[previous chapter]

The last kick-off year

The last year at Balatonboglár – the first “vacation” without compromises – took place on the borderline of the possible and the impossible. In other words, 1973 was the year of a political nightmare and the greatest artistic performance at Boglár. Since I regarded my plan – if it were to be realized – as a model, I decided to do everything possible to make it happen. Some people looked at my action as a suicide mission, including Sándor Csutoros, who thought even three years later that “since I wasn’t finished off in the process, I must have been an informer”.

My idea of a “small Hungarian Dokumenta”, inspired by the big Kassel event, did not seem to be an impossible undertaking because by then I was “battle-hardened” and knew everybody who I thought mattered quite well. I designed the order of events randomly, based on the availability of the participants. I had decided long before I began organizing the event that the first exhibitor in 1973 would be Júlia Vajda, an excellent member of the older generation whose work is “listened to death”. She translated the invitation, which was written in five languages. I loved being in the company of Júlia Vajda, because she was such a sensitive and erudite woman, and also because the imaging methods and visual thinking of Lajos Vajda made a fundamental impact on the start of my career. I designed the invitation for the final version of the program, printed it and sent the copies to the participants. From this point on the program worked automatically, meaning that everybody took their own participation seriously and did what they had to. Thus, my work in Budapest was over, so I travelled to Boglár to manage events.

Autonomy had a price. Apart from my camera and the equipment I had in Boglár, I had to part with all my belongings that could be sold to implement the carefully planned, perfectionist series of events involving all the arts. I also cut my personal expenses down to the bare minimum. (I even saved on food, and it seems I overdid it because I once collapsed in the spring as a result of malnutrition and had to be taken to the hospital for a few hours.) Preparing for the worst, I attached blank money orders to the invitations so I could use the support thus received from the participants to realize the project. The money orders helped me out but in the autumn I was only able to pay the fines imposed on me for breaching the architectural and fire safety regulations – this penalty could have been changed to detention – with my parents’ financial help.

Headed by the police, the executive agents – not the cultural organs – were on the alert. No sooner had we finished the renovation, decoration, and other preparatory jobs and mounted the works for the first exhibition on the walls – with my helpers still recovering from the hard work – then the police arrived and arrested five people. This police operation at dawn was no longer a warning, like the year before, but rather the opening act of the background events that accompanied the “small Hungarian Dokumenta”. Thus, the show commenced, the dramaturges of the political charade swung into action, and the functionaries of the executive apparatus armed themselves to annihilate the chapel project.

The members of the cultural administration continued their creative search aimed at finding overt political content in the artworks, but since they understood nothing of the exhibits, they had to leave empty-handed. It was quite a surprise that they did not take any action in connection with Tamás Szentjóby’s inscription which read: ART IS EVERYTHING THAT IS FORBIDDEN. BE FORBIDDEN! Similarly, Gyula Gulyás’s “plugged in pipes”, which I found glaringly obvious, invited no reaction from the authorities. They, however, found something objectionable in Péter Legéndy’s text titled Dear Visitor (posted on the door), which led them to comment that “Galántai will do a stretch for this one”, although I could never find out why. Finally, at the end of summer they found “the one”, which completely psyched them up: it was the poster for Dóra Maurer’s Szövegek/Texts exhibition. Returning on several occasions they kept trying to prove with almost hysterical excitement that the poster constituted proof of conspiracy: they found the 56 names (which was just a coincidence) an obvious reference to 1956, and they ‘noticed’ the word alliance hidden in the text: szö-ve-/ts/-gek = szövetség [alliance]; hence, a secret alliance... and it’s being international only made the event even more dangerous!! The strange cultural creatures kept coming back all summer despite my repeated assertion that it was not an exhibition and despite putting out the ‘private premises’ sign, etc.

I further confounded the functionaries by improvising mini lectures on the foundations of Marxist aesthetics and issues pertaining to social realism. On one occasion – when “my case” was last heard and cultural aspects were still considered – I exhausted five functionaries exclusively by virtue of my “Marxist” answers. My success boosted my confidence and later I held crash courses for the police. These confounding conversations were later only referred to as “a mere deepening of doubt”, an expression I read in December in the article published in the party paper about the Boglár project, where references were mainly made to police documents. When translating the documents into his peculiar Babelian-Hungarian the article’s author coined new phrases such as “happening in the crypt” that corresponded with the “project in the chapel” (a manifestation of the pseudo, as Pauer would say).

I applied a very important tactical consideration: never to confront the authorities head on because then I could only lose. When the first man of the party declared that “our main ideological weapon is the Marxist truth and its proclamation”, I thought that I must attempt to evade the administrative method used against us by providing an ideological illusion of the Marxist truth. I regarded my forced exchanges with the functionaries as spontaneous artistic (Fluxus) events which formed part of the chapel project and on the whole constituted “culture”. This might be the reason why ten years later János Baksa-Soós called me a cultural politician in a conversation – while I was away – but I personally would never have associated this expression with myself since I was simply trying to give meaning to my own existence.

