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Miklós ERHARDT, visual artist, 1966

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What role did the regime change play in your professional career?

 

Directly, it had very little role, as my professional career started some years after the regime change. It did, however, make it objectively possible for me to get into the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts (which, till then, had been an elite club of graduates of the Secondary School of Visual Arts and artists’ children). Before that, I was essentially dragging my feet, while attending a secondary school in the countryside. My time was passed exploring the nature of Cézanne’s spatial formulation, watching films, as well as listening to and reading the classics. The late Kádár Era had more to do with my thinking about culture and art, especially János Pilinszky, Andrei Tarkovsky, and a few essays in Filmvilág. In the late Kadar Era, I became a bohemian member of the gentry, whose ambitions, if any, had nothing to do with reality.

 

What cornerstone events or publications in art / politics / public life / the professional sphere do you remember, and which of these influenced you, directly or indirectly? Through what channels and from what sources have you received your knowledge about this period?

 

I had no direct contact with the cultural/artistic opposition (though I frequented Európa Kiadó, Kontroll Csoport, Bizottság, Tamás Cseh and Gépfolklór concerts…). Objectively speaking, I received my information about what was going on mostly from television (Endre Aczél’s News Program). Subjectively speaking, it was the lectures of the philosophy faculty at the Ho Shi Minh Teacher Training Academy of Eger that were of most interest, partly because of the invited guests (Mihály Vajda, Béla Bacsó), and partly because I had the chance to closely observe the unfolding conflicts of the school’s philosophy teachers. Because, as I have already mentioned, my interests were mainly classical, I was shocked by few publications – negatively speaking, there were some incidences, e.g. the extremely intense Béla Hamvas Cult, which annoyed me to no end. I heard a horrifying lecture on the plight of Romanian political prisoners by Sándor Csoóri, ambivalent lectures on the Waldorf schools and Rudolf Steiner, I heard about Imre Makovecz and organic myths, about the New Age and Fritjof Capra. Generally speaking, as evidenced by the above, in my mind, the regime change manifested in the image of a spiritual, holistic revolution of sorts – which I observed with some suspicion. My most vivid memory, which is also most pertinent to the regime change, is realizing that everything the socialist system had been built on was a lie. (Although I didn’t believe in the system, this non-belief was not in the least conscious: it didn’t amount to much more than a dislike of the police and a desire to travel.)  It was around this time that, mostly out of defiance, I read a lot of Marx. It quickly became clear: what was going on had nothing to do with Marx either. All this, together with the skeptical resignation of my aforementioned artist idols, had instilled in me a sense of social eschatology. It would be difficult for me to ever become a patriot.

In conversations with old friends, a kind of political polarization had already begun (and is still present today). I instinctively ended up on the liberal side. By nature, I felt an aversion to the worn out symbolism, authoritarian approach and over-emotional tones of the newly-forming Right. What’s more, I didn’t want Transylvania back either. I was especially apprehensive about how the working class would handle the fact that it was no longer the leading force in our society (if they noticed, they weren’t showing it).

As for visual art, I visited the yearly Studio exhibitions, the Small Sculpture Biennial, and the freshly opened Ludwig Museum. I would have traded all of that for a Francis Bacon exhibition…


Has your picture of the regime change and its ideas been altered – if yes, in what way, and as a result of what – in the past 10 / 5 / 1 year(s)?

 

It would be difficult for me to place the changes within the given coordinates of years. Let us just say that ideals (and the associated practices) lost their credibility gradually – and by today, completely. What we have now is only the icing on the cake. I would prefer not to get into the question in terms of politics: Hungary essentially no longer exists. It is no more than a stinky little knot, of which there still seems enough left for grabs.

I couldn’t understand, and I still don’t (wish I didn’t) how anyone can take the regime change seriously, even for a minute, without the public release of the list of agents. Without accounting for the holocaust. Without accounting for reality. By over-emotional moralizing.

I figured out fairly early (at the beginning of the nineties I worked as an interpreter for Italian businessmen and adventurers in various industrial sectors) what was happening to the country’s economy – what was behind the privatization process. Later this information was articulated and brought into awareness by various theories and texts critical of globalization and capitalism, which made it clear that what was taking place was, in essence, a process of colonization. In the same way, it has been obvious for quite some time where this virtualizing global capitalism is leading us. Thus, the present crisis came as little surprise to me, and perhaps even brought a tiny, perverse sense of joy.

In terms of culture and art, I saw how the former (real or self-proclaimed) underground/opposition took up all the space, blocking – or at least hindering – any possibility of fulfillment for at least two generations. All this was probably most palpable in, and around, film. Lóránd Hegyi’s circle of protégées put their own restrictions on what should be considered art and who should be seen as a visual artist. Generally speaking, Aczél’s system seems to be the only tradition of Hungarian culture worth carrying on – as regards not only the present course, but the past twenty years as a whole.


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