[previous chapter]

The year of the paradigm shift

1972. In high politics the problem of soft dictatorship emerged in connection with the new economic mechanism, which meant the same as the so-called “middle T” in cultural policy, i.e. politically non-threatening independence was tolerated by the system to a certain degree. Analyzing the art of the sixties, the party headquarters came to the conclusion that “in artist circles being an outsider, pursuing romantic illusions, skepticism and the new-leftist intolerance are all fashionable and thus must be countered”.[1]

Some art events in Budapest: István Haraszty’s exhibition titled Play Art was banned. The Avant-garde Festival (organized by Tamás Szentjóby and László Beke) was banned. Gyula Pauer sent his circular letter titled Death project to thirteen Hungarian artists and six of them replied (Attalai, Bak, Tót, Erdély, Hencze, Türk). Pauer has never opened the envelopes containing the replies. László Beke was unbelievably active: he sent circular letters to Hungarian artists informing them of international art events; he announced his project titled Paving Stones and Gravestones, which he later displayed in Boglár. He launched a Letter periodical titled Ahogy azt a Móriczka elképzeli [As a Simpleton Imagines It]. (Mail Art calls could be found on the back page of the 32-page art letter reproduced by typewriter.)

Events abroad: San Diego, California, USA, Fluxus West project: Ken Friedmann – in cooperation with the Transcanadian Flux, Ltd. c/o Image Bank – published An International Contact List containing 1233 addresses. Of the Hungarians it included the addresses of Gábor Altorjay (Cologne) and Gábor Attalai. Poznan, Poland, the “NET” global address list (project by J. Kozlowski and A. Kostolowski) with many Eastern European addresses, eight of the 210 being Hungarian. Galeria Foksal, Warsaw, Poland: exhibition of Miklós Erdély, György Jovánovics, László Lakner, Gyula Pauer, Tamás Szentjóby, Endre Tót.

While in Budapest I was taking great pains to do the preparations required for the jurying – thus complying with our “agreement with the party headquarters” and demonstrating “lawful behavior” – when a series of unexpected and unpleasant official proceedings were launched against me in regard to my private life. The series of apparently unconnected proceedings aroused my suspicion that perhaps the aim was to wear me down. The physical and psychological wearing down of enemies was not a new method for the “intelligence”, but it was new for me.

I was not too enthusiastic about the jurying procedure so I only wanted to participate with my name – as an exhibiting institution – I therefore sent to the “Lektorátus” the date of the first exhibition and a list of names of the exhibiting artists. András Orvos undertook and carried out all the other organizational work related to the juried exhibitions. I did not interfere in any way, not even in the question of who should exhibit. Since the decision about artists and works were going to be made by the “Lektorátus” anyway; I would only have discredited myself and my colleagues if – imagining a decision to be made – I had tried to comply with it – or not. Actually, I would not have even been able to foresee the jury’s irrational decisions, being an outsider and an artist “not like the others”. Attila Csáji offered the use of his flat for storing the works to be exhibited which were then transported from there to the “Lektorátus”.

In the meantime, the storm clouds of distrust were gathering in “Somogy country” (nickname for Somogy County, where Balatonboglár is situated – transl.). The county supervisory body was regulating permits for programs and exhibitions under a new, strict decree, and it informed every cultural institute in the county about this (doc. 43). The basis for this could well have been György Aczél’s previous autumn “lecture” (doc. 37). At the same time, the issue of the chapel’s status also cropped up: was it to be regarded as an exhibition venue or as a studio? The reason for the “problem” was that according to the law, even the exhibition material passed by the jury was only allowed to be displayed in venues that they granted permission to be used for this purpose. If in 1968, when I rented the chapel to use as a studio, the council had asked for an occupancy permit for the new function, it would not have been an issue. But this was not what it was all about, but rather – as everything indicated – the problem was that the representatives of cultural policy had gotten themselves embroiled in something they didn’t like, but they could not find any law in place to prevent it – or so I naively thought.