The administrative method used by the authorities was not direct banning but a staged administrative solution – political Concept Art – proposed by the art historian of the party headquarters, Loránd Bereczky, in 1972, and he specifically requested its application to the chapel project. (document no. 73). His proposal was a common solution in the everyday internal affairs practice of the cultural department. A peculiar – and magical, as I saw it – thing happened with Gyula Pauer in relation to this. Pauer had three ‘empty pedestals’ exhibited in that year, one of them titled The STATUE OF LIBERTY (CONCEPT), which had been seen two days earlier by the deputy president of the county council during his visit to the chapel. He must have read the text next to it saying WHAT YOU IMAGINE TO BE HERE IS BREATHED IN BY OTHERS, and he might have wondered whether he himself breathed in freedom or he just imagined it. I was alone in the chapel and started reflecting on the meaning of the third text:
I KNOW YOU ARE HERE READING BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I AM. On the same day Pauer, not long after he left the chapel, was provoked incognito by undercover policemen, who later arrested him in their official capacity. At the police station the discussion did not focus on the reason for arrest but on the chapel and issues about art. Lo and behold, the inseparable unity of life and art, the perfect Eastern European Fluxus.

For a long time I did not understand why all this fuss was being made about Pauer or why it was being made at all. As I see it now, with his virtual image-text relation Pauer invented a “Fluxus virus” that operates on the principle of the pseudo but also goes beyond it. Firstly, the text is so simple that it is impossible not to understand it, thus, it is a spontaneous trigger; secondly, the text denotes a fictive image; and thirdly, the text and the fictive images can come into spontaneous interaction with each other. Pauer created a malleable and flowing (Fluxus) complex of signs in which space and time were indistinguishable. The smaller and the bigger, the material and the spiritual worlds are contained in each other. Finally, and most interestingly, Pauer’s work is none other than “theatre” at its best, or a play of ideas with the impossible to make it possible. Such phenomena not only render any authoritarian power speechless but also invite hostility.

It seems to me more and more that Pauer’s three empty pedestals were an emblematic piece of the year 1973, since it represented a part that encapsulated everything that happened to the whole. It was like a “bottle” with a genie in it – similarly to the chapel – that almost released the spirit of freedom. It is awesome how simple it is that the truly great things are inherent in the miniscule, in which there is virtually nothing.

Another approach to authority was made by Miklós Erdély, in his work GOD IS TINY. Religious people thought: God is not tiny but great, because in “God is great” could contain the discipline of religion and the fear of God, just like party discipline in the case of parties. No fear can be attached to a tiny God, so does GOD IS TINY constitute blasphemy?! Due to the strict religious education I received during my childhood, I devoted quite a bit of my time thinking about the questions of God and fear, and I saw this work as a kind of answer. For the purpose of contextualization, let me refer to a drawing titled Context, which Erdély produced later. The work shows a word drawn carefully in pencil in a childlike, or rather nondescript manner: Pista [Steve]. I interpreted the context in a way that if for me ISTván (Steven) is Pista (Steve), then we are friends; just like when ISTen (God) is tiny, we are friends also. And there is no fear between friends.

Another interpretation of Pista, by László Beke, is a personal one. One of Erdély’s half-brothers (who perished in a concentration camp) was called Pista, to whom he felt very close, thus the word was a magic gesture of evocation. Let me add that magic can be regarded as a kind of semantic overlap, as in the case of ISTen–ISTván (in English: God and Steve). If I apply this approach to the chapel, a caption in a tiny Letraset font that reads GOD IS TINY placed under a large photograph of Earth can also be seen as a magical gesture. Hence, what I see (the overlap) is not a photograph of Earth but (the image) of a metaphoric telescope exploring the Universe for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, and the GOD IS TINY caption is the personal in/out connection point. In the chapel that is now converted into an observatory, thus God and freedom sounds in a biblical sense as such: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”[1] A nice complexity of signs, and even the freedom of the spirit has a price, although it is not as high as it was in the case of Pauer: Miklós Erdély’s work was later interpreted as blasphemy by an upset believer and was subsequently destroyed.

Finally, let me quote Miklós Erdély’s thoughts from his work titled Mondolat [Conceptence (concept+sentence)]: “Since you will always find on the opposite side what you’ve turned your back on, you’ll never get lost.” … “If you can accept it, although not comprehend it, that the ever-smaller can only end up in the whole and the ever-bigger can only lead to the smallest possible, if you can accept it, although not comprehend it, that the miniscule is nothing other than the whole, you will always find consolation since there is nothing else that needs to be accepted.”

Another work Miklós Erdély made for Boglár, titled Poetry as a Self-assembling System guides visitors out of the room… and let me continue with Gergely Molnár’s ‘dream’: “The path leads out of the hall, i.e., rather the walls of the hall diverge, and they lead onto the rising hill into open space. Thus, the exhibition does not yet reach an end. The other pictures are on a valley-like steep hillside, as well as a few fractured ancient statues below, in the depths of the valley’s chasm. Just as previously, there are tombstones in this direction; intentionally indistinguishable, which are originals and which are part of the exhibition. But it is quite evident that everything belongs to the exhibition, the space is constructed in its entirety, and it is precisely due to this that the artworks adapt perfectly to their environs. As a viewer, I too become a part of the milieu; I belong automatically to the exhibition.”[2] The way guides us out of the room… “Objects, texts, etc., just as molecules in the »primordial soup,« in the course of their free (random) movements seek out their own »geometric loci,« taken in the poetic sense.”[3]

It is likely that Miklós Erdély’s essay influenced that of Gergely Molnár, but both certainly inspired me, in many ways and for a long time, and they helped me to self-assemble into a system, as if I was a poem. These essays are more than just written works, they are worldviews, prophecies, life techniques, teachings. In this sense the chapel project was a postgraduate training course, a self-assembling service and research institute; it created great value given that these works had a lasting importance and served as inspiration for a long time for many people, generated change, and were thus historically significant.

