Going Around, Coming Around, Gone
András Gálik – Bálint Havas – Borbála Szalai – Tünde Topor
Little Warsaw: the name refers to the activity of a freely organised, open group, as well as an artistic experiment that has been undertaken since 1994, mainly by two artists (it is an open set, though), who, as it is made perfectly clear by the choice of their name, have taken it upon themselves to consciously tackle the fact that their artistic activity is embarked upon in East Central Europe.1
Path, 2011 painted plaster, photo on cardboard, wood, 40 x 62 cm
Photo: Miklós Sulyok © Kisterem
Tünde Topor: You tackle all material concerning you in a very emphatic, very controlled manner. It is apparent that due to the very characteristics of your activity, our interpretation is, in fact, part of the oeuvre. Do you have a vision where you would ideally be placed by art historians, say 50 years from now?
Bálint Havas: I have absolutely no positive opinion as to whether there will be historians in 50 years’ time at all... Still, this whole thing does have some minimal spatial and temporal dimensions. Well, I have a somewhat active relationship with our project to be completed in six months or the one entitled The Battle of Inner Truth, exhibited in Trafó two years ago, but as for the other ones, I treat them as if we had never had anything to do with them. What I mean is, it is inevitable for me to take into account that they are my past to some extent, but giving that a thorough consideration gives me the same feeling every single time, i.e. that taking the image our past projects into account in a serious manner would make things have to look very, very differently. What I feel is that regarding this issue András and I represent pretty different, I would say almost opposing views, unconsciously, too. Inside me, I sense a far more active relationship with the past, I mean as though I wanted to interfere with it, while I find András much more accepting, and I have the feeling his motives are more strongly focussed on keeping something alive.
András Gálik: No, I definitely don’t consider the past to be something completed. I share the opinion that the past is constantly with us and in that sense it keeps changing. Everybody agrees with that, I suppose. It is only made more conspicuous in our case because there are two of us.
Borbála Szalai: Does this kind of active relationship with the past also manifest itself in the connection between your old and new works? As far as your current works are concerned, in what way do you tend to consider how they fit in with the earlier ones? Do you find this kind of self-reflection important?
BH: We used to, but the urge has diminished to some extent. Now I tend to consider that issue to be a bit more complex, definitely not like this: there is the artist and their chain of ideas, their works representing the individual units within that chain. I used to experience artistic activity as a process totally independent of anything else, while now I believe that co-operations and inspirations run parallel within a far more compound system. I sense some more complex functioning within reality than a linear time dimension in which things result from one another like in a nice, orderly chain of thoughts. Our works have never been either the basis or the purpose of our activity. They are much rather the products of those. I perceive everything including our creative activity within art as a process which can be divided into sequences and such sequences can be linked to this or that objectified product. However, I do not even necessarily interpret the realisation of the process solely as an object. We no longer imagine art as something solely consisting of objects, even though material realisation is obviously important, but only as one of several dimensions.
TT: Let’s step back a little bit in time, and focus on the very beginning, say the entrance exam at the Academy of Fine Arts.2
AG: We took that exam in 1990, during the college education reform process. We were aware that new teachers were due to arrive, and they would pick out some students for themselves. As for the newcomers at the time, I was most familiar with Zsigmond Károlyi and the name of Dóra Maurer, and I remember anxiously waiting to become Károlyi’s pupil.
TT: How come you knew Károlyi?
GA: He was a teacher at ”Kisképző” Secondary School of Visual Arts2 and although he did not teach me, he taught Bálint. A highly respected person, he was.
BH: At the Secondary School of Visual Arts, he was my drawing teacher for two years. And by the time I went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, he’d moved on to teach there as well.
TT: And then both of you became Károlyi’s pupils?
AG: I didn’t. I became Maurer’s pupil but also attended Károlyi’s classes.
BH: Neither did I, actually...
AG: Bálint studied graphic art, because he had done so at the Secondary School of Visual Arts, and me, painting.
