Focus: Public Art in Hungary (Edited an compiled by Hedvig Turai)

Interviews by Erzsbet Tatai


Art historian Erzsbet Tatai questioned three Hungarian artists who are strongly involved in public art. Rza El-Hassan conceived the public art event, Moszkva tr or Gravitation. Although Tibor Vrnagy and Mikls Erhardt did not take part in the events of Gravitation, they have been actively involved in public art projects since the 1990s. All three started their careers at different times and with different backgrounds; however, their activities kept converging in the past few years.

El-Hassan has initiated several projects dealing with topical issues (overpopulation, blood-giving), and is a member of the group "Two Artists Two Curators" (abbreviated KMKK in Hungarian). She also initiated the public-art exhibition Moszkva tr (Moscow square, 2003).

Erzsbet Tatai: When did you leave behind the exhibition space for the sake of public space? What was this first project? What was your aim with it?

Rza El-Hassan : The Museums' space, the street, printed matter, or the web are for my works fluctuating spaces, so it is not that easy to say. Not that I leave the museum and enter the street, since the walls have become permeable. Each time I have to find the right space, place and material for my work.

ET: Why do you think overpopulation is/was such an important issue to deal with?

REH: .: R. [Rza] thinking/ dreaming about overpopulation was the title of a series of works I realized during the last year. On the one hand it is a sculptural metaphor for me when I superimpose a very small, subjective element like myself onto a question with the dimensions of overpopulation.

On the other hand it is also shifting subjectivity and poetry into something which is usually described by terms and methods of economy and politics. The third aspect, which came into being when we did the overpopulation T-shirts with Milica Tomic, is that we are seeking to grasp the hidden mechanism of racism and approaching this nightmare shadow in a humorous way.

Since this shadow is very scary, it is easier to make fun of it when you're not alone. Therefore we made a series of cooperative projects.

ET: You are taking part in the Moszkva tr project. What is your proposal? What's it all about?

REH: One of the most important things is the background of this project. During the last two years some very important artistic activities took place in Budapest, bringing (after times of fragmentation and isolation) a new awareness for our art, for our local situation and politics.

All of these efforts were based on self-financed independent activities by artists and art-critics like KMKK (Attention Recycling), Kisvars (Little Warsaw), Manamana, Liget Gallery, and positions like Tams St. Auby's actions and statements, Beata Veszely's work or the Java artist group and many others.

All this rich art-scene built up a lively structure functioning in parallel to the official art-museums, with which we were dissatisfied. But this parallel structure had basically no access at all to a broader public in Hungary. Projects like Budapest Box or Moszkva tr try to mediate these local values to a broader public.

It is certainly a brave effort by the curator Dra Hegyi to try to break this wall of silence between public and local values, and to bring art-actions from the blind spots of public attention to the overpopulated public square of Moszkva tr. At the same time, it is very problematic to institutionalize all these free and independent artist initiatives and to ask an institutional-state's jury to select and judge initiatives and art-projects from a living art-scene.

The paradoxical situation is that the committee is not The Other or a faceless power; it's us. Some members of the committee were more or less randomly selected out of all those who built up this art-scene during the past few years.

Maybe expectations about such a project are set too high. Instead of just one, there should be a series of such exhibitions. As for my part, of course I can contribute an object or a performance. But it is at least as important to keep this platform open and try to balance the dangerous tool of such a functional committee judging and selecting works from the Budapest art scene.

The art scene in Budapest during the last two years was based on dialogue and strong engagement for a free communication, and not just on the production of artworks. As for me, this remains an open question.