In his Repetition Theory Theses, Miklós Erdély expanded the range of questions further; however, he did not ask questions but gave immediate answers, i.e. he summed up his research results: “Since humankind can neither bear being frozen in complete sameness, nor to be dazed by incessant change and variety, it regards the sphere of similarities, analogies, rhythmicised change and dialectic periods as being its own. It seeks sameness in difference and dissimilarity in sameness. However, people of intellect can only find themselves in total change.”

The range of questions was extended by a paradox jointly formulated by Miklós Erdély, György Jovánovics and János Major: Can we consider it an avant-garde act that the three of them jointly exhibited a coat? The answer to the question was: with its impulse to innovate and to eradicate taboos the avant-garde started off as the art of freedom, but every single new work created a new prohibition sign. The solution would be the liberation of avant-gardism, which can be achieved through the termination of avant-gardism.

The coat – János Major’s suit jacket. A suit jacket is part of a suit; a man in a suit is a bureaucrat; “suitman” is an old expression meaning a person from a city, a kind of official. The only visitors to the chapel that wore suits were officials, thus the question applies to this situation: In what sense can the exhibition of the “jacket” be regarded as an avant-garde act? If the jacket – in the sense of a suit jacket – interprets the text displayed alongside it, then its exhibition is an avant-garde act, since it addresses the issue of self-sameness, which is one of the topical questions of Concept Art. However, if the jacket is only an illustration, then it is not an act, but even if it is not an act, from this point on it will become one because it tells you this: liberty, once expressed, is a taboo which is eradicated by the unexpressed it is opposed to in order for it to become expressed and thus a taboo, etc. Here and now the avant-garde act is that – although thus far it is unspoken – artistic permutation has been invented as an opportunity for “the new made permanent”, i.e. the avant-garde has really come to an end.

Then, a tautology: the wall is a wall. György Jovánovics carved out a square from the chapel’s white wall, then he filled it back in with gypsum and added a caption which read: WALL. The white gypsum blended in with its background, so later on the less sharp-eyed visitors could only notice the word WALL on the wall. Identification is an important and frequently used method in conceptual art, during which an attempt is made to impose order on the increasingly chaotic world of concepts through the application of tautological means. So Jovánovics’s work is conceptual art, but his “wall” is visually both there and not there, therefore, in a Pauerian sense, it is a pseudo work, which is confirmed by the other meaning of “wall”, i.e. pretence or facade. My third comment here is that this work is the only piece of Hungarian minimal art that meets even the most rigorous criteria of the genre.

“The primary objective of a minimal artist is to create works whose aesthetic index is just about »measurable«. The intention of minimal art is obvious: to call attention to the aesthetics of reality, the objects that surround us, through the faintly discernible beauties of the objects it creates.”[4]

This concept, pseudo or minimal artwork later perished, but my slide show taken of its making survived; as a result, the ‘work’ is a documented Fluxus event. Finally, let me add that this work by Jovánovics, which can be evaluated from various angles separately and concurrently, is one of his oeuvre’s – thus far unexplored – branching off and the turning point behind the “mystery”. I would like to highlight one thing in regard to the graveyard chapel: the mystery embodied by the covered-up, or WALLed-in urn, which was the first architectural version of Jovánovics’s works on a sepulchral theme.

The “concurrent perspectives” arose in Jovánovics’s oeuvre in another way in 1972, in a spontaneous action which Dóra Maurer documented in her photograph titled Egyszer elmentünk [Once We Went]. The idea was inspired by the chapel door, which was actually a piece of the wrought iron fence of the graveyard rotated from its original horizontal position into the vertical. Jovánovics asked those present to adapt with their posture not to the ground but to the door, i.e. the vertical should correspond to the horizontal (the vertical of the door). The photograph which was taken of the action is especially peculiar because it shows the difficulty involved in simultaneously being in reality and in the imaginary. A subtle political meaning could even be attached to this, which Jovánovics later did in his “image-eavesdropping”. Another point of interest is that the concurrent representation of the real and the imaginary in one image – in a very similar way – was realized by the Frenchman Robert Filliou in 1973.[5]

I named the only body artwork by János Major Élő síremlék [Living Tomb], which is interesting because it simultaneously shows two major areas of Major’s oeuvre, namely his etchings and tomb photographs. In the artistic context of the chapel and the graveyard I like to regard this work – independently of any other aspect – as a synthetic version of János Major’s and Ben Vautier’s Ego Art. In this synthesis the viewpoint of Ego Art is important, which Ben Vautier expressed ten years before in the following way: “Look at me, I am Art!” Major’s epitaph on the block of stone that is the pedestal for his work: “You lived for your art / You became its martyr.” In his body work Major stood on the block of stone with only a white loin-cloth on, like a Greek athlete, changing his posture at times. Under his feet was a Pravda, the Soviet party paper, as if he was saying: “Look at me, I am Art!” The hymnical timelessness of East and West, cold and warm, life and death, vitality and resignation exudes a particular Hungarian air: the art of existence. Magic: a way of life according to the principle of the “eternal return of the same”.