BH: I attended Károlyi’s classes from the very beginning, which was one of the first meeting points for András and me. At the Painting Department, there were about twenty of us orienting ourselves towards the new teachers, quite quickly forming a small community as well as personal relationships and friendships with the active participation of such teachers as Károlyi, Maurer and Baranyai. For instance, the Warsaw Art Colony, an event of great importance for us, was organised by Maurer.
AG: Then we stayed on, and travelled all around Poland.
TT: In a speech at an exhibition opening, József Mélyi once talked about how difficult it was to imagine an artist duo during the creative process. How does that work out for you?
BH: I wouldn’t think that should be mystified in any way, especially as everybody’s life contains some co-operation. It is the same with us, even though it is a special kind of co-operation, partly because it has proved to be really long-lasting, over a great number of projects, and also because, in fact, with such widespread activity, after such a long time, it has become part of our artistic output itself, i.e. one of the aims of our activity is to keep our double act alive. Even deciding how this co-operation is to function and what the common points should be requires considerable effort. All in all, we have been able to invest a lot of energy in it, and experiment in a really versatile way.
Pallet, 2002, oak, maple and nut tree verneer on EUR-pallet, 80 x 120 x 14,4 cm
Photo: BWA Warszawa Gallery / Bartosz Gorka
TT: Was there a blueprint?
BH: When we started working together, and even before that, we encountered certain examples, but mostly reacted to them with rejection. We seem to have preferred developing everything spontaneously. For a while, we had no idea how stable or permanent these things would turn out to be, but they did.
AG: I clearly remember that there was no blueprint. I mean, we were aware of this or that duo, but treated them with indifference. At the same time, things were not that smooth back then, so we had ventures in common, but – partly because of the Academy, I guess – we were also involved in parallel, separate activities.
BH: Up until we came to use this name, Little Warsaw. Having a name for ourselves, as a gesture, pretty well marked that from that point on we attached a higher significance to our co-operation, or rather, we were more ready to accept it as a framework for our activities. That there was a mutually outlined identity, and we tried to unlock our potential within that.
BSZ: What triggered your co-operation?
AG: Secondary School of Visual Arts was quite a formative experience, at least for me. Come to think of it, that was where I first encountered the art scene, different generations of artists, as well as the children of a specific generation, i.e. my classmates. It had been a totally alien, unknown milieu for me, and it was there that I got to see how the whole thing was constructed, socially speaking. Before that, I’d had no idea how this whole “being-an-artist”, “making-a-living-as-an-artist” thing worked. I gathered information about what artists were, how they lived, what an artist’s potential career looked like through artists’ kids. I came across an existing network excluding me. I found it totally alien, and perceived it rather critically, which gave me a far better insight into something that I was, figuratively speaking, rolling towards. I deem this an important detail; too, as it could possibly have been harder for us to work together had we both come from artists’ families. The Secondary School of Visual Arts was a fossilised place, and leaving it behind gave me a chance to start to deal with the question what this place, this Hungary was about and what it all looked like from an artist’s point of view. When I met Bálint, we were both tackling that very issue. In fact, our conversations, and whatever we did seemed to scrutinise on that.
TT: How thoroughly would you say inventing the name Little Warsaw was thought through?
AG: I don’t remember dwelling on it too long. Actually, it was an obvious choice since not long before that we’d had an exhibition entitled Little Warsaw. Admittedly, we overdid theorising about certain things – shamefully and unnecessarily – while totally neglecting such basic, cardinal, fundamental questions by simply making a decision. It was one of the issues that seemed evident at the time. Even back at the Academy of Fine Arts, our observations determining the discourse among us got to involve, quite naturally, where it was that we were, I mean, geographically speaking. I mean Hungary, Eastern Europe… Consequently, in connection with our trip to Poland and our exhibition at the Polish Institute, we spent a lot of time dealing with this issue: what is this “Warsaw”, then? We discovered for ourselves that it was, in fact, a utopian city, which resulted in the Little Warsaw exhibition, whose title partly refers to the small-scale model of Warsaw we’d created for the exhibition. Basically, we assumed we had identified ourselves with this city located in Eastern-Europe, which was a utopia at the same time.
