Reimagining the near past and constructing local identities. A Fulbright project by Linnea West (2012-13)
On November 21st, I had a studio visit with Borsos Lőrinc, a pair of artists who have been working together since 2008. János Borsos and Lilla Lőrinc took me to their studio in Art Quarter Budapest, a newly renovated former beer factory that is now dedicated to artistic ventures. I really enjoyed sitting down with them after having seen some works of theirs, notably Immovable Land at the ‘What is Hungarian?’ exhibition at the Mucsarnok and their video installation Four One-Minute Silences as part of a group exhibition in Pecs. Naturally, I was especially interested in these artworks that deal with national identity.
Because their work is socially engaged, hearing them speak about the public reception of their work was relevant, not least because those reactions were then documented and incorporated into the presentation of the works. And a few of their works have received much more attention from the general public than is typical for a contemporary artwork.
For example, the My Student Loan Debt in HUF project involved selling a painting at the same cost as Lilla Lőrinc’s school debt. This was done and that was how the debt was repaid. It was covered in the media (newspaper, radio, online news sources) and the commentary, perhaps typically of the internet at least, was vitriolic. One man even went so far as to say that the artist should be shot in the head. Others said that the artist’s rich parents had engineered this media stunt to trick the public so the artist could get out of paying for school. Later an art critic went so far as to say this piece ruined the reputation of Hungarian art (he got the year wrong, somewhat undermining his credibility.) Borsos Lőrinc printed the quote on a t-shirt.
A second instance of the pair dealing with the public reaction to their work happened with National Kneel. Dressed in an outfit that united symbols of many disparate groups—that would never appear in such close quarters in Hungarian society today—the artist knelt in front of Parliament. Under his knees were patches of the Hungarian flag among others nationalist symbols. A year later, a right wing group came across the video on YouTube and re-posted it, describing it as a wealthy Hungarian artist abusing the Hungarian nation. You can imagine the hateful comments that came from the followers of this extremely right wing website. The artists made charts like the one above about the commentary.
Borsos Lorinc share their studio with Erik Mátrai and Gábor Szenteleki, and I enjoyed hearing the artists different thoughts on making art in Hungary, the recent What is Hungarian? exhibition, and national identity in general. I recently saw the work of The Corporation, a group including Borsos Lőrinc, Mátrai, and Szenteleki, at the exhibition of the Studio of Young Artist’s Association in Dunaújváros, where they had created a tape measure competition. Mátrai’s work has a particular relevance for me, as his elegant light installation was one of the stronger pieces in What is Hungarian?, using light to transform a security camera into the mythic Turul bird.