I did not fit in anywhere – does this also play a role?
The first evening in Budapest I missed the OFF-Bienniale opening party, instead I slept well in my new AirBnB shelter, my fortress. In the morning I got up at about eight and after eleven I visited Tamás Kaszás in his studio. It was my first day so I got lost a bit but finally we found each other. I also met Cristina Bogdan from the Romanian Revista ARTA Magazine, who was in Budapest in the same program as me. Tamás shows us a documentation of works from rebars (metal bars used as reinforcement of reinforced concrete) in a small studio. Embossed paintings are obviously inspired by socialist realism and socialist decorations, as well as do-it-yourself strategy, the familiar phenomena of the cultural heritage of post-communist space. Kaszas creates them in collaboration with Krisztian Kristof under the name Randomroutines. The other Kaszas projects are often the result of collaboration too, and their ideological and material backgrounds can be described as anarcho-eco-primitivism. The rest of the day (and about two more) I spend as a VIP visitor of the OFF-Bienniale. I feel inappropriate, but I act confident.
I was at a party in Lärm, where János Borsos performed a dark noise techno set. Lärm is a part of the Akácfa utca club complex in the seventh district. Part of its magic, among other things, lies in the fact that it is surrounded by other clubs and you go for a smoke on the gallery located directly above the dance-floor of a common discotheque situated on the floor below. From the claustrophobic darkroom, which is a shrine of flat beats, a few steps directly into the heart of EDM testosterone disco! The glimpse of the discotheque that the balcony offers to visitors of Lärm is an accurate illustration of how the experimental electronics listeners want to feel in this comparison. János was not happy with his set at all, but the others did not share his opinion. I have enjoyed some good dancing. Then I visited two more discos on the floor below.
When they threw me out from the second one, I had a chat with an Arabian dealer and then we walked home together for a while. I think I won him over by talking about his Syrian family and by promising him that I would pray for their health. Although it seemed as if we had an understanding, he tried to scam me and spend all the time convincing me to buy him a cigar, a drink, to roll him a joint… in the end, we split up pretty soon. That morning was the only time I got lost in Budapest, but in a big way. The walk home took me hours and the path I went was completely absurd.
At home, a terrible hangover, fortunately, I had a day off before me. Although I wanted to spend it at the spa, in the end it was not possible. At least I could afford to lie down, sniff and watch the stream of the Czechoslovakian eighties movie production available on YouTube. I moved from the bedroom to a smaller couch in the living room, which for some reason seemed way more comfortable and safer compared to a far larger bed. I did not return to my bedroom for the rest of my stay.
Depression / drugs / in the shower / I wash them down with a stream of water
One of the first exhibitions I have visited during our VIP Tour was City Theater, a brief overview of the Central and Eastern European Performative Concept of the 1970s. The exhibition is stretched between four small private galleries (an act of cooperation of four mutually independent private subjects is presented as a significant diplomatic success for the organizers of the Bienniale by our guides). The thematic narrowing to action art in the public space in the era of the state monopoly seemed as a stimulating definition with a contemporary overlap, at least on the paper. On the spot, however, the selection of authors and works, as well as conventional installations, is exactly the opposite: a non-original set of “canonical” works selected on the basis of predictable key. Kovanda’s unobtrusive interventions, ufonaut Julius Koller, Sanja Iveković masturbating with a book on a balcony and Tomislav Gotovac running naked around the city. The hundredth presentation of identical works in unchanging context only confirms their place in the history of 20th century art. That’s exactly what the exhibition looks like – as a spatial variation of the chapter “Action Art in Eastern Europe” from some Taschen book. Based on feedback from the audience, it seems that all the other participants of the guided tours enjoy the exhibition very much. I do not know whether because they do not know this chapter or because they like the repetition. There is a talk of need to care for the heritage of neo-avantgarde, to self-propagate it and to popularize it in a situation where the state institutions of Orbanian Hungary fail and do not seem interested in this type of heritage. That I would understand.
In the following days, we encounter neo-avantgarde exhibitions (it is interesting that in our country this term is almost inappropriate, the term preferred at the moment is something like “Czechoslovakian concept in the 70s”) in interviews with local artists several times. I do not even have to mention my City Theater experience, they speak about it themselves: “All private galleries now promote f*ckin’ neo-avantgarde, because it is cool now and it smells of money, and so the current artist does not stumbles upon a f*ckin’ buyer.”
I became acquainted with an artistic duo performing under the common identity as Borsos Lörinc and also with an artist who is only a single person, but performs as two people, under the name Szacsva y Pál. The Borsos Lörinc Studio is located in the Art District, which is an industrial district of Budafók, quite far from the city center. On my way to them, I got lost a little bit and came to the meeting with a delay. Szacsva y Pál, on the other hand, works in his apartment right in the center of Budapest, about 15 minutes from where I lived. For an adequate understanding of the work of both (three, four persons?), a personal encounter proved to be almost a necessity. The work of Borsos Lörinc is deeply anchored in real life experiences, shared experience of faith and its personal philosophical interpretation. The results of their work are characterized by a detailed, design-pure form giving the impression of a certain depersonalization. At the core, however, their works are always intimate, somewhat painfully expressive variation of the moral dilemma of almost biblical proportions. The art of Borsos Lörinc is introspective. It gives viewers an insight into the inner experience of being, through which they externally communicate using commonly shared cultural symbols. On the other hand, Szacsva y Pál, in his current creative stage, declares his attempt to work with art as a tool for criticizing the constantly changing social situation. He rejects the idea of art as an individual creative creed, claiming that the current era demands a specifically targeted and clearly articulated critique. Szacsva and Pál work together from home (even if they have been using a collective signature exclusively for several years) and create corrosive digital collages of the “photos of the day” from the official government site or send Facebook challenges. However, the image of reality that Szacsva y Pál longs to give is heavily deformed by his “lonely hermit” founding, although externally it is revealed, paradoxically, through dialogue. He bends reality and communicates it to the viewer as a disguised projection of uncontrolled sarcasm and depressed anxiety of one’s own subconsciousness.