BH: Fundamentally, we had the experience that there was a horrible hunger for Western culture, which is still the case today, but it was more so in the ’90s. This kind of Eastern European self-definition is still highly complex-ridden, but in a sort of way it was even more full of complexes back then. Which is why, with this Warsaw-centred self-image and the other things we were involved in, we felt pretty lonely at the beginning. True, Újlak was there as a reference point, but that was more like a counter-identity. I’d say we were trying to define ourselves in relation to them. Doing some travelling in the ’90s served as great reinforcement thanks to coming across a few examples showing that artists’ unprompted, independent actions did indeed exist. What we found ourselves involved in, say in London, in Rotterdam or anywhere else also came as reinforcement: the situations, the contemporary art scene and activists’ self-definition. In such places there were precedents for institutions run by artists and for self-organisation. However, it all became more real during the mid-noughties, when we more frequently travelled to Berlin, and certain relationships and co-operations got to be formed there. It also mattered a lot which direction we were to take in the post-Art Academy, post-academy-reforms situation. You see, our adolescent socialisation, I mean during secondary school –being already aware of a lot of things, but not yet involved in independent activities – happened during the late 80’s, when the alternative scene, counter-culture, and even taking part in the activity of the political opposition really existed. All said and done, the people we gravitated towards later, already in a completely different situation, based on their art, came from that milieu or had maintained some relationship with that milieu, mentally, regarding their intellectual orientation. Therefore, we got hold of quite a great deal of information originating, in essence, in an earlier political era and the relating civil attitudes. Also, during the ’90s there was a widely held image of the world, i.e. that there was Situation A, i.e. where we were, and there was Situation B. And quite positively, we assumed that we were moving from A to B. B was that thing called “the West”, and the idea was that what we had here didn’t use to be the West, but now it would! On several occasions, obviously, one was not aware of that being the basic equation; still, all in all, everything got placed within that quasi-developmental process. Interestingly, it has turned out that it wasn’t the case at all.
Fence, 2012, neon, electric equipment, 56 x 60 cm
© Photo: András Földes © Little Warsaw
BSZ: Up until approximately the year 2000, you emphasised defining your position in this manner in your portfolio statements through the following sentence, which even got included in the entry on you in the Lexicon of Contemporary Art (Kortárs Művészeti Lexikon): “Hungary is not a province but a periphery.” Currently, how would you say you relate to this statement?
AG: It is still valid. “Province” refers to “provincial”, while “periphery”, here, is not used pejoratively, but as a mere factual statement defining a position. Little Warsaw knows its place in relation to this, which is really essential, given that many artists are deluding themselves in connection with this issue.
TT: In other words, they regard the place they were born in as provincial, as opposed to you, who...
BH: That slogan was created in 1995, but we still found it relevant in 2000. Incidentally, before it’d got incorporated in our statement, it was simply a sentence included in an official letter, written during the second year of college, requesting that the Warsaw Art Colony be held again. And from then on, it got inserted into each of our statements until about 2000.
BSZ: At the time of the Biennale and the subsequent international invitations, the statement started to recur with less frequency. Was it the scene around Little Warsaw or the way you related to it that had changed?
BH: Retrospectively, that statement seems totally naive to me. Nowadays, we refrain from making any statements about any country or region, and have no such kind of identity. There was a time when we were not specifically related to anything, so we identified ourselves with something that was generally true about us, but after a while it all became much more individual. After 10-20 years, you are bound to realise that your life is only partially defined through such general identifications, whereas specific relationships and networks keep gaining importance. Knowing what I know today, I find such a self-definition ridiculous.
TT: Going back to your Little Warsaw exhibition at the Polish Institute, was that in fact the first one you staged as Little Warsaw?
AG: Actually, that was not a Little Warsaw work yet. However, it was after that show that our sub-activity at different vacant sites such as Hajós utca4 took off, already under the name Little Warsaw. Whatever emerged at such places had already been the work of Little Warsaw.