Major is one year older than Vautier and he also began doing his Ego Art in ironic etchings ten years earlier. Vautier also arrived at self-irony, balancing on the verge of the possible and the impossible like Major, yet, perhaps this chapel is the only place where they had a chance to meet in my imagination.

I thought of introducing the perspective of Ego Art at this point because it is linked to conceptual art’s seeking for tautologies and/or paradoxes. “I am me!”, or “Am I me?” arose from the pseudo nature of the given life situation we were in, and conceptual thinking offered an excellent opportunity for new and unusual answers.

György Szemadám looked for the answer to the question “Am I me?” in his large-scale action and exhibition titled Attempt to Identify. However, due to his actionist rather than conceptual intentions, he regarded the chapel as a forum “where one can put on a demonstration against and clash not only with authority but the whole world that surrounded us”.[6] Based on the dichotomies of action and reaction, the visible and the imaginary Szemadám constructed a dual self-identity enabling him to confront and oppose them to each other. In this Ego Art demonstration he virtually made his opposite I-images identical and, as far as he was concerned, ended his avant-gardist endeavors.

Let me add that György Szemadám was the first to be allowed to write at length about the chapel exhibitions in 1980 – in a positive sense – and he was even awarded for his writings for the reason that he bravely revealed the forgotten values of socialist culture.[7] Some months later – perhaps while Szemadám was still working on his article – my slide show presentations about the chapel exhibitions were banned and the case with the code name “Painter” was reopened and my observation was restarted by the ministry of the interior.

It was strange when soon after this I ran into Szemadám on Nagykörút [Grand Boulevard of Budapest]. He seemingly didn’t know anything about my case, so I just congratulated him on starting his career in journalism, and he invited me for a beer. I thought I could bring up the subject of my situation while drinking beer but it turned out he was in a hurry. It is a pity that we couldn’t discuss this because – as I interpreted it – the beer felt like a kind of compensation for not inquiring about my case. So this is what made our meeting memorable for me.

The other demonstration type project (in today’s terms: site-specific installation) we did was titled Szembesítés [Confrontation], subtitled: Order is the Parameter. I originally invited Sándor Csutoros to exhibit his work but then plans changed and he designed the “conversion” of the chapel together with László Haris and József Molnár V. Their co-operation started in Budapest, with the Lépcsőház [Stairwell] event, after which they did the Boglár spatial conversion as their second joint work and their third, and last, joint exhibition took place at the Technical University of Budapest. This shared magical space was unique since it combined the individual interpretations of the co-artists based on three different aspects, while it formed a visually unified, concise taut and pure work, which reminded me of a film classic, Kurosawa’s Rashomon, in which the participants and witnesses experience the same event completely differently. Sándor Csutoros said: “We used the language of vision, our work was the Chapel itself, in the capacity of a Court.” According to László Haris, “for a long time the title was Rekviem a kápolnáért [Requiem for the Chapel] because the whole thing was heading towards some kind of intrinsic destruction. This is what the requiem was about.”[8] József Molnár V. explained the same work thus: “We wanted to consecrate the space because we felt that the happenings – or at least some of them that took place in the chapel – desecrated it.”[9]

Before entering the “space of the happenings”, let me say that I think their work was obviously inspired by the pseudo life situation of the utterly unfair (staged) trial victimizing Csutoros and his wife. Therefore, the work presented the chapel as a metaphor for the Court – the scene of any imaginary trial – and cross-examination offered (could offer) the magical opportunity to compare the truth of any statement with the facts. Thus, the work did not actually “consecrate” the chapel but, metaphorically, the Court. If we say that this Court cannot be unjust – because “order is the parameter” –, then no memorial service, resignation, self-renunciation or loss of faith – the “requiem” in Haris’s approach – makes sense.

The attacks on the chapel exhibition never clearly defined the word ‘happening’ and generally used it as synonymous with ‘scandal’ so when it came to the ‘desecration’ of the chapel, any performance-like event was a suitable target. The most unfair criticism was directed at Péter Halász’s theatre. The one week stay of Halász and co. felt to me as if the pieces were part of the same continuous play. There was no schedule, nothing was really laid out, yet everything happened in the best and most precise way possible.

As Péter Halász said: “A poor recital or a poor reading of a text would have been nonsensical in such an environment. […] the situation we ended up in, and the way we automatically functioned inside it, came up with ideas and went ahead with them, was never focused on how the roles should be played but rather on the people who performed and what they actually did. […] Boglár was a very concentrated place […] the area was secluded so we felt that we were in a natural environment, but at the same time we were in a small town, a frequented resort really, and we were living in utter freedom, including the police atrocities and the way we handled them. The situation was bordering on normal.”[10]

The Madaras játék [Bird Play] and King Kong were performed in different versions in the chapel. Both were children’s story type plays for adults. King Kong presented a metaphorical tale of oppression coded into erotic symbols. In one of my interpretations based on the last scene: the play’s celebrated hero – who won over the oppressors – takes their place. From this point everything can begin all over again, the same way it was seen already – the same thing can be repeated. Another interpretation of the play, its explanation, was provided by the Blake texts.