On the day of the jury process, András Orvos and I went to the “Lektorátus” because he thought that as representatives of the exhibition venue we could also be present at the jurying. He was wrong but we still didn’t go in vain because I was able to meet one of the jury members who, walking around in the jurying room, stopped in front of László Paizs’s work – expressly made for Boglár – and loudly exclaimed: “What’s this shit?” Since I was standing nearby I started to explain that this work was going to be exhibited in a chapel and therefore could be about a weeping willow, and it was made out of white wool because this was a reference to white sorrow, since if it was black (and why shouldn’t it have been black), it would represent sadness. Apart from this, I added, we both surely knew that artists work with meanings. The juror looked at me with surprise. I later found out his name: it was Pál Gerzson. (Whenever this name comes up, I remember that 17 years later I saw Pál Gerzson’s “self-portrait” of Stalin in Sweden, in the toilet of the art collector Lajos Layota-Takács). In the end the first jury consisting only of artists didn’t dare reject this material, thus two weeks later the “Lektorátus” invited art historians to join the new jury, which approved of the works they themselves selected and even wrote “theoretical statements” for each work (doc.48). The works that were allowed to be displayed in the chapel were given the green light, but the permission granted by the county and/or council organs for the chapel as an exhibition venue never materialized.

The title I suggested for the exhibitions organized from material divided into two parts was the number of the jury ruling: “K-358/72”, an idea with which everyone agreed. After this I asked my friend, Károly Schmal – who as a reputed graphic artist designing posters was regularly invited onto the jury – to design the exhibition poster invitation using the official minutes. He liked the idea because he understood immediately that the jury’s “image” was signified by the size of the works and an enlarged version of the rubber stamp they used for authentication. He wrote the text of appeal in illegibly small script. At this time the “Lektorátus” typed its rulings on pink paper and sent them in light green envelopes, and so the exhibition invitation was also made in these colors. At the beginning I didn’t understand the meaning of the “size of the works” and I thought it was a cheap joke, but when comrade Gulyás turned up in the chapel with the minutes recorded of the jurying and a tape measure in his hands to check the exhibited works I was shocked at how exact the above-described image was. What a chilling world this was, where a work of art was reduced to a figure. And what if the “authorities” made a mistake and a name was left out or a page went missing, as for example it did in our case? Ignoring the possible failings of his office, comrade Gulyás proceeded fully confident in his authority, and took the works off the walls that could not be checked against the items listed in his book.

The contradiction that surrounded the exhibition was that in a legal sense it did not yet exist since the same authority in whose name comrade Gulyás acted had not granted an operational permit for the chapel as an exhibition space; therefore, he had no legal right to supervise the exhibition. After protracted delays the president of the district council revealed that “a permit cannot be issued for private programs.” If the situation was so simple, any further jurying procedure was senseless, i.e. the authorities had scored their own goal in my favor and I again won some time.

I thought that from then on I would just authorize myself to make decisions without being granted permits. But to be on the safe side I maintained the facade of respectability through various actions. For example, I informed the leadership of the “Lektorátus” that the rest of the scheduled exhibitions to be juried would be cancelled for technical reasons. I requested that exhibitions of the Pécs Workshop and that of István Haraszty (banned in February in Budapest) be juried in Pécs. I requested a permit from the Ministry of Culture to present the Yugoslavian Bosch+Bosch Group, which of course was denied (docs. 54, 56). I still could not have known whether or not these actions had any effect on the psyche of the authorities or if they were just substitutes, but in any case at the time I felt that I had to do all this to stall for time.

Two days after the juried exhibition had been dismantled, the “Lucifer” of the party headquarters, Loránd Bereczky, made a personal appearance in order to offer a new opportunity to replace the “mild” cultural crime: offence against the public administration. “We can appropriate the chapel any time we like,” he said convincingly. (But it would take a year because of the pseudo legitimacy, I thought. I was able to conclude this because the lease contract I had signed with the Church – which I had drawn up – could not be dissolved by anyone but me for 15 years. Furthermore, the “path of legality” proclaimed by György Aczél meant a certain degree of obligation on the part of the authorities towards me. And acting under the guise of legality was time consuming work because they first had to produce enough false facts so that the “targeted person” would not be able to defend himself.)

From the beginning of July 1972, I regarded my attempt at communicating with the representatives of cultural policy as finished, and I dismantled the fair play exhibition with which I sought to comply with the agreement we made with the party headquarters. My experiences had to be allowed to sink to the level of “implied knowledge”, in order for them to become part of the underground – a naturally and characteristically outsider behavior.