BH: At one point, in 1999, we made that Little Warsaw sign to be mounted on the wall in Paulay Ede utca. That instance got us to announce, “ladies and gentlemen, lo and behold, Little Warsaw”. By then, we’d been working together on projects for four or five years, but our earlier works had appeared under the name András Gálik– Bálint Havas. But as soon as we found a name and we gave it a form, we went on to use it quite frequently; we worked on the name, its articulation and form. Again, it was just a phase as, in relation to the Biennale, we made yet another decision on how Little Warsaw was to appear outside Hungary.
AG: We were going to use that name translated into the given language in each country, but then it turned out that, although it was a good idea, it was not very practical because it could have led to us becoming unidentifiable in various situations.
Detail of the exhibition at Platán Gallery entitled Crew Expendable, 2007
Photo: Georgios Makkas
BSZ: As for the name Little Warsaw and its form, you seem to strongly emphasise its visual impact even on such surfaces as posters, invitations and photographs of you published in the media. What and how you communicate about Little Warsaw through them appears to be an essential, controlled element of your activity.
AG: That stems from some sort of lack of trust. Whenever such media-related situations have occurred, we have had a vision, based on what being an artist in Hungary, and in our small circle, really is like. And that includes how an artist appears in the media, doesn’t it? Well, we are prepared for that, for instance, insisting that all photographs of us to be published be taken by eyes that guarantee accurate representation.
BSZ: The majority of the photos have been taken by Lenke Szilágyi, who, by the way, also photographed your work entitled Mate, exhibited at Kisterem.
BH: Our concept was that, fundamentally, a photograph like that was a performative situation. So it was us who imagined what there should be in the picture and Lenke Szilágyi’s photographic or compositional style became an instrument to that end. In effect, we had made studies for that picture, but when deciding on the final form, we made use of an outside point of view, which is now part of the picture.
BSZ: This photograph is the first occurrence of yourselves becoming part of your self-representation in the form of a work of art. Earlier, the visual aspect of Little Warsaw’s self-representation had been more abstract. It had appeared more like some sort of institution. What made you decide to open in this direction?
BH: Well, now we think that Little Warsaw is two people. And this statement, in the same way as the Little Warsaw sign is regarded as a work of art now, has got manifested in the form of a work of art. Even within a given developmental process it does change what we consider a work of art. Back when we created the Little Warsaw sign it didn’t occur to us that it was one. One keeps experimenting, mapping boundaries and new dimensions. This photo reflects our current vision of self-portraiture: this is where we are now. We have either represented ourselves as two skulls cut into two, or by having our portrait drawn or photograph taken, well, the way I see it, it’s been something continuous. Once we went back to "Kisképző" Secondary School of Visual Arts and asked the third-year students to let us stand in for the models at a portrait drawing lesson, which resulted in a series of portraits, a previous manifestation of our self-portraiture.
Little Warsaw is Dead, 2008, interactive light installation, aluminium, wood, electrical fittings, 50 cm x 400 cm + 133 cm x 16 cm x 80 cm
© Photo: Thomas Wrede © Little Warsaw
TT: Are the hands also such self-visualising gestures? They almost have a logo-like quality.
AG: That’s a whole series we have recently worked on, with several further elements. An infinite form, which quite accurately reflects our activity so far, a sequence that could be repeated infinitely. With a giant leap, I could compare it to Qualities, for example.
BH: What we have here is a line drawing. Very simple, it could almost be labelled geometrical; still, it accurately portrays these hands connected to each other, creating a peculiar structure. What makes it interesting from the point of view of the execution is that the neon tube continues in the electrical wires as though a line proceeded through different materials. We chose transparent neon, the neon tube itself is completely water-clear, letting us see the material of, or rather, the colour of the gas inside.
Helmet, 2012 concrete, 40 x 31 x 34 cm
Photo: Miklós Sulyok © Kisterem
TT: You started using neon a long time ago, but your best-known neon appeared at the exhibition reconstructing one of János Major’s works. A red star and a star of David flashed alternating, but built together. The exhibition was one of your reconstruction shows.
