Dan Perjovschi at the Off-Biennale Budapest

The first event of the Off-Biennale Budapest was a presentation by Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi, whose ‘intelligent graffiti’ with its democratic message and visual incitements to activate in the face of injustice and ecological danger provided an apropos start to Budapest’s horizontally-organised and anti-institutional experiment with the contemporary biennial format.


Presentation by Dan Perjovschi at Prezi Offices Budapest for the OFF-Biennale 21 April 2015

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Posted in Hungarian art, News

Liberate Ludwig


Fed up with the institutional creep of growing political control of the Hungarian art world, with museums merged, directors chopped and changed, beloved art spaces threatened, and the stranglehold of an ultra-conservative clique in a constitutionally-embedded – Soviet-style – Academy of Hungarian Arts, the progressive mainstream of Hungarian contemporary art is taking decisive, collective action. The slogans of the occupation of the Ludwig Museum are professional agreement, institutional autonomy and transparency in the cultural field!

Unite for Contemporary Art
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Unite for Contemporary Art



9th May 2013

Unite for Contemporary Art                                           

We demand complete transparency in the running and adjudication of professional competitions in the art world!

The lack of transparency and culture of secrecy surrounding the current competition for the post of director of the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art Budapest is unacceptable!

The anti-democratic practices afflicting education and society in the last two years have now reached the art world, including: the merger of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts without proper consultation with art professionals, the appointment of the director of the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle without a competition, the unjustified elevation of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) to a position of institutional dominance holding sway over public funds, and most recently, the lack of transparency in the Ludwig Museum competition.

These developments are making it impossible for contemporary art to function and force us to come together and make a stand. It is for this reason that we are holding a Fact Finding Forum (9th May 5pm – midnight) where we aim to debate the problems of the institutional system of the art world and the reasons for its dysfunctionality, along with exclusionary practices in the distribution of public funding for the arts.

A week ago, on 2nd May 2013, the Free Artists group sent a letter to the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, demanding the lifting of the secrecy regarding the decision making process and competition for the post of director of the Ludwig Museum, to which they have yet to receive a reply.

Unite for Contemporary Art demands transparency in decision-making processes and the immediate release of the minutes of the professional committee of the competition for director of the Ludwig Museum!

The action is not directed against particular persons and does not take sides for or against either candidate.

We invite the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, to come to the Ludwig Museum at 12pm on 10 May 2013. Roll back the secrecy! Listen to the opinions of a professional forum of activists, contemporary artists and art professionals!

Our demands:

Professional agreement!
Institutional and professional autonomy!
Professionalism and transparency in decision making in the cultural field!

See also the facebook page of the Unite for Contemporary Art group with a link to the Hungarian version of the press release.

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Musings with Damir Očko

Imageon the Occasion of his Solo Show at Trapéz Gallery Budapest 27 March till 30 April 2013 about poster art, poetry and working with distance.

working from Zagreb

I come from Zagreb and to live there and work elsewhere is a challenging situation, as it means living with distance in all directions. I don’t really feel part of the Zagreb scene, but the advantage of living there is that I also maintain a distance from all the more hectic aspects of working in the international scene.

experience of studying at Zagreb Academy

I studied in a very traditional art school. After I finished the Academy I realised I had no knowledge about contemporary art, for example I only found out about private galleries and their role in representing an artist after I left the Academy. Taking part in artist residencies enabled me to actually find out how different art scenes work.

relation to the idea of East European art

The contamination of East European discourse is very typical of ‘small loops’ – in every city there is a local scene which is a small loop – but Zagreb has no loop of international artists. WHW has a narrow and small space, and the Museum of Contemporary Art is beyond words… though the potential is there.

I always had my own agenda and interest in any discourse from my environment faded very early. I am always thinking for example that an artist born in 1984**, relating to communism becomes a cliché, just as there are certain expectations about what artists from the Middle East should be relating to. In a way you limit people to their given political mindsets and a geopolitical way of thinking. I try to bypass this as much as possible.

art, politics and poetry

I think my work is very political. I never think in grand terms, the work I’m doing now expands across a lot of different ideas that we have to put in one pot, to look for common ground in various aspects, I’m interested in using poetry as a political language.