What needs to happen and what actually happens tends to simultaneously engage the thoughts of several people. Béla Hap and Árpád Ajtony launched their underground publication made in five copies by typewriter with the title EXPRESSION – A Self-manipulating Spreadiodical (from the words ‘spread’ and ‘periodical’). The Soft-spoken Hungarian Underground Manifesto published in one of the issues was akin in its spirit to the Boglár events that were about to reach a turning point:

“WHAT IS THE UNDERGROUND? Unofficial art. A cultural »movement« which neither supports nor attacks the establishment but is rather outside of it. If it attacked the establishment, it would be acknowledging its existence. If it were a true organized movement, it would be playing the games of the superficial world. It does not ban its followers from addressing political themes, since, as a general rule, it neither forbids nor commands, and the emergence of such themes are always the private affair of the respective artist. The coordinates of the underground are free-moving coordinates.
What does the Hungarian underground want?
It wishes to be art that is unidentifiable, defies analysis, remains an outsider, and which cannot be appraised and corrupted. A PRIVATE ART.
Who does it address? Itself. One artist to another. Everyone who has a positive interest in it.
It does not seek recognition, but when recognition comes, it is appreciated.
What are the relationships like between those in underground? – Those of friendship.
The underground is anonymous. The underground is intensive. The underground cares nothing about fame, authenticity and copyright.
Underground is both wise and silly. Underground is indistinct. Underground luxuriates in freedom.
Whoever wishes, sign below!
Béla Hap”[2]

I made a conceptual version of one of my life signs in the middle third of the chapel’s coffered entrance door. I glued the Budapest and Boglár addresses torn from printed envelopes I used at the time into the middle of an X painted onto a white background. As a conceptual work, I made multiple copies of a succinct letter printed on letter-headed writing paper marked with “99 COPIES” addressed to the official administrators: I repeatedly stamped the words CHAPEL = STUDIO with a rubber stamp and the text “to be read to the end SEVERAL TIMES from close up” onto the bottom of the sheet. I regarded this as perhaps a little childish, but at the same time surprising and unusual “letter-art” and as a gesture marking the end of my relations with the authorities. I painted over the tourist sign on the tower of the chapel changing it to a “road sign”.[3] The new advertising medium of the chapel project now had a dual meaning. On the one hand, it indicated that the only route for cars leading to the chapel was being converted into a ditch along its entire length – for sewage purposes – and thus prevented access for traffic throughout the whole summer; on the other hand, being set high up, the sign could be interpreted as a symbol of the “transport” (progress) of intellectual communication that cannot be impeded. Later (1973) I returned to the road theme and made another sign of ambiguous meaning indicating “main road” for the entrance. I placed the caption “PRIVATE PROPERTY” in tiny letters in the middle of the sign. The verbal and visual meaning worked simultaneously as a metaphor: “the main road is private property” (for them), or “the private property is a main road” (for us). Such inventiveness pertaining to the perception of our location – the interpretation of a life situation as art – arose from my spontaneous inner need and was instrumental in safeguarding my healthy sense of humor. The goal – in an intellectual sense – was to stay alive; and every artist in the Boglár “hill of culture”[4] worked to facilitate this. The “jury” was replaced by self-control and solidarity and from this a euphoric state of life experience arose that was formally unknown and thus difficult to explain but nevertheless is often mentioned in recollections of Boglár.

Back in spring, after the banned Budapest Avant-garde Festival, I had met László Beke and we talked about how the project could be smoothly transplanted to Boglár in the summer. We agreed to set a date later on but in theory the organization work could begin. At the time I could not definitely decide whether to keep my promise to the “Lektorátus” or to immediately launch my new “mode of existence”. I asked Beke what he thought of this but he didn’t have any thoughts on it and merely said this: “it’s your affair”. Beke came as we had agreed and nobody wanted to exclude anyone with Conceptual Art, which was described by Ottó Mezei in his memoirs as a genre of exclusion.[5] So in “my affair”, looking at it from the perspective of Conceptual Art, my decisions focused on the possibilities – rather than being elaborated in detail – and they were consistent decisions. I was often sorry for the seemingly pointless loss of time, but I had to learn that I could only win valuable time if I was also able to lose some of it.

On July 6 (1972), Gyula Pauer arrived and later Tamás Szentjóby with the idea of the DIRECT WEEK, and they immediately got down to work so that it would be ready for the next day. They were not arranging an exhibition but rather applying tools through which “some feedback could be achieved” The artists from Pécs also arrived with the objects they had planned to use to do a landscape correction in the chapel’s environs. In the following days more and more people arrived, and then an unusually large-scale police action during the night, to check identity papers, made me realize the significance of the event under preparation.