According to Halász, the play was not a metaphor for power “[…] the William Blake texts in King Kong were texts of post-morality, i.e. the non-acceptance of the morality that rules over all and is used by all the representatives of power, not only of those that run a country politically and of those that execute such politics, but also the inner morality that directly surrounds us, i.e. in the street, among people, the morality that makes people say about each other whether they are good or bad […], in other words, even the morality of friends, the way they judged each other.”[11]

The situation almost seemed normal, as the police had not made an appearance for eleven days. On the night preceding the last day of the King Kong performances there was no place left for me to sleep in the chapel; as an exception, and for the first time, I slept in the crypt under the chapel which was used as a storage area. I had a strong feeling that just when I was not in the chapel something undesirable would happen. Since I always had to be fully aware of everything and pay maximum attention to things going on in Boglár, I developed a peculiar sensitivity in regard to the people there: I had presentiments of certain events and sensed bad intentions; my reactions were so spontaneous and quick – in order to avoid problems – that I could only understand this process in hindsight. There was a mattress in the crypt and since I was utterly exhausted, I had to give up the idea of sleeping on the stone floor of the chapel. The chapel’s door had to be locked from the inside so I asked someone, who said he would be the last to go to bed, to lock the door properly – I even showed him how. He promised but unfortunately failed to do it, which I only discovered at about 4:30 a.m., when I heard the sound of rude shouting from above: “get up”, “pigs”, “shut your mouth”, “smack him in the face”, “knock him down”, etc. The slap was given to Miklós Haraszti in return for sharing his knowledge of the law. This was no longer the theatre of the moralistic “Anglers”[12] but an immoral police action with the code name “Vacation”. The cast: five police officers doing the wake-up call, later joined by two plain clothes inspectors and the major, or “bandmaster”.

I must admit that even now, thirty years later, I feel distressed and anxious when I think back to these “happenings”, which is why I cannot and don’t want to talk about these events as anything else but some sort of extreme cultural events, filled with a kind of Old Testament horror akin to that of the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. It is no wonder that József Molnár V. felt that the space of the chapel needed to be sacralized, since this particular happening and the ones that followed later would have completely desecrated it. There was a change of tone after the “bandmaster” arrived. It was impossible to know whether this was a mere dramaturgical trick or constituted the natural characteristic of a genre. The five “immoralist police officers” had already collected the ID cards of all of my guests who slept in the chapel and the “bandmaster” stepped in front of the locked iron gate of the crypt holding these in his hands. Prior to this, two of the “immoral police officers” had attempted twice to lure me out from the crypt – which suddenly turned from my sleeping place to my hiding place – by shouting “please sir, if you are there, come out”. As a result of the vulgar and boorish overture of the happening, I lost my bearings on the situation as to the extent of my expected involvement in this affair, so I did not respond to their calls. First, they tried to open the locks, unsuccessfully, and then they discussed how they would get rid of the door. The “bandmaster” made an appearance at this point. Pretending to know for a fact that I was there and that he just wanted to help me, he asked me in a friendly and humane tone to have a look at the ID cards and see if any belonged to people I did not know. He made every effort to convince me that they had no intention of bothering me, on the contrary, they wanted to protect me from tramps and criminals, which is why I had to identify the owners of the ID cards. After the “bandmaster’s” monologue I stepped out of my hiding place and talked with them through the locked iron gate. I only unlocked the gate after my “guardian angels” left. I identified all the people and explained why they were valuable members of society. The “deputy bandmaster” took careful notes of everything I said. Even I was surprised that I had something good to say about all of my guests and that there was not a single person I did not know. It also came as a surprise that the only element of truth in the secret report submitted about us by the “bandmaster”, which has been made public since then was that: “…we have established that those present were all educated individuals […]. In my opinion their activities are aimed at provocation, […] educated people of such professions could not possibly choose to live like that” (document no. 106).

Another artistic event related to the “space of happenings” was the performance titled Barátságos bánásmód [Nicely Treated], in which, when viewed from another moral perspective, a kind of encounter and/or cross-examination took place. Let me illustrate this with two short excerpts, as if we were still at the metaphorical Court.