BH: Our idea was to reconstruct performances, the performances of these guys who were the stars of the ’60s and ’70s subcultures within the progressive art scene, or had already attained the position of elderly artists, each in their own ways. We had Tamás Szentjóby, György Jovánovics and János Major in mind. We wished to make sure their position was one that was alive by reconstructing performative works, co-operating with them, getting them to participate, to appear in the shows. We called the series Tableau Vivant. The first and most obvious choice was Szentjóby because we had already established a direct, personal relationship with him, which he further encouraged after the Biennale. We’d known him as a teacher from the Art Academy. Secondly, we were very interested in Jovánovics as the national sculptor, but he resisted it all, and as a third element we thought of János Major, a completely different case from the other two. In the end, the co-operation with Szentjóby got realised in a flash, Jovánovics hesitated and ended up saying no to us, quickly setting up an exhibition, or actually, several, based on the very same period of his, while the way János Major saw the whole thing was simply that us contacting him about something was not the worst thing to happen after all. Well, what kept happening at that time, for years, actually, was that again and again we reconnected with the Budapest scene only to find ourselves totally skint within six months, having emotional issues as well, so half a year was always more than enough to get us down horribly. After six months we would find we’d had enough and were back on the road again if only to look after our health. It was impossible to keep in contact with Major from a distance, so our plan failed to be realised in the end. However, the Crew Expendable exhibition was a spin-off of all that. Anyway, there had been this conversation with János Major going on for years. We were seriously researching something, whatever it was, and came across that tiny star in the corner of a graphic sheet. As for this whole thing, we found it paradigmatic that when you finally managed to get blood from a stone thanks to years of research, what he quite gingerly took out of his drawer after two years, and what turned out to be the essence of the whole thing was the size of a fingernail, in the corner of a sheet. As a direct opposite to that, the same form was in fact really one of the focal points of at the exhibition, occupying a wall, flashing into your face right in the middle of Andrássy út. (Incidentally, it was exactly at the same place, by which I mean literally on the same square centimetres of the wall of Platán Gallery with the flashing stars that our work Flag had been exhibited a few years earlier. In fact, being aware of that made us choose this particular toolkit: the classic modernist colours (red, yellow and blue). At the same time it has its paintedness and drawnness, as well as a very strong presence as an object. As for the star, we never hid the transformers, they actually served to emphasize the objectness of the object, i.e. the neon was not merely a beacon, a signal of light.
TT: We started off with the hands and the neon. To what extent did its retro quality encourage you to pick neon as a medium?
BH: Yes, there was that, we wished to make a reference to pop art and the era as well. For instance, it was talking to János Major that made me realise what a fundamental experience pop must have been for them. There wasn’t anything about it ever to surprise us, but they had been astonished, having actually been socialised surrounded by notions such as “academic”, “elite”, “high art” only to encounter something that claimed that there was this passage between high and popular culture. Which came as a shock for them.
Game of Changes, 2009, video, 6'30''
BSZ: In a sort of way, the hand motif also refers back to the exhibition you are talking about...
BH: Absolutely, you are right. We came across the basic hand motif during field research, photographing doodles on the desks of the Secondary School of Visual Arts classrooms where the general subjects were taught. Also, we did a small sub-project in connection with the Flag exhibition going back to the Secondary School of Visual Arts and making ourselves the subjects of a portrait drawing session. (Later, two of the drawings were featured on the invitation.) As early as at that exhibition, the basic issues such as public space as well as the dichotomy of pop and academicism, and of high art and pop art were already raised.
TT: To what extent did the Károlyi video belong to the reconstruction series dealing both with the art scene defining your activity to some extent and with the predecessors?
AG: In comparison with the others, Károlyi’s was a different story because whereas as far as Szentjóby or János Major were concerned, we’d only had impressions, and hadn’t lived through the situation we reconstructed, we had known Károlyi as a teacher, although I’m not sure if we’d really thought of him as a teacher among ourselves. I attended those Károlyi meetings even though I was Mauer’s pupil, where he came in, once a week, and launched into these very serious monologues. At that time, they were really interesting, entertaining, even edifying. Still, it belongs to the series: in the video he talks in respect to his former self, too.
BH: The way I see it, the most important difference is that while we met the others as independent, grown-up artists, and quite successful artists at that, our relationship, especially my relationship with Károlyi is actually rooted in our childhood because as I have already said, he became my drawing teacher for two years when I was fourteen. Which makes a big difference regarding the realisation, too. That project is a different perception of a different person.