This was the first open police action aimed at individuals. Pauer called this event “instructive”. Perhaps because it operated as a kind of trigger in the radical change in the meaning of the “location”. The effect of the unexpected event was obviously much  greater than in other cases, because in this place that we imagined as an island of freedom it stood out all the more. This overt warning by the police made the concept of freedom quite clear, or as Miklós Haraszti said: “You were free to do anything that in their estimation did not rock the foundations of the system. But there was a fist in their pocket. They made sure that […] nobody forgot about that fist..”[6]

The material for the exhibition and the whole festival – including the actions and screenings – consisted of conceptual studies/experiments and pieces. Ignoring the political meanings for the time being, I will now endeavor to look at the works from the point of view of their sacred meanings. The first work I would like to mention is Tamás Szentjóby’s Exclusion Exercise, i.e. his Punishment-preventive autotherapy, mainly because at the same time I will also talk about his object work, the Conflagration Model. The Conflagration Model, subtitled Prevention, is related to the Exclusion exercise. Punishment-preventive autotherapy. With questions that can be posed to himself, the “self-accused” left the questions of crime-confession and crime-punishment open. In the metaphorical confessional situation, Szentjóby was sitting in the dim light with a bucket on his head; isolated, like a priest in the confessional, and, with this bucket on his head, like a guilty person confessing his sins and awaiting forgiveness – he had two roles at once. The Conflagration Model also had two roles: conflagration is hell and punishment, and the little flame of the model imitating a conflagration signifies forgiveness, like the candle light of a church.

I based my approach to Tamás Szentjóby’s works on the fact that Miklós Erdély had made several works in Boglár that could be interpreted in a similar way. One of them – a spontaneous action – is documented by Dóra Maurer’s series of photographs titled Once We Went: Erdély held a reversed bell-shaped flower (a poppy) at a suitable distance from the chapel, before the tower window, where the bell should have been. (The other black and white photos taken of spontaneous actions were also about the “mementos” linked to the chapel building. Most of the pictures have a religious theme and show known figures in situational drill-type poses.) Erdély did not give a separate title to his setting, thus it must have seemed as if he was making a joke from a merely “formal point of view”. But this was not the case, since in 1973 he wrote in his Repetition Theory Theses: “we render perceptible the non-existent through a reference to memory”, i.e. he remembered the missing bell based on a similarity of forms. He does not depict (!) things because he believes that it would substantially reduce the depicted.

He brought nonsense titles written for his second work titled Firewood: The Proletarian of Fuel and gathered the right kind of firewood for each title in the environs of the chapel. Titles included Épater-le-bourgeois Firewood, Firewood against Demagogy, and Half Firewood etc. The installation of carefully selected twigs for these nonsense titles worked as a frivolous sermon in the chapel. Looked at symbolically “in the chapel/in the universe (the chapel as the symbol of the universe) Miklós Erdély was a “preacher”/agitator (firewood) who/which wished to convince the “faithless” and strengthen the “believers” in their faith with the tool of the “sermon”/agitation (titles) and the strength of his knowledge (fuel).

Autotherapy and the use of ephemeral tools motivated Gyula Gulyás in the action in which he put himself to the test. He attached as many clothes pegs as he could bear to the upper half of his naked body. The sacred reference of the action was akin to the crime prevention method of the “self-accused” but beyond this there was a new motive not yet made conscious: the haggard body.[7]

It was only later that Gulyás gave his action the title Body Marks, which merely referred to the action’s Minimal Art result – the small, purple square marks left by the pegs on his body. In any case, it was interesting because it turned out from this that in this stimulating (immaterial/intermedial) environment it was possible to receive good impulses from the opposite pole.