László Najmányi: “I am sitting on a chair near you / If you ask me something I’ll answer you / What entitles me to do so? / Perhaps the chair? / Or our proximity? / Or our distance? / Or your question? / Or my decision? / Or an opportunity? / Or my abilities? / Or your abilities? / If I did not answer, would I be refusing to help? / If I did not answer, would that eat into my self-respect? / If I gave the wrong answer, would I be refusing? / If I gave the wrong answer, would it eat away at my self-respect?”[13]

Tibor Hajas: “I must know my interests; I must remember the present immediately. I am to try and upset my plans. I am to pull the rug from under my feet. I am to compromise myself. I am not to leave any time for defending myself. I am not to expect any goodwill from myself. I am to be ungrateful to myself. I am to undermine myself-esteem. I am not to share my joy and pain with myself. I am to slander myself. I am to refrain from considering my problems. I am to doubt my sincerity.”[14]

The third artistic event of the “space of happenings” was described by János Szikora:
 “The origo, the material of our performances is much rather the human body, the human physique and the actions realized by people – actions and objects. Our materials were human gestures, relationships we established with each other, or with each other and the objects. There were no text-centric performances, the plays were not dramas in the traditional sense of the word, they did not have textual material.”[15]

László Algol – who, Halász once told me, was the smartest man in the world, arrived with Halász and his company. He selected a secluded corner of the graveyard for his “approximation exercise”, which began that evening and lasted until the following morning. The exercise was titled A HÁROMSÁG SZEMÉLYISÉGE [THE PERSONALITY OF THE TRINITY]. One of the basic propositions made by Algol was the clear but undefinedassumption according to which “the intensity which we can call the supreme trinity is present in everything that exists”. All the other propositions followed from this: “all the phenomena related to the supreme trinity originate from the highest personality of the trinity; declarations made about the supreme trinity, thus all the propositions, whether included here or not, are approximations; the degree to which approximations transpire to be true indicates our position and essential humility”. The stages of approximation are: documentation model, the path to the exercises, the starting and the control approximation exercises.

The “basic propositions” seemed sacred, as if they were derived from the Trinity, but the “stages of approximation” resembled the different steps of a mathematical or another scientific problem solving process. The exercise was done in an area delineated by three trees (three personalities), like a sort of sanctuary or a camping (fire) place, around which the members of the audience were sitting or lying down. For the entire duration of the exercise, Algol recited, at determined intervals, one text fragment after the other, which he had written earlier. While doing this he also dug a circular ditch into the triangle of the trees in the evening and made a fire inside it. The next day – still reading text fragments – he made a net (!) around the three trees from twine and painted them white.

The text fragments really had something to them, in regard to linguistic description and the actual use of language, because Algol studied psycholinguistics and was a poet and scientist at the same time. As far as the texts are concerned, all I want to say is that the fragments were at a distance from each other rather than in proximity, however, in the intervals of their recital they somehow seemed to come within each other’s proximity. It felt like I could make sense of something that I otherwise did not understand the least bit – is this perhaps a metalinguistic situation?

with whom at the pothole they are preparing to build a railway
they did not lose the ability to cry
as a function of running a fence stretches in the valley
after the smoke of the elements a square hole is left
(Excerpt from A Háromság személyisége [The Personality of the Trinity])

At this point I still could not understand what “the personality of trinity” meant, but it nevertheless stayed on my mind. A year later, when I happened to be listening to a music quiz on the radio, I recognized the voice of the man, who answered all the questions correctly, as being that of Algol. He was the winner that day and to my surprise he was referred to as Gusztáv Hábermann M. Not long after this I ran into Algol in the street, not far from where Péter Halász was living. This encounter was made all the more remarkable because then Algol already had his third name, that of the third personality - something we were looking for during the “approximation exercise” at Boglár. But I only found out about this much later, twenty-seven years after our meeting: his code name as agent III/III was Zoltán Pécsi. I regularly ‘had the chance to meet’ his third, ‘secret’ personality up to the change in the political system. In any case, I was interested in THE PERSONALITY OF THE TRINITY since it could be imagined as a peculiar, potential personality model: a scientist, an artist and a politician – the synthesis of three ways of thinking – in one person. My associations were inspired by Vilém Flusser: “What science, art and politics will draw out of us, once they are bound into a unified way of reading, will exceed our wildest dreams.”[16] I would have been glad if what I had assumed about the Hábermann–Algol–Pécsi multiplex personality had proven to be true, but, unfortunately, Pécsi gave the game away in his first report on the Halász group:[17] there was no unity between the three personalities, there was no communication between them as they were completely isolated.

According to Reiki “we all have three bodies. A physical, an astral and a mental. In the moment of our personality being fixed we develop an inclination to overuse one of these bodies”. A Buddhist master, Shankara, gives the following advice: “Do not confuse your bodies with your self – neither the physical, nor the astral or the mental body. Each one pretends to be your Self in order to satisfy its desire. But you must know each one and know that you are their master.”[18]

László Beke’s 1973 TÜKÖR [Mirror] exhibition was the first internationally organized Hungarian thematic ‘mail art’ exhibition. Two perspectives arise in regard to the objective of the exhibition and the end result: from the point of view of an art historian, the mirror has a symbolic meaning, while artists recognize its role as an instrument of introspection. This ‘banal’ subject chosen by Beke, similarly to his ‘cobblestone’ project from the previous year, are linked to the cliché concepts of socialist fine art. While “the cobblestone is the weapon of the proletariat”, the mirror can be associated with a question kept forever topical by art philosophers, i.e. the rather one-sidedly defined issue of ‘artistic mirroring’. The basic rules of artistic mirroring: it should demonstrate features of realism, typicality and intensive totality. (A feature corresponding to this in theatre is ‘translation’ or role-playing, which is to be avoided in avant-garde theatre.)

