Csepel

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Laura Somogyi, Nemere Kerezsi, Sabolcs Suli-Zakar's, Kata Soos, Maria Isabel Arango, Hayley Newman, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre

Project Overview

October 23 - 30, 2010

This project was a collaboration between the CCW Graduate School and the Doctoral School, Academy of Arts, Budapest. Hayley Newman and Stephen Scrivener led our team, comprised of (Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, Maria Isabel Arango and me, while Balázs Kicsiny facilitated the four Hungarian students (discussed further below).

Contributors from both institutions exchanged information about their art research. In addition to a day of presentations, we also visited a Cold War bunker on Csepel Island, an industrial area of Budapest. Facilitated by Balázs Kicsiny of the A of A, this trip aimed to spark discussion around the legacy of the Cold War. We were given an extraordinary tour by a former worker and took thousands of photos, some of which are posted on flickr. Afterward we visited several factories and had an extraordinary meal at a workers' canteen.

However, the bunker wasn't pristine. It had been looted since Kicsiny's visit and its depleted state was disappointing. Moreover, the Cold War aesthetic failed to resonate with the CCW students from South America, who had little personal experience with this particular history.

So discussion focused instead on the researchers' respective approaches and the groups' cultural differences. If the CCW students were primarily concerned with art as process and/or creating contexts for engagement (it was even suggested what we were doing was "theory" instead of "art"), the A of A students seemed more interested in individually producing objects and/or concrete outcomes. Nemere Kerezsi's work explores the phenomenology of travel, Laura Somogyi's considers sewing and identity. Kata Soos describes the "gypsy problem" as central to her practice, while Sabolcs Suli-Zakar's practice investigates instances/objects of displacement.

Despite everyone's best intentions, the groups didn't coalesce into an easy collaboration. As a result, two collaborations are taking shape: the CCW students will together produce something; the A of A students will do the same. These outcomes may be presented in a two-city exhibition in Budapest and London - but this remains to be seen...


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The researchers assemble at the entrance to the bunker on Csepel Island, an industrial district in Budapest that once employed 20,000 people.


Nemere Kerezsi's Proposal and Mine

It was decided that we'd come to a "business breakfast" with a few suggestions on how to proceed with our cultural exchange. Inspired by the Schwimm cycle factory on Csepel Island, Nemere suggested we form two cycling teams--a "British" one and a Hungarian one--and cycle towards each other. We were surprised and inspired by this suggestion. However, there was some concern would be a logistical nightmare and require extensive funding. Was it realistic?
I suggested we might consider an email exchange of some sort, something like Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hans Peter Feldman's Interview. Or perhaps we could together produce a publication? Perhaps even contribute to the CCW's series on research? Or maybe we could do some workshops in/on public space - create/explore public space?



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Click here for photo documentation.
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View of Hungarian parliament modeled on Westminster Boys in the Bath.jpg
A bath in Budapest not unlike the Rudas Bath we visited on our research trip 415px-Hungarian Orange Book.jpg

Appendix 1: Outline proposal for workshop

Written by Balázs Kicsiny, July 2010

1. Csepel Island Visit. Tracing the layers of historical and traumatic events. Hungarian contemporary art is more and more dominated with socially-engaged art practice. That is why, with the Doctorate School students, I would like to investigate a specific place that preserves the trace of history and communal trauma.

During the planned workshop, we will visit a specific area of Budapest. This area played an important role in the history of Budapest and Hungary over the last 100 years as a model of modernisation, revolution, unrest, war, and as a symbol of political and democratic power sharing and ownership. The area is an industrial region of Budapest, called Csepel. A brief history of the region can be found in Appendix 2 and a detailed history in Appendix 3 (not included here).

2. Visiting a number of special buildings to reconstruct historical narrative, such as:

a. An emergency building for sheltering from an atom bomb attack, an event anticipated during the cold war. An authentic bunker, with original interior, objects, maps, action plans, left untouched after political change. This exists as a universe unknown to the public, which was designed to enable it occupants to survive the final war, and to live on self sufficiently.
b. The (Communist Party) Decorator's storeplace for the totalitarian state - visual realm. These store rooms are full with the communist regime representational designs: medals, photo albums, statues, awards, gift badges, the remains of the decorations for decorating factories on communist celebration days.

Interpretation exercises: Pseudo Design How does the design of built environment and the interiors of Csepel Island reflect or serve political demand, e.g.,

a. of the state organized workers society (1949-1956, 1956-1989)?
b. of the self organized workers unions (1956)?
c. of the privatized formal state-owned factories (1989-2010)?

Visualisation of the state of emergency

How does the design of Csepel Island serve the imagined possible future (life after the bomb, ecological disaster, gas warfare) e.g.,

a. environment after the disaster?
b. environment as a reminder what was before the disaster?
c. environment as message of the future?

Interpretation from different points of view Each group (one from Budapest and one from London) is asked to separately read, interpret and analyze the visual language evident at Csepel. Then, it is proposed that we will begin to share and translate these different interpretations, each of which reflects individual experience.

Appendix 2: A brief history of Csepel

Written by Balázs Kicsiny, July 2010

This industrial area, which was shaped by modernisation, history and trauma, was founded by Baron Manfred Weiss, a rich Jewish industrialist at the beginning of the 20th Century. The factory's production was mainly army supplies, which became the most important industry of the Habsburg-Hungarian Monarchy. After Hungary was defeated in the World War I, the founder Weiss committed suicide when he saw how his life achievement had been destroyed. Between the two wars the Csepel industries flourished once again , producing army goods under the guidance of Manfréd Weiss family. During World War II, the Weiss family escaped from deportation to the concentration camps with the help of the authorities, and settled in Portugal and in different part of the World.

After World War II, the new Stalinist leftish government nationalised the Csepel factories, and the communist-party- led government enforced planned production, as in the Stalinist Soviet Union. As a consequence, workers were forced to work extremely long hours in order to satisfy an artificial propaganda of proletarian paradise. This is why the Island was given the name "Red Csepel". But the reality was the workers' living standard was sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. That is why even before the '56 revolution, strikes were organized by the workers, and during the revolution the strongest workers group organized the Revolutionary Workers Council. Their plan was to keep ownership of the factories in the workers␣ hand, rejecting Stalinism, but also capitalism as well.

After long resistance and armed conflict with Russian troops and Hungarian counter-evolutionary forces, the revolutionary workers capitulated. Some of them were executed, or sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. From 1956 to 1989, the Csepel industrial area played a crucial part in the new totalitarian government's propaganda as symbol of the proletarian power. The government and communist party officials organized political supervision to undermine the workers␣ effort to participate in the decision making. During this time, Hungary was called the state of "Goulash Communism" because compared with other communist countries life was relatively free from political supervision, as long as the individual desisted from questioning the role of the '56 revolution and other traumatic events which shaped the regime.

In 1989, after further political change, the factories of Csepel industrial area were privatised, and the spectacular industrial dynamism and workers␣ communities disappeared, leaving its small businesses and warehouses largely as the property of foreign capital.

Although the factories are disorientating, the bomb shelter, built in the early '40s, remains in its original state. One of these, the central officer's bunker, is virtually untouched: it is full of objects originating from the World War II period, through the '56, '60s, 70s, up to the late 80's. The designs (objects, graphics, posters, hand-drawn maps, etc.) are to be found side by side in strange harmony.

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