Gyula Pauer had arrived at the conceptual border of the pseudo-idea when he wrote titles on the pedestals of sculptures and he even surpassed this with his MOBILE, an interactive pseudo sound sculpture, which worked in the following way: he had written on the pedestal that if the viewer were to give out a shout, he would hear a singing voice, which actually came from Pauer who was on the gallery. It was an interesting coincidence that at the same time István Haraszty made his first interactive, electronic sound mobile, the Vurslitzer – expressly for the Boglár exhibition – which was built on the idea of silencing the singing voice, an exact reverse of Pauer’s concept. It is likely that they did not know about each other’s work because at the time they were not on good terms. Pauer’s “mobile” incorporated the dialogue model of the Catholic liturgy: the shout accords with the priest’s supplication in Latin, to which Pauer responded from the gallery (called the chorus in Hungarian – transl.) like a choir of angels. The singing is a profane song repeated over and over, which Pauer called circle singing. “Circle singing” (kör-ének) is a play on words in Hungarian, since it is almost identical to choral singing (kar-ének), which is the singing of the chorus, i.e. the circle of angels – and if I could go further – the “circle” of the angels is the halo. Halo means glory – glory as recognition in the heavenly world – and it also means goodness. On the earthly plane “goodness” and “recognition” correspond with each other: the world of the pseudo.

Perhaps some people would think the above line of reasoning to be far-fetched, but the concept of the DIRECT WEEK was to use tools through which feedback could be achieved, i.e. in which the audience would not be spectators but active participants. If the audience entering the chapel would become active participants, the works in the chapel that arose from religious inspiration would also inevitably be interpreted by them in a religious context. For me the chapel was just as much a cultural given as where I was born and why I was doing what I was and not something else.

Few ideas could work in the space of the chapel in which there was not any associative or analogous element that could be related to “the sacred”. Such an exception was Gyula Pauer’s Pseudo Advertisement during which – in cooperation with Miklós Haraszti and Júlia Veres – he did an improvisation to my compilation tape of famous hits of the time in three languages: Hungarian, English and Russian. The chapel “behaved” interestingly in response to the profane and unexpected sounds. With the meaning of its interior architecture it began to operate as a cultic laboratory. The chapel’s transformation into a laboratory marked a new starting point in the development of the chapel project, a cultic situation prior to the birth of religion (“If something doesn’t exist, but will, then it does exist.”) i.e. it was as if we had experienced the moment of the birth of culture through the audience.

None of the previous live concerts held in the chapel were so distant and yet so close to the original meaning of the chapel space, as I would have wanted. This is why in 1972, when I had electricity installed in the chapel, I thought I would test the “possibilities” of the chapel’s interior from an acoustic point of view. It was an extremely interesting experiment: I used the records and cassette recordings at my disposal to cover the full range of musical possibilities I was curious about. Alternating genres that were very different from one another – e.g. Gregorian music was followed by rock music, or organ music was followed by a jazz improvisation etc. – producing a strong emotional effect.

Post-religion, post-history or post-art art equally explore their origins in life situations, akin to religion. Péter Legéndy, who had read his poems in the chapel exactly a year before (1971), when the first prohibitive decision was issued by the authorities, had by this time developed his “APPEAL ART”. Legéndy took Pauer’s idea of the museum information card and Beke’s Idea project further and developed the Boglárian real absurd into an even more absurd genre with his Appeal Form. Simultaneously, another real Boglárian absurd happening was going on for a year, beginning with the break-in into the crypt in November 1971. I first reported the burglary, then inquired about it, appealed against the decision, proved my point, filed a complaint, requested the damage caused to be assessed by an expert (the investigation was closed because “the lease contract signed by the injured party was deemed invalid for the chapel”), and I submitted an appeal against the second decision that stipulated the closing of the investigation. Finally, in October 1972, the Somogy County Public Prosecutor’s Office rejected my appeals in relation to the repeated break-ins with the explanation that according to the Fonyód District Police no intrusion had occurred; therefore, the suspicion of malicious willful damage did not arise. Thus, Legéndy is right: APPEALS ARE THE ART OF THE PEOPLE! – which can be read on his model appeal form. He describes his work as having two sides to it: “on the one hand, it handles social situations as immediately usable elements, on the other hand it is the product of communication between the competent social and state organs.” Moreover, in this sense “LAW = the realization of the claims made by the human mind, both in regard to the laws of morality or the specific rules of law – is the result of the »good« or the »bad« mind in operation.”

Legéndy identified another main area of the “art of the people”, namely the aesthetic relations inherent in eating and the appropriate social behavior. He expressed this in his text written for his deep-frozen Plum Dumpling box work. With this conceptual work – as the parabolic manifestation of the material demands made by the human mind – he marked the other endpoint of his thinking. He metaphorically created his self-defining worldview with its two endpoints being the “appeal form” and the “well-shaped dumpling”, representing an intellectual and material substance, respectively.