“According to some […] of the viewpoints that arose during the avant-garde’s attempts at abstracting works of art from social reality, the work itself can be understood as a symbol, regardless of its meaning, or the subtlety or reduction of the mirroring it performs. […] the – sometimes ruthlessly critical - attitude manifested in conceptual art, aimed at directly showing concepts or ideas to audiences […] by presenting particular signs or behavioral signals as works of art, while virtually remaining outside the bounds of art and rejecting its aesthetic essence and nature.”

The above lines come from Nóra Aradi,[19] who was László Beke’s boss at his workplace at the time and who wrote the manuscript of the above-quoted book titled A szocialista képzômûvészet jelképei [Symbols in Socialist Fine Art] (December 1972) after László Beke’s studies on conceptual art. Given this context, Beke’s ambivalent behavior – the way he hides his ideas behind photographs – is understandable:

“A situation arose in which a Hungarian fine art critic did not have to find excuses for not having seen the original work he or she wrote a review about, since reproductions were an appropriate representation of the originals: photographs or printed reproductions, and often even photographs artificially produced in poorer quality […]. This happy state was achieved by the concurrent headway made by the trends referred to in the title of Beke’s cited work by four letters: A. P. L. and C., standing for Actions (happenings), Project Art, Land Art and Conceptual Art.” Mirror works are seen as performing the metaphoric function of photographs, “which is especially emphasized in Conceptual Art”.[20]

Regardless of this, I think that a major strength of the mirror exhibition was its freshness, which is typical of all movements, i.e. those guests who did not want to know anything about the philosophical problems of artistic mirroring and were not the least bothered by “virtually remaining outside the bounds of art”. It is important to note that the role of the mirror as a good tool for introspection led many artists, myself included, in the direction of Ego Art. I loved the mirror exhibition, so I tried to do something similar, but in the end I gave up the idea. However, in late summer, while organizing the last exhibition in Balatonboglár, I accidentally noticed my first mirror work. A pane of glass was propped against the wall, on top of a portrait photograph. When I first looked inside it, it distorted my face by reflecting only one side of it. Looking at it from a bit further away the distortion disappeared. I took photos of it and gave the work the title of “changing perspectives”, which had its own consequences later.

Let me note that the ambivalent behavior of the theoreticians of art – that has now spread like a disease – justified by the necessity to earn a living, might have been understandable in the present of the past, but these people practically pulled from under their own feet the rug that would become the past. in the present. Julianna P. Szűcs, the main critic who often wrote articles for the contemporaneous party periodical Népszabadság [People’s Freedom], ‘described’ the situation rather cynically in 1993, from another perspective but still in the same periodical, which still had the highest circulation but was no longer run by the party: “The Galántai type, satirical, […] new leftist neo-avant-garde is so closely entwined with its enemies that the radical fall of the latter dragged the former into the abyss too. […] The question is whether the carcass of the hero mingled with that of its enemy, will or will not be put in a common grave and whether the bones can be accurately distinguished after the passing of some time, […]”[21], etc. A possible cure for contagious ambivalence: You do not have to live up to what you cannot live up to + the world is longer than just a day. Marcel Duchamp’s lines can be read on the “Galántai type” tombstones in the graveyard: “It’s always other people who die.”

László Beke arrived at noon, we mounted the exhibits, and then he had to rush off, like someone who has a train to catch. It was a hot summer’s day and everybody was down by the lake. The next day, at four in the morning, a strange incident took place at the locked gate of the chapel. From an artistic point of view it was an ‘action’ performed by two policeman-artist-patrol-officers. They began their performance by repeatedly shouting “sir”, and then used the wooden gate and their batons to ‘give a concert’. The sounds they made were amplified into sounds of thunder by the excellent acoustics of the chapel. The baton concert – as an experimental musical production – might have been an event worthy of being mentioned in the history of music. After this, and as a kind of intermission, the policeman-artists attempted to open the lock; but since they failed, they documented their passing presence – in the spirit of the concert and conceptual art – by leaving a mark on the freshly painted white gate: using their batons and the key, they wrote POLICEMAN on the gate. Finally, as the concrete poetical act of their departure, they turned upside down the signs saying “NICELY TREATED” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY”, which both hung outside on an olive tree.

I was sleeping in the attic and woke up to the strange sounds. Tamás Szentjóby was there too, already awake, sitting on his bed, and waiting for me to wake up. I found out from him what had happened. I walked to the window of the chapel’s tower and looked down, still a bit sleepy. What I saw from this non-artistic viewpoint was an atrocity happening below, on the ground level, in connection with me, even if merely symbolically. The sight of the het-up representatives of authority made me burst out into laughter, but I was instantly filled with fear thinking of what would happen if the policemen looked up and saw me or heard me laughing; I stifled my laughter, which made me shake, and then saw and heard that the baton concert had started to resemble a nightmare in which I was being beaten up. At this point I could no longer decide if I was shaking with laughter or fear. My muscles were still twitching – as if in a convulsion – for a long time after the action ended and the policemen left, and I thought that ‘that was it’ for me. 

