Monday, 15 June 2009

LAN visit the Pest Office 10th June 2009

On wednesday 10th June members from the Lancashire Artist Network came to visit the Pest Office. They were given a tour of the office and an outline of the project so far. There was about 10 people in the group and had travelled from Preston, Blackpool, Manchester, Hebden Bridge and Blackburn. As you can see they were fighting each other to get on our mailing list! One at a time ladies, please!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Kitchen Budapest, Monday 18th May

Kitchen Budapest was the final destination before our return to Preston and a full winter wardrobe. After an initial panic, in which the address we had written down appeared to belong to a 'nail bar', we managed to locate the venue, craftily camouflaged by a neon sign proclaiming "Kitchen Budapest".

Affectionally referred to as 'Kibu' by its members, Kitchen Budapest is a small, multi-functional space which resembles a combination of a teenage hacker's bedroom, a trendy office and a youth club. Set up two years ago, the organisation is fully funded by the Hungarian Telecom foundation and functions as a research and development centre for projects which combine art and technology.

Each year, 15 young people are selected to develop their project proposals as researchers within multi-disciplinary teams that can include artists, engineers and programmers amongst others. Generally, each research period last for 3 months, however some projects may be extended after this time. The final result is often a new device or an unusual and creative application for existing technologies. In particular, the project encourages a hacker aesthetic, in which new tools are created through combining parts from different devices, and existing tools are used for alternative purposes.

The organisation also hosts international residencies. We met the current artist-in-residence, Christopher Baker , who is from the US and studied bio-medical engineering as an undergraduate (narrowly beating Pest's combined qualifications of grade 5 violin, Diversity Awareness and a licence to trap small mammals). What seemed most valuable to him was the experience of being surrounded by other researchers from diverse disciplines and with specific types of knowledge, however he did make the point that the "playground feeling" of the organisation calls for high levels of self-motivation.

With that in mind, we motivated ourselves to sample a bit more Hungarian beer before being whisked back to the airport and the sheer luxury of a Ryan Air flight (as we overheard a woman in the boarding queue say "they don't even have magazine pockets on the back of the seats!")

So, that just leaves for us to say a great big "Koszonom" to everyone who took the time to meet with us and tell us about their projects (oh, and to the masseuses at the thermal baths for elevating Pest's collective executive stress). It has been a truly fascinating and inspiring trip!

Our trip to Budapest was supported by the Networking Artists’ Networks initiative (NAN) through a-n The Artist Information Company.

Visit to Artpool, Monday 18th May

Artpool is one of the oldest and most inspiring projects which we have visited during the Pest project. Described as an ‘active archive’, it is the product of a continuing struggle by its founders György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay to work freely as artists and maintain connections with their international cotemporaries, in what continues to be a restrictive cultural environment.

The archive is hidden away on the first floor of a residential apartment block, overlooking a leafy square of bars and pavement cafes (a hot contender for the next Pest office location!).  Once inside, it continues to feel like a secret operation. Almost every room and corridor is lined from floor to (very high) ceiling with books, journals, DVDs and all manner of artists’ information filed in meticulously labelled brown folders, whilst an unexpected door in the middle of a bookcase leads to an adjoining apartment that Artpool have recently taken over to accommodate the rapidly growing archive.  In the main space an archivist, media theorist and web designer were busily tapping away at computers; we didn’t need to be told that this was an active archive.

During a fascinating couple of hours, Júlia Klaniczay explained how the project had come into being.  The (very) concise history, as understood by Pest is as follows (much more detailed information can be found on their website here)….

The roots of the project extend to 1970, when Galántai rented a disused chapel in a small town outside of Budapest.  This was both his studio and an exhibition venue for his own artwork and that of other artists.  The project was illegal under the country's Communist regime, however Galántai managed to survive sporadic closure of the studio and sustain the project until the police closed it down for the final time in 1973.

In spite of his lack of venue and the sustained police surveillance of his activities, Galántai continued to make artwork and to forge links with other artists across the world.  It was during this time that he met Júlia Klaniczay, who possessed the skills he lacked in foreign languages, and together they developed and re-developed tactics to allow them to continue their artistic practice and create an international artist network.  

The archive essentially came into being as a result of their first tactical use of the international postal network.  Following a spontaneous performance by the Canadian artist Anna Banana at the opening of an exhibition of Galántai’s sculpture, the artists produced small booklets that documented the event.  These were disseminated to international artists, with the printed request ‘please send information’.  In response, the couple received postbags of material about artworks and projects from artists throughout the world, accompanied by expressions of support and invitations to participate in exhibitions and events.  

