Storage Versus Collection, FKS versus FKSE
Selection from the Collection of the Studio of Young Artists by TACT
8. September 2004. - 23. September
The Context Brigade and Crippled Memory
Repository vs. Collection
For us, the archive is a fact of life, something that has always been around. When we say this is not to legitimize the archive, that is as it should be: it wouldn’t matter if you burned it up or destroyed it. But that would be the equivalent of starting a new archive, as I have already suggested: the archive of the archive’s first destruction. So we are still stuck in the logic of the archive – for the archive does have a logic, a certain force of its own. This is what legitimizes it. We could even say its legitimacy comes from the principle of might makes right.
In my view we must pronounce a verdict on the here-and-now. This is not only our right, but an obligation, first of all for our children and grandchildren, who have a right to know what art we considered important, and what less important in our time. Ultimately this means that every generation has the right – indeed the privilege – of forming opinions, and not to have these declared invalid simply because the next generation reproduces them.
Besides the more frequented locations of the Young Artists’ Studio (FKSE) on Rottenbiller utca and Képíró utca in Budapest, there is a less-known spot tucked away on Dózsa György út where the wide-ranging repository/collection of works purchased through state money over the nearly fifty years of the institution’s existence sits waiting for the cultural scene, radically transformed in the meantime, to digest it, either closing the book on it or reinterpreting it all. Having lost its original function, it still has not discovered a new one. So it is, more than anything else, the imprint of the FKSE’s genealogy rather than a collection of real value, and the FKSE has long been seeking a solution to dealing with it. In the summer of 2004, at the suggestion of Szabolcs KissPál, “repairmen” of the KMKK (“Two Artists, Two Curators”) were asked to make something of that mass of artworks. This resulted in an exhibition and two public discussions at the FKSE’s gallery on Képíró utca in September of 2004.
First, the KMKK Group paid a visit to the repository, where the process of selection was documented, then an exhibition of the selected works was staged, fleshed out with the conception of Willi Bongard, who suggested experimenting with a game format for outlining a system of esthetic criteria. 1
The guests at the first public discussion were Timea Junghaus and Balázs Beöthy, and at the second, among the creators of the works exhibited, István Bodóczky, Tibor Bráda, and László Hajdú.
The interview that follows below saw the participation of the hosts and artists from the KMKK, and presents views on the status and future not only of the collection in question, but also on the fate of many other similarly repositoryd collections of works that presumably exist in Hungary. So this discussion has ramifications that go far beyond the particular situation of the FKSE.
(REH: Róza El-Hassan, KMKK; EM: Edit Molnár, Director of the Stúdió Galéria; JS: János Sugár, KMKK; MM: Maria Marcos)
MM: What was the thinking that led the FKSE to decide to offer its repository-collection, the “subconscious imprint” of the five decades of its existence, to the KMKK for analysis?
EM: An interpretive evaluation of the collection provided an excellent opportunity for the institution to rethink its present activities in a historical perspective. It has long been a plan of the FKSE to “activate” the mass of artworks in the repository, to establish a new relationship with them. The story of the repository’s origin is clouded in fog: nothing more than anecdotes, yellowed and incomplete cataloguing slips, unidentifiable stamp-marks and mere silhouettes of those who made the decisions. We have made a few attempts at putting on exhibitions with the aim of constructing a canon from a historical perspective, but they all failed. Yet this is not just a string of ill-starred attempts; I believe the reason for them lies in the special nature of the “FKSE storehouse.” Because of the aforementioned factors, it has always seemed difficult to find a guiding conception and manner of presentation that would present a complete picture, with all of its “issues” and contradictions.2 We have recently been witness to countless international events, initiated by artists and artists’ groups, that deal directly with the relationship between collection and archive. The stalemate we faced with the repository has led us to think not in terms of a representative collection, but rather of using these works as a starting point for artists or curators to work with. Given the prior work of the KMKK, this solution virtually offered itself; we are confident people will find the suggestion interesting.
MM: How similar is this present KMKK involvement to the Graz exhibition?
JS: In Graz, we were primarily showing the KMKK’s previous work within a sort of “franchise”: Talán Sebeő published some ads in a local classified paper; we exhibited a Graz version of the complaint box, while representing our Budapest exhibit series3 by having one of the Graz directors select works from the repository of a commercial gallery, which we then used to put together six one-week shows in the entirely different nonprofit gallery.4 The chamber exhibits – which drew surprisingly wide interest – were accompanied by the gallery owner’s own recollections. So in Graz we were given carte blanche with the project, while in the present case it was the FKSE that invited us as repairmen, challenging the Context Brigade to do something with the previously-silenced collection. It was obvious that the invitation was just a pretext; behind it lies the FKSE’s own healthy search for identity. I hope we have been of service in this …
MM: A question for all of you: to what extent do you think the spirit of the previous era determined the character of the FKSE collection? Do you not think there is a more general conflict between “value-determining cultural memory and value-destroying profane cultural space” (Groys), a conflict naturally colored by the peculiarities of the historical era that produced it?