AG: Károlyi was interesting as a career model. He taught at the Art Academy at the peak of his success, still, there was a break in his career, too. Thus, the video we shot with him evolved into a certain definition of a position. Because while it was shot, we were also theorising about what exactly being an artist meant.
BH: So what we concentrated on was how it worked for him, what things looked like from a certain perspective, but also how we could relate to the same, with respect to the mutually impactful relationship we’d had with him during a long and important period. Which still exists, to some extent.
TT: And how far was it driven by your own fear? In other words, what made focussing on Károlyi interesting, apart from the personal relationship?
BH: He was significant in relation to public space and he was emblematic from that point of view. And also, obviously: how far are those patterns inevitable? That despite all the insight you might have, it is very difficult to tackle the different events of your own fate differently. This work of ours is investigative and analytical. A process of becoming more conscious of being an artist and of the role of the artist.
TT: But do you feel that you share a common destiny in any way? That it could also happen to you that things are working out fine but then suddenly you wake up full of doubts?
BH: Working on that particular piece, we were already in a slightly better place, but a few years earlier we’d been under terrible pressure as we’d suddenly found ourselves in a situation where we had to communicate with the world coming from a certain milieu, but already from outside that milieu, about that milieu, but only in our own name. Eventually, that film is about how such pressure becomes an insoluble problem for someone. How he experiences it and why he is not able to experience it in a positive way. Or to what extent he actually is. Because it also becomes clear that he still relates to his career in a positive way, too. In our case, for example, our work called Little Warsaw is Dead is a very important product of reflecting on how such stress and pressure becomes destructive. The idea first occurred to us after the Biennale, and it became one that was constantly present in our communication for long years. It underwent several phases, it was constructed and reconstructed for four or five years, and finally got to be completed in the form of a light installation. It embodied how we got to be aware of how the stress we’d undergone over the Biennale had led to self-destruction. Which, I feel, stays valid in a paradigmatic, wider context, also referring to the scene we move around in.
Deserted Memorial (Elhagyott emlékmű), 2004, wood, 173 x 46 x 88 cm, plaster, 203 x 119 x 22 cm
Photo: Plan B Gallery Berlin
BSZ: But what caused such stress? What sort of disappointments did you experience regarding the Biennale?
BH: Experiencing what Károlyi also mentions in the film, that at one point, suddenly, something makes you feel that you are not cut out for the role. However, our co-operation enabled us to plough the self-destructive impulses back into a process that was constructive at least to the extent that the project had got completed. On the whole, it is some sort of sublimation, which, I reckon, was only possible due to the fact that there were two of us.
AG: Actually, there was also the issue that Little Warsaw’s outsider’s position in relation to institutions, yes, our keeping a distance from the whole institutional system ceased to exist due to our participation at the Biennale. And because of the Biennale, we became part of not simply a structured institutional system, but of a very brutal and rather unfriendly one at that, which, added to the fact that it was something we were totally unprepared for, made it really hard to bear.
TT: What was unfriendly about it?
BH: We were unfriendly.
AG: We were supposed to co-operate with an institution. Firstly, we were unable to; secondly, it would have been impossible. As a result, even though there was an institution to arrange everything in connection with the Biennale appearance (Műcsarnok [Kunsthalle Budapest], and, back then, the director of Műcsarnok), we set up a different one based on the Hajós utca model inside the then vacant Divatcsarnok (Fashion Hall).5 Parallel dimension were created, and dealing with the situation was everything but smooth. The Biennale was certainly very attractive, but then we lost some of the levity which obviously derived from being outside the institutionalised circles. Personally, it really, seriously got me down. After the previous years, the whole Biennale situation proved utterly disappointing. I had no idea what it was going to be like, and then, suddenly, we experienced the worst possible form of it. Well, Hungarian institutions are ostentatiously unprepared for anything new, and unable to deal with the situations originating from the novelty.
BSZ: Several of your works deal with the scene directly, not just as indirectly as Little Warsaw is dead did. In what way has your relationship with the scene changed since Hajós utca?