Whilst the police were used to physical venues as sites for the production and dissemination of art, the notion of a network as a generative art project was a new concept.  In this way, the artists were able to operate under the radar for many months.  Sadly, despite painstaking attempts by the artists to hide their activities from the authorities, much of their mail was eventually confiscated and during the 1980s the government was successful in breaking their main channels of communication with the outside world.  Nevertheless, this was not enough to deter them from delivering ambitious artworks and projects, (many of which are documented on their website) and Artpool celebrates its 30th birthday this year. 

Chatting in the Hungarian heat afterwards, it appeared to us that the strength and resilience of the project continues to lie in two important areas: the artists’ understanding of the social significance of networks and the potential of these as tools of resistance; and their combination of optimism and pragmatism. In this way, György Galántai and Júlia Klaniczay not only managed to operate for 10 years within a dictatorial regime, but remain resolute in their ideology and actions despite their continued marginalisation within the mainstream Hungarian art scene (where powerful positions continue to be held by the individuals appointed during Communism).  Artpool is both an important historical resource and a forward-looking, ever-changing artwork.  It will be fascinating to see how it evolves.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Museum of Applied Arts

A combination of Rebecca's internal compass (wherever she is, she points north) and the wonder that is Google maps successfully directed us from the Studio of Young Artists Association to the Museum of Applied Arts, for a meeting with Eszter Agnes Szabo, a founder member of the artist group, Hints.

Hints, who describe themselves as an institute, were set up in 2001 as an attempt to "speak a language outside of the artworld".  Through this, they have developed a social art practice, in which art and creativity are not separated from the everyday, but are directed by an ethos of social and environmental responsibility.

Whilst this type of social art practice is not uncommon within the UK (although largely ignored by mainstream art criticism),  it appears to be completely unaccepted within the Hungarian art world. Szabo,who now works at the Museum of Applied Arts, but began work as a dressmaker and leather designer before becoming a teacher in visual culture, described the frustrations of attempting to promote such a marginalised, multidisciplinary art practice within a distinctly object-based culture.  

Yet, Hints, whose first projects worked with "art waste" from the city's museums, appear resolute in their quest to drag art out of the gallery and into the streets.  Whilst many of their projects, such as a free haute-couture shop in which people could have their clothes altered and part of a practice which they refer to as "art care", have taken place outside of the country, in places such as Vienna where such social art practices are more established, Hints appear dedicated to changing the culture in their own city.  They are currently working on a calendar  for Budapest, which will include information from their projects and ideas for improving the social life of the city, and they will no doubt will continue to push the cultural boundaries in which they are working.

Putting the Pest into Buda - Friday Night & Saturday Morning

As promised here's a bit of what we got up to...

Friday 15th May - after successfully avoiding buying scratch cards and electric cigarettes on the flight we arrived in Budapest early evening and were given a lovely tour of the city by our chaufer - over the chain bridge and back again - before being dropped off at our apartment just near the parliament building.

With a hard days interviewing ahead of us we went out in search of food and a Pizza and a Pint later were tucked up in bed getting our beauty sleep ready for the next day.

Saturday 16th May - Our first port of call is the Studio of Young Artists Association (well after a picnic in the park and a quick look round the Basillica of St. Stephen) where we met with Borbala Szalai.

The studio has been going for 50 years and is primarily for artists under the age of 35, although there are opportunities for artists over 35 to remain/become members.
The not for profit organisation is artist run but there is a change every 4 years in who runs it, there is also a voluntary board and 2 paid members of staff.

Exhibitions are held every 3 weeks (we managed to catch Borbala in the middle of a change over!) and there are 2 opportunities a year for members to apply for these exhibitions, although non-members are also considered for exhibitions.

As well as an exhibition space there is a library and common area, Studios that members can use for 6 month periods, international exchanges and at least 1 group exhibition per year held in a different venue. There is also the billboard project not far from the gallery as seen in the picture above.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Budapest trip 15 - 18 May 2009

Today is Tuesday 19th May - we got back to Preston at 1am this morning after a really wonderful trip to Budapest. We are still sorting through all the information we gathered and photos, so we will keep adding stuff this week.
To start here's a snap of the view from our little apartment - we were right by the parliment buildings on the Pest side of the Danube.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Budapest - here we come!!

Today we travel to Budapest - we're packed and ready to go (well, me and Robina are - Elaine hasn't packed any socks or tights and is out panic buying as I write).
We get to the city late tonight, so our first interviews are tomorrow at the Studio of Young Artists in the morning and then Hints at the Museum of Applied Arts in the afternoon. Sadly nobody could meet us on Sunday so we have to amuse oursleves for the whole day - we're going to go to the sculpture park on the outskirts of the city, and maybe go to one of the baths...
Monday we are meeting Artpool and then going to Kitchen Gallery in the afternoon. We'll also meet Kitchen artist in residence Chris Baker.
Then it's straight back to UK, arriving back to Preston at midnight on Monday.

We'll try and put info on the blog while we're there, but if we don't get time we'll put all our discoveries on the blog when we get back.