I had a tremor in my right hand for the next twelve years, whenever I tried to draw or paint. When I needed to draw, I held my right hand with my left to stop it from shaking. That’s how I made my one hundred and fourteen line drawings for the book titled Modern test- és szépségápolás [Modern Body and Beauty Care], which was a project to earn some money. These drawings were described by an expert as stilted, and I agreed, so I never did another drawing. This is one of the main reasons why I turned to object sculptures and my other projects where my trembling hand did not disturb me. The trembling ended in 1985, when my right arm became completely paralyzed. I was carrying a very heavy iron sculpture of mine to my studio in Kavics Street when one of my observers form the ministry of the interior, the superintendent in the block where the studio was, gave me a fright when he inexplicably stood in my way.

In 1973, as stated on the invitation, I entertained “Yugoslavian colleagues” as guests, namely a group of nine people from Vojvodina representing contemporary art trends such as neo-constructivism, interventionism, visual research, conceptual art, visual poetry, etc. At the time socialism was being built there just like in Hungary, but politics did not interfere with art and did not introduce a ‘terror of taste’. I could never get over this and every time, I arrived at the same conclusion: that we were the only ones to blame for our own misery.

I found Predrag Šidjanin’s audio-visual actions interesting as well as Katalin Ladik’s sound poetry performance. Both of them used playback and live sound alike. They needed a tape recorder for their performances but mine had just stopped working. (This makes me realize how difficult it is for me to think back to the shortage economy and the economy of robbery during ‘developed socialism’ and the culture of silence that characterized a valueless society. It is much less painful to think of Kafka’s or Orwell’s negative utopias since I only know them from books.) Having a tape recorder repaired in Balatonboglár and its environs or borrowing one was not possible then. So as I was sitting helplessly opposite the door waiting for Katalin Ladik and a ‘miracle’ to happen and contemplating the beautiful weather, all of a sudden two men from Tatabánya – who we did not know – appeared in the door with a tape recorder in their hands. I couldn’t believe my eyes, since this was the first miracle I had experienced in my life, even though the explanation was easy: chance-coincidence – as László Beke would say, who was collecting events just like this in his diary of coincidences. The accidental overlap in time remained a mystery, but I later found out that the men were cultural criminals like myself, i.e. they were being observed as well. I learned something about miracles some time later: everything that verges on being a miracle is alright, and nothing else is.

[next chapter]

[1] 2 Corinthians 3:17. New International Version, 1984.
[2] Gergely Molnár, Dream Power. Galántai-kiállítás New Yorkban [Galántai Exhibition in New York], 1973. In: AL 5, summer 1983, pp. 2–5 (English translation by Adele Eisenstein)
[3] Miklós Erdély: A költészet mint ön-összeszerelő rendszer [Poetry as a Self-Assembling System], 1973.
[4] István Hajdu: Concept Art. Kísérlet egy műfajtalan műfaj rendszerezésére [Conceptual Art. An Attempt at Systematising a Genreless Genre]. Part II. A Magyar Képző és Iparművészek Szövetsége tájékoztatója [Bulletin of the Association of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists], 1976/1, p. 30.
[5] Robert Filliou: Recherche sur l´origine (In Search of the Origin). Multhipla, Milano, 1973.
[6] Interview with György Szemadám. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[7] György Szemadám: “Utak és határok” [Roads and Borders]. Notes for Photographs by László Haris. In: A Magyar Képzô és Iparmûvészek Szövetsége tájékoztatója [Bulletin of the Association of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists], 1980/1, pp. 4–22.
[8] Interview with László Haris. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[9] Interjú with József Molnár V. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[10] Interjú with Péter Halász. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[11] Interjú with Péter Halász. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[12] The code name given to the III/III group dossier opened in the ministry of the interior about Péter Halász and his theatre.
[13] Excerpt from László Najmányi’s play titled Barátságos bánásmód [Nicely Treated] performed in Balatonboglár. In: AL 5, 1983, pp. 52–55.
[14] Excerpt from Tibor Hajas’s article titled Szabadság-ipari adás, IV. csatorna [Freedom Industry Broadcast, Channel IV]. In: AL 10, 1984–1985, pp. 28–29.
[15] Interview with János Szikora. In: Vakáció [Vacation] I–II, 1998.
[16] Vilém Flusser: Die Schrift, Immatrix Publications, Göttingen, 1987. In English: Does
Writing Have a Future?, Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis–London, 2011, p. 83.
[17] Report by a secret agent with the code name “Pécsi Zoltán” on the Péter Halász group, Ministry of the Interior III/III-4-c. subdivision, TH-O-16268/1, dossier codenamed Horgászok [Anglers], pp. 253-262. See doc. no. 123.
[18] “The Enneagram of Personality” was the course material at the Golden Bridge School (based on Eli Jaxon-Bear’s 1988 lecture).
[19] Nóra Aradi: A szocialista képzőmûvészet jelképei [Symbols in Socialist Fine Art], Kossuth–Corvina, Budapest, 1974, p. 9.
[20] László Beke: Miért használ fotókat az A. P. L. C.? [Why Are Photographs Used in A. P. L. C.?], Fotóművészet [Photographic Art], 1972/2, p. 20.
[21] Julianna P. Szűcs, Háromszor egy. Októberi impressziók [Three Times One. October Impressions], Népszabadság, 30 October 1993.

[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]