Now that I’ve managed to understand the “art of the people” so well, let me render my reinterpretations of some – already mentioned – works. My starting point will be Pauer’s sameness-otherness image of the purely visual representation of the Marx-Lenin face which – in its political sense – is also a conceptual work. A simple method is applied here: if one reality (Marx) is properly masked, then another reality (Lenin) emerges. If I “unmask” the sacred meaning of the works exhibited in the chapel, political meanings will emerge. The right method of masking is defined by the contours of politics, the taboos. Given the political context, interpretation becomes extremely simplified. The brushwood as the proletariat of all fuel (Miklós Erdély) makes a mockery of the communist party slogan “proletarians of the world, unite”. The conflagration model as a form of prevention (Tamás Szentjóby) mocks authoritarian rule by pointing out its weakness. The exclusion exercise of the self-sentenced (Tamás Szentjóby) – punishment-preventive autotherapy – makes a mockery of the ruling organization by excluding it from the deliberation process. When politicized, some manifestations of the otherness of sameness, the sameness of otherness, paradox, concept and tautology become “mockery”.

There was a last exhibition – bypassing the “Lektorátus” – with the participation of a jury, i.e. the one staged by István Haraszty and the Pécs Workshop (Pécsi Műhely), which was evaluated by the jury in Pécs. I regarded the show – and the selection process – as an act of solidarity with the ban imposed by the Budapest jurors on István Haraszty and his kinetic sculptures. The ban was justified with two reasons, one of which concerned the genre: mobile structures were not formally classified as belonging to the genre of sculptures and works of art, i.e. in contemporary terms, they formed part of intermedia. Even a steel sculpture or a screen print could be qualified as non-art in those days. The other reason was that dealing with a serious theme without being requested or permitted to do so was unwelcomed at that time.

Haraszty’s interactive sound mobile, called the Vurslitzer, was made as a work of art with the aim of making money. Haraszty – a metalworker from a poor family – found it hard to understand that the decorative work he did at his workplace earned him a salary and that the exhibition organized from the artworks he financed on his own was banned. His sound mobile was also a tool to earn money but it worked the other way round: money was paid in order to silence the “sound-work” played from a tape recorder (a repeatedly played part of one of Hanna Honthy’s hackneyed arias). The operetta was blaring so loudly that it could already be heard when approaching the chapel, and it was outright unbearable when one was inside the exhibition hall. If I had had enough money, I would have kept inserting two-forint coins in the box all day to have some peace. In any case, Haraszty sponsored his stay in Balatonboglár from the inserted coins, which was reassuring proof of the success of his artistic idea. My only source of income came from the “collection box” placed at the entrance to the chapel, but my earnings from that were slashed by the “silence purchases”. This unforeseen thing was quite awkward because I never told anyone about my tight financial situation and it was quite hard to explain to Haraszty why I couldn’t dine out with him. In the end, I was left with no choice but to explain to him that I could not afford it, but he didn’t believe me. He argued that I could not possibly be managing the chapel project if I didn’t have enough money. When he returned from his lunch, he said he would find my money. Do so, if it makes you happy, I responded. It was a warm summer afternoon and all the visitors were by the lake side. He “rummaged” around in every nook and cranny of my place from the attic to the cellar in his usual precise, painstaking, thorough and finicky manner, but he found nothing. Then, embarrassed, he said: “you are even more cunning than me, now you can tell where you’ve hidden your money.”

Another interesting story I remember in connection with Haraszty was our joint action titled You will Open the Exhibition Today. Visitors were only able to get inside the chapel if they bent down and entered underneath a ribbon. The interesting aspect of this action was its two possible interpretations: in Haraszty’s view, those who bent down and climbed under the ribbon paid tribute to us, letting us know that we weren’t doing our action in vain. For me, however, the important element of this situationist event was not the way people acted but the decision they made before their action – to which the title alluded. I wanted to make visitors aware that responsibility lies not only with those who show something but also with those who look at it. I wanted to symbolically shift the responsibility laid on us, which is why I named this action an action of assuming responsibility. This idea of mine was further popularized a year later by Péter Legéndy in his appeal written to visitors. (picture no. 59).

