Gábor ALTORJAY: The Lunch (in memoriam Batu Khan) (1968)

The Lunch (in memoriam Batu Khan) – the first happening in Hungary

The happening took place in a garden in which there was a vaulted cellarthat was built in the fifteenth to sixteenth century and allegedly used as atorture chamber. From the entrance of the garden a ten meter’s long arborled to stairs that descended into the cellar. In front of the arbor participantscame upon a baby carriage in which there were two tattered toy dolls, hugging each-other. On exiting the arbor, the attendees came upon the otheroriginator of the happening, T., who was buried up to his waist and typing on a typewriter, next to him was a shovel tied with a rope to a nearbydusting rack. At the end of the rope hung a kettle with a live chicken in it,which T. from time to time would pull on or let go.

Behind the typist a baby carriage was in flames.

Going further the participants descended the stairs leading into the darkness of the cellar. The indicator lights of a powerful stereo-amplifying system were the only source of light. After a nerve-wracking fifteen minute or so wait in the darkness, Penderecki’s “Hiroshima” blasted out of the speakers with a contorted, chopped up, frantic volume to the point of unrecognizability… After the music stopped, in the front area left open for free movement we set on fire a vase of roses on a table. The burning rose bouquet at least finally provided the space with some light. In the front there was a dining table set for two with the vase and a food carrier. The two of us sat at the table on two Secessionist chairs thickly covered in mold. In the background stood a human-sized frame, to its right was a refrigerator, above which was suspended a rusty bicycle wheel with a stopped clock in its center. There were prop-chests on both sides and a chair in the middle. Next to the audience, a moldy chair had been fixed to the wall with rotten raffia, on it was a little blue pot with holes. The tied up chicken in the pot was lying next to the table. Our attire was casual: suit jacket, white shirt, tie, and green sunshades on our heads. J. was dressed the same. He was the third person, who, after the burning of the roses, switched on the lights. As it became clear later, one of the main problems of the happening was the lack of light. Meantime, the microphone and the speakers continued to operate–as they did throughout the happening– amplifying and reverberating even barely audible noises. According to many of the participants, the sound effects were one of the strongest points of the happening, though originally we didn’t intend to give the sound system such an important role.

We began eating. We ate cold paprika potatoes. Meanwhile, I stood up and turned on the pendulum clock on thebicycle wheel by removing its key, the unique feature of which was thatwhen the key was removed, the clock’s hands would start to rotate veryfast. The clock wasn’t prepared to work this way beforehand; it already hadthis property before it was chosen as a prop for the happening. Later, whenI put the key back, the clock stopped. During the happening, we stoppedand started the clock several times. The clock gently hummed, revolvingtogether with the bicycle wheel around its own axis. While we continued to eat, a few randomly set and placed alarm clocks went off. T. triedto shove some paprika potatoes down the chicken’s throat, then held thesquawking animal in front of the microphone. When the beak met the microphone a sound the strength of a jack-hammer reverberated throughoutthe cellar. After finishing up our lunch, we drank from a thermos. Then wetook out a large plastic bag and began to vomit into it. This didn’t go verysmoothly; amplified sounds of retching filled the whole cellar. Next T. putthe chicken into the bag and pulled the whole thing over my head. Then hehammered nails into the plates. I took out three pairs of white kid glovesfrom the prop-chest, which, in a joint effort, we pulled on J’s hands, whostood next to the frame. After that, I just can’t recall the order of events.The sequence of things gets all mixed up; the goal–staying alive–blurredthe order of events. For the most part, I only remember what I did to stayon top of things. From then on, our actions were separate, but remainedconceptually unified. I grabbed a cleaver and did my best to smash to pieces the table-settings, along with the table and chairs. We took down a smallblack handbag from J.’s frame and smeared him with toothpaste. The smallhandbag contained two white mice, which I handed to a woman sitting inthe front row. Later the mice were running back and forth among the participants. Sometimes they threw them back to us and we gave them back.We fastened a combat helmet in front of J.’s face and tied him to the frame.We then stood a bicycle wheel and two rusty rollers on the broken table,tying them together so that the wheel was stuck between the handles of thetwo rollers. Later someone named this the sculpture of “The Roller ThatIs Not Going Anywhere.” We took out some lube grease with which wesmeared this construction, as well as J. We also smeared some toothpasteon the wheel. Next, we took out a large amount of feathers and threw theminto the air, covering the roller and J. and then placed the chicken on ourconstruction. The rest of the feathers were thrown at the participants, whothrew them back, only to have the feathers thrown back at them again. We brought out some flypapers and with a lot of effort we pulled them apart and tossed them around. In the meantime, some participants in the backrow started setting things on fire. I put out the fire using a watering can.T. mixed some plaster and colored it with red and blue paint. We smearedthe plaster on J. and also threw some at him. We threw plaster on the walland at the audience as well. We were ankle deep in feathers colored by thered paint. We mixed pink plaster and filled a condom with it, causing therubber to enlarge quite a bit. In the meantime, the amplified stereo soundsof Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9’s “Ode to Joy” filled the room with anunbearable volume. We tied the stretched-out, pink condom into a largecircle, fixed a burning candle under it and hung this rotating structure fromthe ceiling. The following quarter-hour, spent trying to sustain the mood ofan urge for ecstatic immersion, I can barely describe.

Activity speeded up again. T. hung legs of chairs and the table on theceiling and walls. Filling a woman’s shoe with plaster and tying it to theframe, he fixed it to a tottering J. and also stuffed feathers behind thehelmet. I poured the rest of the plaster powder on J.’s head and tied himmore tightly to the frame. T. tore the moldy chair off the wall (whichsomeone, referring to the mice and the dry ice, named “The Altar ofFrozen Mice”). Next to J., the suspended tablecloth hung like a whiteshroud. We threw rotting seaweed on him, we tied tons of strings tothe frame and to J. The chicken hung from J.’s neck. We tied strings tothe objects hanging from the ceiling, from the objects to J., from J. tothe participants; we tied them all together, with J. and the cellar. Therewasn’t enough of us to do all this tying, the two of us tried to tie sixtypeople together. I was stumbling along with J. between the rows when T.broke the light bulb and it was dark again.

We waited.

People started moving around. Up front, the way out was blocked by a barricade made up of the baby carriage, the duster and a heater.

Later, after clearing out the entrance the participants began to leave the cellar, cleaning and dusting themselves as they passed through the arbor.

According to M. E., we, together with T. and J., looked like dazed, burnt out soldiers coming back from the front. I didn’t feel otherwise.

Source: Appendix to the article of Ottó Tolnai, “Néhány megjegyzés Bori Imre A legújabb magyar líráról című írásához” [Some Notes to Imre Bori’s “On the Latest Hungarian Lyrics”], Új Symposion 34 (1968):  12-13.