I think music is very challenging, I’m interested in the history of music, discourse of contemporary music, but I’m not interested in making concerts or writing poetry to be published as such, but using all the tools available to make my work. I lean towards time-based media, but for me music, poetry and film are much the same.

autonomy of art and social comment

My social comment is not a very loud comment, I don’t have this ‘poster mindset’. I work with emotions, which is a way to move people from the inside, it has a core.

dynamics between two different worlds

There is a big cliché about what political art looks like, which always looks the same, but poetry is the most political thing there is, since it is at the same time the most vague and aesthetic language and also the most political.

working with Yvon Lambert

With Yvon Lambert it was like a love story. He has been in the art world since 1966, he really loves art. When they wanted to work with me they took a lot of risk, and they really saw the point in representing me and supporting my work. It all happened after my show at Palais de Tokyo. Afterwards I ran back to Zagreb, where there’s more distance, you don’t need to be at the centre of attention all the time. The thing about having a gallerist is they manage a lot, such as my Italian gallerist, who put together a big archive of my things and sketches.

showing in Budapest

It’s a strange period for me, I’m working with a format that doesn’t include a film, but rather making scores and working through collage and drawing. I’m using a wide scale of images, which I turn into complete abstraction. There are three sets of images, one involving a hand, another images of a corner of my empty studio, while the third is images from Sao Paolo, overburdened, at the same time I was interested in connotations of calm and silence. Social work is not very present, it’s more discreet, doesn’t always appear to you. I imagined a V shape, as the sound will come from the centre of the structure, while outside there is a different space. This is the second exhibition without a film in my recent professional life!

working in English

I write my works and my art in English, but with poetry it’s more challenging, at the same time to write in Croatian is almost impossible, as there is no challenge similar to the one writing in english. You have to find the right angle for each word in a delicate and precise process, while with Croatian everything is very familiar from the beginning and sometimes words just come together too intuitively.

Interview with Maja and Reuben Fowkes in Budapest on 25 March 2013.

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Does the Ludwig Museum have a contemporary future?

ImageThe announcement that Ludwig Museum Budapest director Barnabas Bencsik’s contract was allowed to run out today rather than, as was expected, temporarily extended – leaving the institution without professional leadership while a belated competition for this key post is organised, does not bode well for the future of the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art and the many excellent people who work there. On the past record of the government in previous competitions for directorships of cultural institutions, the successful candidate is likely to be politically and aesthetically aligned with the nationalist ideology of the regime and its creature, the constitutionally-embedded Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA): curators with a progressive, internationalist outlook, or even moderate-conservative fellow travellers, need not apply.

The five-year long managerial mandate of Barnabás Bencsik, the director of the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest, came to an end on 28th February, 2013.
According to the instruction sent by the Ministry of Human Resources on the aforesaid day, the competition procedure related to the occupation of the managing director’s position is in progess.
The temporary conduct of the museum’s affairs, in the cause of the museum’s uniterrupted operation, happens according to the procedure defined by the Ludwig Museum’s Rules of Operation and Organization. (press release, Ludwig Museum Budapest, 1 March 2013)

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via NEMMA/ Autonomy for Art in Hungary!


Please share and publicize!

Recent legislative steps in Hungary point towards the authoritarian transformation of the institutional structures and funding system of cultural life, by giving an ultra conservative artist group close to the right-wing government, the Hungarian Academy of Arts, an unassailable position of power. As a result of these decisions, the government has endangered the long term autonomy, professionalism and democratic procedures of Hungarian contemporary art.

The government established the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) as the preeminent authority in the field of arts through the new constitution or Fundamental Law, which came into force on 1 January, 2012. The Academy, which was originally founded as a private association in 1992, is made up of artists strongly loyal towards the government. In order to be accepted as a member, the Academy requires a commitment to the nation, a certain “national feeling.”…

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Autonomy for Art in Hungary

The campaign to defend the independence of Hungarian art in the face of a hostile takeover bid by ultra conservative forces is gaining momentum.