EM: The directorship is reconstituted every three years; its newest members (and its members generally) are by virtue of their generation quite distant from the structure that the Stúdió once had, and from those slightly-chaotic “collaborations” between institutions that sent pieces wandering here and there: they would be selected at Stúdió exhibitions, then end up being sold, while a part of them ended up in the National Gallery, or the repository, or back with the artist. So the state of the repository is more a story of hiatuses and the by-products of collecting and cultural-political strategizing than anything else.
JS: The FKSE is not alone in this; many institutions have similar repositories weighing on their subconscious. Socialist Realism has long seemed kitchy now, and the territory of censorship is well-defined – but what lay between them? The so-called “Previous Age” used state collections primarily as ideological guidance, and hence as a component of social support. As the cultural ideology became ever-less able, or willing, or daring enough to acknowledge its own erstwhile Stalinist self, it became increasingly obvious how badly needed was something that outlined the definition of art – what was primarily missing here was the spirit of the collector, appearing only as a vacuum. And I don’t think this applies to this repository alone. The other important thing, which actually does appear, is the artists’ relationship to their own historical age. In retrospect, it is easy to see trends of self-censorship and escapism, and over-careful violations of form. One hopes this will raise the question in the minds of many what our own age will look like from a historical distance.
MM: Don’t you think that what really distinguishes a “real” collection from a repository is not so much its “conception” or the “passion,” “interest,” and “quality” that form it, but rather the theoretical discourse that builds legitimacy for such cultural forms, as well as their institutional environment (or ideology)? Shouldn’t the question “What makes a repository a collection?” really be put the other way around? After all, though it seems justifiably put in the case of FKSE, most collections today, particularly in museums, are struggling with the same irreconcilabilities.
JS: I think we should treat state collecting separately from the private kind, then examine what the collecting possibilities in oppressive regimes vs. democratic contexts are. Jumping to the present day, the age of the Prima Primissima Prize,5 everyone knows perfectly well that democratic/private collecting circles can ignore theoretical, value-creating discourse just as much as institutionalized socialist-realist ones.
REH: I thoroughly agree with that. The state collection has always reflected official cultural policy. So the FKSE collection gives a profile of its contemporary politics, but also, through the works themselves, shows the experience of those artists, those citizens, who accepted the official restrictions. Obviously, whoever was not accepted, whether through internal or foreign emigration, was excluded from the collection. The democratic private collection is a means for the collector’s self-expression, which raises the question whether the new economic elite is using the collection as a symbol of wealth and status, or whether this class sees in it the self-reflective expression of society and intellectual life. The “repository-or-collection” question is less significant for me; I consider the concept of the cultural exercise to be far more important, given that this describes a space where the community’s spiritual and emotional needs take shape and are given voice. So today there is urgent need to reevaluate the reach of the museum and of public space generally, or if we cannot set such a lofty goal, at least one personal conversation might be presented as a cultural exercise – at the FKSE’s gallery, say – with painters that donated their paintings exhibited by us to the collection.
MM: About this conflict lurking in the duality of cultural archive (collection/preserving) and the profane cultural space (repository/forgetting), the sole legitimate solution for which, in Groys’ view, must come from the “new” – to what extent do you think this is resolvable by reorienting cultural attention through discourse?
REH: I doe not see Groys’ model as applicable nowadays. Previously I thought it very powerful, but now see it as typically post-socialist. It gives expression to the perspective of the émigré who unexpectedly leaves the Soviet Union for the West only to be stunned there by the value-neutralizing power of the pluralist archive. Such de-politicizing introduction to the cultural archive of a democratic society, and its accompanying stripping of practical or ideological values, must have become a valid model during the Cold War period. Today if something is exhibited in a museum, it is not de-politicized, and does not lose its practical (profane) function.
JS: We never intended to direct cultural attention through discourse, but rather demonstrate how easy it is to generate fruitful discussion. As far as the profane cultural space of our age is concerned, we see the usual ignorance dominating, and on top of that the ideology of forgetting – these have become fashions, part of the lifestyle. Not only is pop culture built on this, but public life is also. The global consumer-proletarian lives without long-term memory. In such a memory-crippled community, recontextualization is a particularly important activity.
1 The KMKK announced a competition to come up with a Hungarian version of the game (info available: fmr at mrf.hu).
2 The sole exception would be the exhibition held at the Mission Art Galéria in Miskolc in 2003, which presented a worthy selection of the graphic materials. We would like to take this opportunity to thank László Jurecskó and Károly Elekes for their efforts in this.)
4 Included were the work of Hubert Schmalix, Siegfried Anzinger, Ingeborg Gabriel, Martin Kippenberger, Michael Krebber, Dan Graham, Jutta Koether, and Jörg Schlick.
5 The Prima Primissima Prize was established in the summer of 2004 by the businessman Sándor Demján with the support of the National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers (VOSZ).