Reimagining the near past and constructing local identities. A Fulbright project by Linnea West (2012-13)
I initially conceived of this project as dealing with national identity and how it was being represented in the wake of self-rule, democracy, EU membership. Years ago in New York, while researching Fluxus art, I discovered the work of Hungarian Conceptual Art pioneer, Tamás Szentjóby, which led me to question what happened to his legacy of art and activism after the 1989 changes that brought democracy to Hungary. National identity seemed a very pertinent way of categorizing the art I was interested in. Having read more about the politics of national identity and being exposed to the current cultural situation, I feel the need to redefine the focus of my research. National identity in Hungary is too closely linked to nationalism in the minds of many people, and rarely do artists I meet with think of their work in those terms.
While considerations of nationalism form a part of what I am looking at, I am interested in art that explores other forms of collective identity, thereby in fact enlarging the concept of national identity beyond ideas of nationalism. These works are often formed along the themes of the near past and local identity. Near past refers to a past the still exists in living memory and witnessed profound political and social changes, as well as an ever present historical consciousness that is being evaluated. Local identity sidesteps the nationalist framework, which does not feel relevant to many artists and also reflects an interest in a more nuanced examination of sub-segments of the Hungarian population. It also falls in line with a productive post-colonial discourse in a region where borders have been fluid and an experience of Soviet oppression shared. It had occurred to me that national identity was a big, broad topic before. Redefined, it remains an ambitious topic, and it does not changes its actual scope as much as the framework for thinking about it. Perhaps it would be wise to narrow the scope further, but I feel it will be more interesting, even with a few more loose ends, to proceed this way for the time being.