There have been calls from opposition MPs in Parliament for the President of the all-powerful Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) to resign, due to controversial comments demanding ‘clear national commitment’ from potential members of the new all-powerful academy and a veiled anti-Semitic jibe against famous Hungarian writer Gyorgy Konrad, the emergence of opposition from within the MMA to the rule of Fekete – an interior designer who won numerous prizes and commissions under communism with a distinctive retro hair style to match his neo-medieval outlook, along with spirited protest actions from the art world, including a memorial ceremony in front of the Mucsarnok/Kunsthalle on 6 December, which the MMA is due to swallow up on 1 January 2013, and at 10am on 10 December a planned Gangnam-style protest demonstration on the front steps of the building.

Last but not least, the campaign Autonomy for Art of Hungary (NEMMA) has a new website with English language content including contact information for protest actions, as well as a statement detailing the key events in the government takeover/makeover of Hungarian contemporary art.

Recent legislative steps in Hungary point towards the authoritarian transformation of the institutional structures and funding system of cultural life, by giving an ultra conservative artist group close to the rightwing government, the Hungarian Academy of Arts, an unassailable position of power. As a result of these decisions, the government has endangered the long term autonomy, professionalism and democratic procedures of Hungarian contemporary art…(more)

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The Battle of Orgreave comes to Budapest

Opening speech given at the opening of the screening of Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave at the Kassak Museum in Budapest on 23 November 2012.

“The miners, united, will never be defeated!”

There are three moments to be born in mind when considering Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave.

The first is the original clash between striking miners and the police that took place in the midst of Britain’s bitterest episode of industrial action, which pitted the avant-garde of the worker’s movement, led by neo-Stalinist firebrand Arthur Scargill, against the merciless logic of neo-liberal economics, epitomised by the Iron Lady’s infamous statement that ‘there is no such thing as society.’

The second moment is that of the artist’s reconstruction of the Battle of Orgreave in June 2001 and its place within the remarkable career of Jeremy Deller, from the clever twist the artist gives to the documentary approach, to the complexities of this singular example of participatory performance art.

The third moment is the present, a further 11 years down the line from the re-enactment, with Deller’s work taking on a particular resonance against the backdrop of contemporary protest movements that confront the twisted logic of austerity that presents itself as the only solution to the European debt disaster, as well as very recent attempts to finally get to bottom of what really happened on that fateful mid-80s summer afternoon.

The original ‘Battle of Orgreave’ was a key moment in the cultural and political history of modern Britain, symbolising in its violence the breakdown of the social contract between the forces of law and order and those engaged in strike action. On one side you had a government with a strategy to break the power of the unions by picking a fight with what the Tories referred to as the ‘enemy within’, on the other you had the National Union of Mineworkers led by the notorious Arthur Scargill, who barely hid his own anarcho-syndicalist ambition to bring down the elected government by blocking the supply of coal to the power stations.

The film version of The Battle of Orgreave is comprised of documentary photos of the original events, interviews with participants and politicians, and footage of the reconstruction itself, including the process leading up to the staging of the re-enactment. It is worth noting that the work existed first as a performance watched by those present on the day, then as a film that was broadcast on national television, as a book, and also in the form of a gallery installation with police uniforms and other artefacts from the battle, which was made for the Turner Prize of 2004, which Jeremy Deller won.

Although Deller relied on the skills of professional battle re-enactors, who spent months researching the events of 18 June 1984, using interviews, court testimony and press reports to ensure the maximum historical accuracy of the re-enactment, one third of the re-enactors were actual inhabitants of Orgreave, and many of these had experienced or been scarred by the original events. As a result, the re-enactment was much more passionate and affecting than if the participants had been professional actors or neutral hobbyists for whom this was just one more battle scene to recreate. There is a sense in which the re-enactment provided a way to therapeutically confront the trauma of the original event by revisiting it, and even swapping roles, with many cases of striking miners being asked to play the part of the police for the re-enactment.