We live in a time that is extremely identitarian. We build our integrity of sovereign beings by appropriating different identifying signs and their combinations. We can rummage through them as we would through clothing at the marketplace and choose what we feel good in. Consensually recognized “originals” and their cheaper imitations are available. Almost everyone, regardless of their opinion, believes their decisions are right. We decide on the basis of our best ideas about what do we want to identify ourselves with and what do we want to define ourselves against. The aspect of negative delimitation (in relation to “competitive” sets of identifying signs) is always present in the process of identity creation, it is an indivisible reverse side of positive acceptance. While we are convinced that the identity we identify with is good at the core, the object of our rejection, this “negative friend” rather than an enemy is always present. The left has its negative friend in the right wing, or capitalism. The identity of protest movements, such as Antifa, is directly based on rejection. How to handle this negative aspect of identity? Rejecting it (rejecting rejection) in the name of absolute acceptance usually ends up as a pathology, wearing on itself, that can only hurt us. Asking someone to give up their identities against their will means damaging others. It is an insensitive, violent act and therefore it is unacceptable. Awareness of our own negation and position of opposition, which we necessarily hold towards someone else, is a good first step and certainly better than rejecting this reality. But it does not work as violence prevention. Can the identity be rejected as such? And is there anything positive about this act?
We have grown accustomed to identify the characteristics of global capitalism with the ideas of freedom and democracy. At least in “our” East European space it is so, and until lately this argument has been almost absolute. We have never joined the longed-for West, however, for some reason it is our privilege to belong to the Global North, and we want to defend this affiliation now without really realizing its connections, impacts, or even that affiliation as such. It is strange to walk through the space from which we come and whose local identity is inevitably imprinted in our personal identity, and to observe the ever-improving material conditions (in part in fact and for somebody seemingly) with an increasingly attractive facelift and to know that on the background of change for the better there is too much bad hidden.
“Orbán cigány azért van annyi hajléktalan” is written on the wall. It is true that I have possibly never seen so many people sleeping and living on the streets, like I did in Budapest. Sometimes I tried to talk about it. When I asked Szacsva y Pál, why there are so many homeless people, without a sign of excitement and irony, he replied, “It’s fashion now.”
Nicoline van Harskamp, in the project Yours in Solidarity (2011-2013), reconstructs the identity of anarchists she has never encountered physically on the basis of an automated analysis of spelling, stylistics, and vocabulary contained in their correspondence. Using an emotionally unbiased computer program, she creates their avatars, simplified portraits, combining fragments of their real personalities captured in letters and blank spots, instead of the nuances that failed to be captured in writings. The sentiment of sensitive personal identity occasionally turns in unexpected, possibly unwanted contexts, for instance in the nervous, unintentional and hyperactive correspondence of a thief from Virginia, serving his punishment at the moment: “What is Anarchist Black Cross? I really liked it when the Red Brigade bombed the Milkon prison. Bravo! I’m no intellectual. Some day I’d like to spark the reform movement in education, prisons and politics. Will the Netherlands grant me political refuge? I only have nine months till release. I am part Czech Jew and part Cherokee.”
The Flying Kayak exhibition is located in the Konkoly Observatory in the hills on the right bank of the Danube. The right and left banks are determined according to the direction of the flow of the river. A visit to the Observatory and a trip outside the city promises an experience even if the art does not worth it. As the bus no. 21 drives through the serpentines of the hill, the surrounding built-up area becomes sparse, and I do not know where to get off because the memory of my cell phone was deleted. Damn, it would be in my best interest to finally get mobile data! I decide to jump out at the moment the bus moves over the top of the hill and starts to slide down the opposite side. Nature around glitters in the shades of the golden October sunset, but the blue-shaded shadows reveal the icy air and the winter is settling under the skin. I stand at the crossing point of several paths, but through the trees I can not see where they could lead. I choose the direction and I go right back. I choose the direction a couple more times and go out in the directions I already came back from. Before I calm down a little I end this dance and decide to go down the hill. Occasionally, I pass houses on my left-hand side, even house numbers grow in ascending sequence. I am looking for an odd house, but on the right is only a single huge, fenced, inaccessible complex with CCTV cameras.
Odd is on the right, odd is the one, the right one, the true one, only the number I am searching for is not there, it should be on the right, and there is nothing, well nothing I can go into, I have no right to do so, I lack the right, it is shady and I am totally left in a pickle, without the phone I do not know where I am, my orientation ability shrink to left and right decisions and that is, as is known, totally subjective.
I am going down and the sidewalk has gone, I have to go along the edge of the road, and when the car goes by, I retreat to the grass behind the roadside. I wanted to go to the spa again, but it seems like I am not going there, since I am lost. It is clear that this is not going anywhere, I have to turn around and try to go back up the hill, and as I turn around, so does my left and right. This anxiously guarded fenced complex, which I can not enter, I have on my left hand side now, but there also should be my observatory, maybe I will find it if I go far enough.
Translation by Marta Martinová
Cover image: UH Fest, Lärm Budapest. Photo: Urbanplayer.hu