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The trial year

1970. Ten days after the death of the Balatonboglár parish priest, who had facilitated the realization of the chapel project, renovation work began as a result of a self-organizing process started by József Magyar. (I would like to briefly introduce the participants to illustrate the composition of the group according to its different characters). The Budapest volunteers, who also contributed 100 forints per head to the cost of materials and/or helped in the work, included Ferenc Balogh (a night security guard and a Catholic, a former scholar at ELTE expelled because of his attempts to defect), Attila Csáji (painter, teacher and organizer of Szürenon), László Haris (photographer, mechanical engineer, a Catholic) József Magyar (freelance graphic artist, homeless), József Molnár V. (graphic artist, type setter, expelled from ELTE, served time in prison in 1956, a Catholic), József Tóth (musical conductor, Catholic priest from Újpest).

The renovation work was of such a small scale that the entire cost of the materials was covered by a pooled sum of 500 forints: a horse-drawn carriage full of sand, lime and the transportation costs. I had already acquired the cement and more expensive building materials. The neighbors lent us the tools and equipment needed for the renovation. József Magyar was the one of the volunteers who worked the most with me. He broke open the bricked-up windows which were high up and did all the difficult work on scaffolding, carved in the nooks for the window’s security bars, did the repair plastering, whitewashed the ceiling and later he was the exhibition attendant. Ferenc Balogh and József V. Molnár did all the manual work along with us. Apart from me, the only other people to spend the night in the uncomfortable chapel were Ferenc Balogh and József Magyar, who were both penniless. Spending the night – alone in the empty space of the chapel – was quite testing on the first few occasions. The wind was always blowing up there on the hill and in the total darkness the good acoustics of the chapel amplified every sound. The tree branches beating against the corrugated iron roof and the whooshing flapping about of bats – until I realized what they were – evoked the atmosphere of a haunted castle.

In the week “off work”, before the whitewashing, I organized a trial exhibition for myself from my own work so that I could at last see some pictures on the walls. It was interesting because the magical effect of the exhibition put me at ease with the night sounds and the haunted castle atmosphere disappeared. In the meantime, one thing I did was to have a two-winged wooden door fitted into the entrance to keep the rain out. I used some wooden boards and paper templates to make the “institution’s” first public information texts, i.e. the signs directing people from the village to the Chapel Exhibition.

According to my earlier promise, I would have dedicated the first exhibition to József Magyar, who had just whitewashed the chapel, but when the Szürenon group’s exhibition material arrived from Budapest, I was surprised to find out that “they” had already decided the exhibition program for the whole summer. Some of József Magyar’s works played a part in the first exhibition when he was the attendant. Unfortunately, I found out only later – again – that on the opening day of the Chapel Exhibition, when the public had already gathered, Attila Csáji had arrived and “chased away” József Magyar, because he was “selling” his drawings. (László Haris told me what had happened and the quoted expressions are from him. (I have felt terribly sorry for József Magyar ever since).

The first printed invitations and catalogues were made for the opening ceremony of the Chapel Exhibition. I learned from the printed material that the public had been invited by “the creative group of the Chapel Exhibition”, which was the Szürenon group’s version adapted to Boglár and of which I was also a member. This meeting, which was more of a SURrEalist and NONfigurative Weltanschauung, was an upsetting and unusual event. I stood in “the empty space”, feeling shocked and astounded amidst the events in the company of the many celebrating, friendly, elegant men and women of Budapest and Boglár, who suspected nothing.

Judging from the series of surprises, it seemed as if there had been some kind of fundamental failure in communication, and as if I had become involved in an unavoidable misunderstanding. When a week earlier we had been discussing the catalogue, Attila Csáji had raised the question of doing exhibitions as a group (as a tactic to trick the authorities) but I was decidedly against it. However, when he did not want me to check the proof at the printer’s, I was overcome with a bad feeling. I reassured myself that if somebody wanted to work with another person, they would not do anything against them. It didn’t make sense.
Apart from this misunderstanding, I made an effort to understand Szürenon’s artistic concept, but this is not relevant now. However, I thought it was useful that while contemplating the artistic “life project” of the chapel, I would try to demonstrate some of the progressive values of the works displayed in the trial year. Gyula Pauer’s idea of pseudo-sculptures, according to which “something does not appear to be what its original form suggests”, came across as the most original concept. However, the real novelty was that a sculpture is not a sculpture, but rather the demonstration of an idea, i.e. a conceptual object. Furthermore, the most important thing is “attitude”, i.e. how we relate to a given phenomenon.

The art critic of the literary review Élet és Irodalom [Life and Literature], Géza Perneczky, described the pseudo-sculpture thus: “Gyula Pauer’s special sculpture composition is worthy of attention […]. It consists of metal plates, and it is a polished up cube on the surface of which an entirely different order of shapes can be discerned since a crumpled, wavy body, the broken surface of another cube otherwise of equal size can be seen on the plates of the cube, like some kind of photograph. […] The illusion of a softer image created by moving life loosens the rigidness of the abstract forms. This idea and the strikingly simple realization are certainly a significant step in Pauer’s career, while further combinations of it promise a new path in sculpture using painterly effects.”[1]

I regarded Sándor Csutoros’s two sticks hammered out of copper rods as a powerful work. It was a borderline case between an invented natural object and a made, “informed” object – the sculpture – and at first it was difficult to decide what it was that I was looking at: a “sign of existence” or a document of the shared cause of the road and the wanderer? Then there were the works of Péter Türk, titled Heraldics, which were fictitious essays on heraldics – the unexpressed creating the impression of being expressed. From another point of view, they are both distinct pieces of concrete art. Finally, I would like to mention two structuralist serialist works that were dire opposites of each other. With some modules cut out of paper, Ferenc Lantos experimented with ways to create visual systems that would be completely at variance with each other. In his work titled Five Small Bronzes, Tibor Csiky worked with organic sculptural elements in his composition: the positive and negative forms constantly changing and continuing each other are kept in endless movement by the polished bronze surface, like the surface of water. The sculpture, which dissolves in the light, successfully models the minute possibility of perceiving ephemeral reality.