Péter Türk did his experiments involving question marks first in the chapel and then in its surrounding environment. The only thing you can do with a question mark, I thought, is to make the things denoted by it questionable. However, in his experiments Türk found a way to nullify the question marks while they were being used. The idea for nullification came from the semi-circular arch of the chapel. He glued question marks on one side of the arch as a frieze and by the time he reached the other side, the question marks were positioned upside down, thus voided of their meaning. With this semi-circular method Türk made the question mark obsolete. Then, he glued the question mark – now made obsolete – on the pedestal of the crucifix in the graveyard, hoping that perhaps in this complex environment of signs, it would assume a new meaning: that of the “unquestionable”.

After, but not unrelated to his question mark experiments, Türk did an Obsolescence action, in which he used an X sign. The symbol X is both a letter and a number, but Türk only applied its visual meaning as in crossing out and eradication. (The following small script was inserted between the lower stems of a printed red X spread across an A/5 sheet of paper: “Timed X, glued on objects, things, etc. comes into effect after the using-up or depreciation of these. It itself becomes instantaneously obsolete the moment it enters into effect. T. P. 1972”) I do not wish to dive into semiotics, so suffice to say that in this action Türk accomplished in one step what he had done in two steps in the case of his question mark experiments, while in terms of content he reached the exact opposite meaning. (This probably served as an inspiration for my question mark–exclamation mark idea I did in the following year, when I attempted to represent the questionable and the definite as one.)

I described Türk Péter’s works exhibited in 1970, called Heraldics, as unformulated, fictitious essays creating the impression of being formulated, and from another point of view as powerful pieces of “concrete” art. Türk’s use of the question and exclamation  marks in his explorations into the unquestionable and obsolescence are about the two endpoints of existence; but because of the concept, they are/were expressed with the tools of Concrete poetry.

When Türk finished his action, I asked him to photograph my Sign action, a work that may have been inspired by Haraszty’s interpretation of the Assuming Responsibility action, but which was different from mine. With my Sign action I managed to express how the same thing can be attributed two opposite meanings. There was a motoric “spinning top” at Haraszty’s exhibition, in the middle of the chapel, between the floor and the ceiling, similar to those that we used to make with thread and a button in our childhood. A square-shaped contour – painted on the floor – was left behind by Haraszty’s sound mobile. I interpreted this contour with my body in two opposite ways: with my spontaneous action, in which I used no tools, I showed how the same sign can be used to express both the physical and the spiritual aspects of existence. Stepping inside the square in a squatting position with my limbs crossed, my body becomes a sculpture and the sign my pedestal. However, if I lie down on the ground with my arms extended – as on a crucifix – in a way that the sign is above my head, it will be my halo. In other words, the sign marked out by the meanings of feet and head will be as distant from itself as the meanings of the two markers, i.e. the feet and the head. Applying it to the sacred, the theme of my Sign action is the prayer: the one praying appears in one of these positions, while the one prayed to in the other. This could also be interpreted as cosmic self-expression, the ars poetica of the chapel project, or the prototype of my subsequent works about self-identity, behavior and communication.

In 1972, to develop his international relations, László Beke announced his world archives and its services in Budapest: “World-Archives – Organization! – Critics! – Documentation!! – Theories!! – Exhibitions!(?) – Publications!(??).” He compiled the Hungarian issue of the international avant-garde periodical, the Hungarian SCHMUCK (Beau Geste Press), with the participation of twenty-four artists.

The Meeting of Czech, Slovak and Hungarian artists at Balatonboglár was the project of art historian László Beke: it was a Concept Art event derived from a Fluxus attitude. “The basic concept of the friendly meeting is the documentation of the friendly meeting.” At this time Beke, in a Concept Art sense, was a project artist, or in other words, a self-appointed curator, just like I was a self-appointed institution. These fictitious appointments, the proposition of things that do not exist in reality, led the appointees to a better knowledge of reality. Things of fiction and the imagination, as opposed to fabrications and phantoms, were techniques used by the intellectuals and the artists of “the happiest barrack”. Concept Art and Fluxus were compatible with this partial world.

In the gossip column for the meeting I must say that for a long time I thought that Beke was a “movement-maker”, who was building a new worldview through the consistent use of his many ideas and approaches – including those of accidence and coincidence. I was not alone in my insistence on this misconception which grew out of the need for new Hungarian art to have – at least one – committed, gifted, consistent and self-sacrificing theoretician. If Beke had “institutionalized” his world archives, he could have become a leading Hungarian figure of international Fluxus, but he chose another path and institutionalized himself as a spokesperson. In a Pauerian sense the spokesperson, like the institution itself, is a form of the pseudo, since “the pseudo is a way of life for modern man, and the key to appear confident!”.