BH: Nowadays we try to outline the situations we function within more specifically. Consequently, we rarely rely on such notions as scene. That sort of experiencing the world that there is me, potentially a collective individuum, and there is a given, limited, perfectly outlined community level which can be defined through some forms of functioning, which creates your public image, now this way of thinking has changed inside us to some extent, which is to say, it is not how we deal with things any more. Actually, I’m not even sure how far we used to, or how far others thought that we did. Yes, in our early period, between 1995 and 2003, we did have this idea that there were us and there was a given community, consisting of a couple of hundred people and those linked to them, and that was our communicative space. This is how we tackled it in the Hajós utca period, for example, but things have changed. Incidentally, there has been a more general change concerning to what extent our thinking is framed by notions of a wider community at all. This position of the outsider we placed ourselves in was quite a neutral position, which we were very proud of for a long time. First of all, this position enabled us to communicate directly with completely lay people, and to communicate in several directions, in parallel. This sort of open communication was as important as the fact that by creating these independent places, things stood on a substantially more civil basis. It was like a community. Unfortunately, when this outsider’s position of ours had vanished, so did this whole situation. It vanished.
Borbála Szalai: You have recently made several mosaics where the pieces are laid on the floor next to each other without any sort of grouting. The same technique was used when creating a work at the Bucharest Art Colony in 1997; however, whereas that mosaic could be seen within the framework of an exhibition, the form of presenting the ones you have created recently is more event-like, it all happening at your studio. Photographs are taken of the mosaics on each occasion; however, they can only be seen live while they are being assembled, and only by the few people invited. What made you choose this closed, albeit event-like form of presentation?
Bálint Havas: What is important for me here is experimenting... Working on it. And it really doesn’t matter whether this work is artistic work or not, although it is true that one aspect of work is usefulness, i.e. relating to others. For example, in the case of artistic work, that aspect may be communication since an artist’s endeavours communicate with the spectator, at least optionally, and offer the spectator the opportunity for communication. What is important for me here is the notion of the spectator, i.e. how far they can become a participant, which may depend on how an artist defines their own activity, to what extent it is a closed, one-way utterance, or to what extent an artist’s work is structured in a manner that creates space for genuine participation. In a sense, it is a very general issue, and obviously, the realm of artistic experiments provides us with plenty of details regarding this general topic. Here, in this case, our starting point was, apart from the interactive situation, that it wouldn’t be a one-off, but there would be several occasions with repetition creating a process. Consequently, we do not relate the activity itself to one fictitious spectator, but try to open it for the actual participants within a process, step-by-step, as if going through a chain of ideas.
András Gálik: Let me just add that Péter Barta’s participation in this series proved really important joining our experiment with a new form of art collection as one aspect of these exclusive events, which has made the realisation of the series possible.
(1) See http://artportal.hu/lexikon/iranyzatok/kis-varso
(2) Academy of Fine Arts (Képző), officially: Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts (Magyar Képzőművészeti Főiskola) and has been called University of Fine Arts since 2001.
(3) "Kisképző", officially: Secondary School of Visual Arts (Képző- és Iparművészeti Szakközépiskola)
(4) 41 Hajós utca, a studio and exhibition space hosting exhibitions, talks, and film screenings initiated by artists and the Artwork of the Week talk show project. It functioned between 2000 and 2002.
(5) In the period of the preparation for the Biennale, the relationship between Julia Fabényi, then Director of Műcsarnok, and Little Warsaw deteriorated. The new system in which it was possible for those wishing to participate at the Biennale to submit applications had been launched in 2003. In that first year the winner was Zsolt Petrányi, with the Little Warsaw project The Body of Nefertiti. Little Warsaw moved into the then unused Divatcsarnok, and had their studio, exhibition space, and Biennale office there. The administrational and financial problems that occurred in the Ministry – Műcsarnok – Little Warsaw’s Biennale office triangle ended up jeopardising the whole project. The funds that finally enabled their work to be completed and exhibited at the 50th Venice Art Biennale were raised thanks to private collectors.
Fordította: Vizi Katalin