Summarizing my experiences of the summer, the message of the trial year was: a work of art is nothing other than the demonstration of an idea, a borderline case documentation, something unexpressed being expressed, a system brought into being through modules, the model of cognition.

In connection to the summer, I would like to note a personal event. I shared the SZOT Prize with Pál Kő for my painting titled The Door for our Descendants at the Debrecen Summer Exhibition, which would have meant that I would be included among the artists who could be supported by the state. After this, I decided to give up panel painting and instead continued with the visual experiments I had started in 1968.

In the autumn the Boglár district council was still taking seriously my intentions of planning and carrying out the ground works on the cemetery hill and the construction of an artists’ house. The community council’s will to act was thanks to János Salamon, an administrator at the resort with whom I became friends during the summer.

“Uncle” János, a kindred spirit – had been an inventor in the ‘50s. He worked for the railways and noticed that only half of the coal was burnt up in the engines, the remainder then being thrown away. He found this waste very disturbing and so invented a furnace that could entirely burn up the half-burnt coal. He was even given a medal by the government honoring his invention but before he could make use of it, the project to electrify the railways was announced. This thoroughly warm-hearted man left no stone unturned in his efforts to make the Chapel Exhibition a success.

Because of the promising development of events in Boglár I began to consider the possibilities of technical developments necessary for the next summer’s operation. As early as 1970, I had thought a Budapest exhibition – with new participants – would be important as far as the program was concerned, in order to broaden the range of quality projects in line with my original idea. I wanted to connect the new projects with the initiatives that had already been started and to further strengthen the values of these. My general approach was continuity: to create something not only in Boglár and not only in the summer, and to operate not like a partisan act but as a cultural organization process. I didn’t want to come and go as an easily dismissible local symptom, but instead appear as a movement-like network. (It was this very idea that the Artpool project was later built on, and indeed, upon which it is still working.)

I did not consider organizing the Budapest exhibition – which was to be on a large-scale - by myself, so I discussed the plan with Attila Csáji and offered my assistance. At first Attila tried to talk me out of it, as he didn’t think it was possible to get the right people together at that time, nor did he think the date was suitable. Running out of arguments, I declared in a forthright manner that I would just do it alone if he didn’t want to help. My determination broke through his resistance. Convinced of the importance of the exhibition and initially in agreement with me and then independently of me, he finally organized the exhibition under the name “R”.

The preparatory meetings and discussions were held at Attila’s place on October 20, in József Molnár’s flat on October 26, at Oszkár Rihmer’s place on November 4, and on November 10 we got together at Oszkár Papp’s. The “R” Exhibition, which was originally due to open on November 23, was rescheduled to December 1 and finally opened on December 14.

Without any doubt, the significance of the “R” Exhibition, beyond the event itself, was that it also manifested my own hopes that I had linked to it: continuity was commenced with a “self-assembling” organization operating as culture or a movement-type network. 

It is interesting to look at the participants of the “R” Exhibition from the perspective of the Chapel Exhibitions.
In 1970, the following people exhibited in Boglár:
The Szürenon exhibitors included Attila Csáji, Sándor Csutoros, István Haraszty, László Haris, István Ilyés, Ferenc Lantos, József Molnár V., Oszkár Papp, Gyula Pauer, Nóra Temesi, Péter Türk; and not included in the group were Tibor Csiky and György Galántai.
The following did not exhibit in Boglár in 1970 but they did later: included among the Iparterv exhibitors were Imre Bak, András Baranyay, Miklós Erdély, Tamás Hencze, György Jovánovics, László Lakner, János Major, László Méhes, Sándor Molnár, Tamás Szentjóby and Endre Tót; not belonging to the group was Péter Donáth.

Endre Tót probably had the biggest and best mailing list with a lot of important foreign addresses. We got together at his place on Kerék Street to merge our mailing lists and to address the invitations. The merged mailing list transformed the scale of the events that followed, because correspondence was the most preferred method of “underground” communication during this time. This was justified by the spread of correspondence activities by Fluxus and conceptual artists and by the ever-increasing art networks which later embraced the whole world.

“The most interesting features of a complicated period that brings transformation are the paradigms of the period” (Ken Friedmann). It was a coincidence that in the first year that the chapel programs were banned, in 1971, the Hungarian art paradigm shift began along with the appearance of conceptual art. As a result, during the progression of the Boglár events two areas of conflict arose, which, although differing in content, took place simultaneously: an internal and an external one. The internal one: the different approach of those who adhered to the project’s self-development and those who did not, the external one: the confoundedness of the state, which only saw things from one viewpoint. The classical model of conflict was applicable in both versions: the conflict between those who lag behind and those who are progressive.

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[1] Géza Perneczky: Három kiállítás. A boglári kápolnatárlat. [Three Exhibitions. The Boglár Chapel Exhibition]. Élet és Irodalom [Life and Literature]. 19 September 1970. p. 12.

[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]