László Beke recommended three humorous ways for the anecdotal way of life for social beings: words, handshakes and tug-of-war. Collecting more than one hundred words that are the same or similar in Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian was quite a challenge but it was worth it since in this way the textual identity of the trilingual gathering was created. The visual representation of our belonging together was created by everybody shaking hands with everybody and the photographs taken of each handshake being arranged in a diagrammatic tableau. The tug-of-war evoked a shared peace camp time memory from 1968 but here the rope was replaced by a photograph taken of the event and published in Pages, an international art magazine at the time. To quote Beke’s words, theoretically: “it is not a mere hint at politics but the magical destruction of a quasi-image as well as a picture within the picture situation”.[8]

In November I finally set off on my first hitch-hiking tour of Western Europe, something I had been planning for a long time and which I really needed to do in order to be able to realize a European standard event I had planned for the next year at Balatonboglár. The cities I went to (Vienna, Munich, Paris, Darmstadt, Kassel, Cologne and Düsseldorf) offered me practically every artistic thing that was seen as important at the time. Now I find it rather difficult to be fired up by the things that impassioned me then: that everything was available all at once and there was an amazing variety. Of course I filtered everything through my Balatonboglár plans and I envisioned a small version of the Dokumenta in Kassel in the chapel of Balatonboglár.

I discovered Depot, “an alternative art space”, in Cologne by accident, on a photocopied poster in the street. Depot was a small, private art institution in a garage in the backyard of an old block of flats in the centre of the bustling city. The white-walled garage was furnished like an office and the function of the place was only suggested by the “archives”, i.e. a shelf full of dossiers, organized alphabetically. A long and narrow staircase led downstairs from the corner at the back. Down below was an arched, wine cellar-like, large and dark space in which two people were showing b&w slides with two projectors. After each series of slides they discussed something and projected the same slides in a different order. The images were of simple objects, pillars or human figures placed in landscapes in different positions. Coolness, distant elegance, pictorial information meant not for the eye but rather for the intellect. I saw a lot of similar contextual-conceptual works at Dokumenta, too, on photographs, films or objects. At that stage I did not understand what “alternative” meant, but the place with the small archives was memorable.

A significant political event at the end of 1972 – which also impacted art in Hungary – was that pressured by Moscow and the “sister parties” János Kádár sacrificed the implementation of the new economic mechanism and stopped reforms. His statement seemed to forecast the background events to the next Balatonboglár summer: “Our main ideological weapon is the Marxist truth and its proclamation. We never denied that we would stick to the administrative method of imposing bans whenever necessary.”[9]

[next chapter]

[1] Cited by Miklós Szabó in Beszélő évek [Conversing Years], 1972. Beszélő [Converser], 1998/3, p. 49.
[2] Béla Hap:Soft-spoken Hungarian Underground Manifesto. EXPRESSZIÓ – self-manipulated spread publication, 1973 (Source: the copy in Artpool).
[3] In traffic the road sign means: You must follow the direction indicated, for example in the case of traffic diversion.
[4] I gave this title to the film I made in 1992 conjuring up the Chapel project. (Kultúr/Galántai/domb [Culture/Galántai/Hill], MTV, Studio V., Fríz Producer’s Office, 1992).
[5] Interview with Ottó Mezei. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[6] Interview with Miklós Haraszty. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[7] “In the late Middle Ages religious people often called attention to themselves – initially in the cells of the monasteries and then increasingly so in public places, by professing their unbounded atonement as followers of Christ and their devotion to him with their haggard bodies.” (Gábor Klaniczay: Elgyötört test és megtépett ruha. Két kultúrtörténeti adalék a performance gyökereihez [Haggard Bodies and Torn Clothes. Two Contributions of Cultural History to the Roots of Performance Art. In: Annamária Szőke, (ed.), A performance-mûvészet [Performance Art], Artpool-Balassi Publishers-Tartóshullám, Budapest, 2000, p. 158.
[8] Interview with László Beke. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[9] Pártélet [Party Life], December 1972. In: Mária Ludassy: 1973. Beszélő, 1998/4, p. 58.

[The chapel project]   [Reality and dreams]   [The trial year]   [The year of everyone]
[The year of the paradigm shift]   [The last kick-off year]   [The Finale]