As an artwork, the Battle of Orgreave can be distinguished from the wave of re-enactments in contemporary art of the last decade, which involved re-making earlier artistic performances, actions or happenings, typically from the late 60s and early 70s, for audiences and contexts that remained within the circuits and frame of reference of the art world. At the same time, while Deller’s Orgreave project reaches out to the sphere of popular culture, which is certainly a characteristic of his work in general – including projects involving folk culture, popular music and parades – his re-enactment can also be distinguished from attempts in other more political contexts to rerun or remake history in order to change it. At the end of the day, and the end of the film, the police still win over the miners.

It is a remarkable fact that the truth about the Battle of Orgreave is only coming to the surface now, almost three decades after the event, breathing new life into theories voiced in the film that the battle was deliberately staged by the police in order to break the will of the striking miners. One week ago the BBC ran a news report about a new investigation launched into South Yorkshire police for ‘possible assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office’. Central to the investigation is the observation that dozens of police statements after Orgreave contained word-for-word identical passages that were clearly designed to create the impression that the violence was started by the miners.

Part of the fascination of the Battle of Orgreave today lies in its status as the last popular struggle in Britain based on a traditional notion of class. It was an old style industrial conflict, the last gasp of the unionised world of work of the 1970s, a doomed fight for survival of a distinctive British working class culture. Today’s struggles are about equally stark issues of survival in the face of austerity and today’s protesters face an equally ruthless police machinery, but in the era of globalisation and counter-globalisation the forms and agents of protest have visibly changed, and the stubborn figure of the militant working class British miner has entered history.

What remains is the power of the miner’s chant which, corresponding to psychoanalyst and theorist Felix Guattari’s understanding of the refrain, evokes in tuneful repetition the irrepressible emotional truth of the strike: ‘The miners, united, will never be defeated…’ To hear that refrain again, many years after what in retrospect seemed like the inevitable defeat of the divided miners, will bring a lump to the throat of anyone who was touched by the Great Miner’s Strike.


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The lunatics have taken over the asylum*

Hard to believe at first, but it seems to be true that Hungary’s second most important art space, the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle, will find itself from 1st January 2013 under the ownership and control of an ultra conservative arts organisation, the Hungarian Academy of Arts or MMA, which has stealthily been installed as the leading authority for Hungarian art, with its preeminent position written in to the new constitution or Basic Law and bolstered by a huge grant from the government. This coup de force has triggered protest letters and petitions from both private gallerists and the Hungarian branch of AICA, who warn that the move will undo decades of progress towards the integration of Hungarian contemporary art within international circuits.

The political and aesthetic views of the president of the MMA, whose name is Feketeand often also dresses in black, are well symbolised by the fact that he earlier criticised the director of the Műcsarnok for his show Mi a Magyar?/What is Hungarian? for ‘blaspheming’ the Hungarian nation, which was ironic considering that most art critics had rightly recognised the exhibition as basically in line with the government’s nationalist cultural agenda and that Gábor Gulyás had himself been directly appointed to the position by the government, overriding the usual procedures and against the wishes of progressives in the art world. Cue fellow-traveller GG’s resignation, and the penny finally drops that only mind-blowingly ultra-traditionalist tendencies are welcome in the shrinking world of state-sponsored Hungarian art.

* Fun Boy Three 1981

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Otwock: Lieu de Mémoire

A visit to the former Jewish spa town of Otwock was a highlight of the programme of events for the 2012 Igor Zabel Prize in Warsaw last weekend and was led by celebrated Polish sculptor Miroslaw Balka and Kasia Redzisz, curator of  the town’s low key but thoroughly international public art project. Along with the privilege of an intimate tour of the artist’s childhood home and legendary studio, we saw a vandalised monument to several hundred North Korean orphans (pictured) who were displaced to the small town in the early 1950’s before being redeported six years later, our number 11 bus got stuck in the mud causing an unplanned schedule change, and we experienced a ruined mental hospital (pictured below), now haunted by paintball fanatics in military clothing with presumably little understanding of the traumatic history of the place or the value of the site specific intervention they inadvertently destroyed.

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