Little Warsaw

Date 28 SEPTEMBER 2009

This film includes footage from The Third (1971, BBS), a film by Gabor Body

András Gálik and Bálint Havas, who had spent their childhood of the 70s and 80s in communist Hungary, began their collaboration in the late 1990s after completing their studies at the Budapest Art Academy. Starting out painting during art school, they have since worked in various disciplines, without committing to a particular genre. Often, confrontation with Neo-Conceptualism can be observed as a starting point, albeit not as the end product of their projects.

The artists cite “social context” as one of the most important aspects of their work. By means of detailed research, comparable to anthropological probing, they analyse certain phenomena that bear relevance far beyond their local context. The focus of their work is a visual language that deals with a collective consciousness or subconsciousness of the (Hungarian) society and the role of art itself. Thus, it is at the same time the upheavals of the post-communist period which they address, repeatedly, in various ways.

Little Warsaw create ambiguous situations by picking up specific cultural traditions and following them with unexpected art interventions, which are then perceived as provocation by the public. As part of this, they provide a critical reference point to the art world, in responding to certain traditions of artistic practice. For example, public sculptures and monuments play a central role in their recent work.

Their project for Visual Correspondents, a video programme commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is entitled “Game of Changes. Episode 1”. Little Warsaw used 40 year old archive film material (the footage is taken from the Gábor Bódy film ‘The Third’ from 1971, copyright Balázs Béla Studió) in which an artist, then 18 years old, talks philosophically about his relationship to the world. A quote in the beginning of the film explains that this man later became the professor of Gálik and Havas: “My dear professor, the way he was when I was born – 1971.”

In the film, the young man speaks of learning as a means of understanding the world. Based on the theme of the fall of the Wall, one could relate his theory of learning to history, as if the film asked if anyone had learned from the mistakes of the pre 1989 regime, or whether these supposedly drastic transformations were only a “game” with different rules, where nothing truly revolutionary was achieved.

As the subtitle “Episode 1” indicates, this 3 minute short video is part of a longer work that was produced for the project Transitland *. In this longer version the archive material is juxtaposed with recent interviews of the same person, shot almost 40 years later, therefore reflecting not only the hopes and expectations of a young adult from the perspective of a mature man, but also expressing how the political regime change has been perceived by an individual.

* The entire Transitland program will also be screened between the 6th – 8th of November 2009 at the media facade of the Hungarian Cultural Centre Berlin.

Anette Schäfer

Interview Little Warsaw – András Gálik and Bálint Havas
interviewed by Anette Schäfer

AS: In your art works you often relate to a specific historical context which bears reference to society at present. What role does the event of the fall of the Berlin Wall or rather the end of the socialist re-gime play in contemporary Hungary, especially for your generation who were about 20 years of age at in 1989? Would you say that this end of the Eastern Bloc era is still very present in Hungarian society’s awareness today?
LW: Yes, I would say so, it’s rather present – mainly as a symbolical narrative. 1989 is the root of most of the great symbolical narratives, of forms and meanings of a mainstream pop communication in the public sphere. However, these symbolic forms prove to be outdated and useless for handling nowadays’ issues in many cases, yet they seem to be strong enough to resist becoming overwritten to a larger extent.

AS: In your video for Visual Foreign Correspondents, entitled “Game of Changes. Episode 1” we can see a young man – who becomes your professor later in art school – talk about ‘learning’ in a philosophical sense, as a way to relate to the world, a way of understanding reality. What we don’t see – as this is Episode 1 – is the same man talking about his understanding of the world nowadays, 40 years later, interview material you have only just shot with him over the past month for the long version of “Game of Changes”. Would you be able to describe briefly what he has to say today and how his views have changed?
LW: Well, it’s quite an uncomfortable task to give a brief summery of the meaning of a piece which is still in progress. Yet, it is a highly challenging project since it is really complicated to pick up the line of a certain train of thoughts after 40 years. Truly, it is engaging, especially since the core of the changes in his view seem to relate to the interview situation itself. Certainly, it is the same person sticking to the same ideas in some respects and changing his view in others, and definitely he has reflections and has many things on his mind, having a lot to say, but overall the question is also whether he likes to speak about all this at all?

AS: VFC is a project specifically made for presentation in the public realm, namely to be screened on a big urban screen as well as online. In your work, it seems that the public context, getting the work shown outside the art world to a wider audience, has always been of importance to you. Can you comment on this?
LW: It’s quite true! We are very happy that many people will see it! And they are going to think of their professors or their youth. The film has this intimacy in it. It is a presentation in the public realm of a work which is done in a truly personal way. Perhaps, people will wonder at the first instance who cares about this?! Hopefully, after that, they will recognise what’s good and nice in it! It is not an explicit public art project but why wouldn’t it just be interesting, this personal issue in the context of the public realm? It’s not just personal but intellectual as well. One could say it’s not grasping in a public space context, indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s quite a strange thing in itself to be put into such a context.

AS: What do you consider the role of art for politics? Would you say that the art world you are part of has any direct relevance to current affairs and politics?
LW: For sure, art has no greater relevance towards politics than any other activism does. Look around, everybody is so creative! They paint walls on the streets and they put on home made posters with political aims. What is the role of the artist in all that? Yes, they also do affect, meaning have a direct relevance to politics.

AS: How do you start on a new project, what’s your source of inspiration and what kind of artistic process follows from then onwards?
LW: I love this question! It’s my favorite one… We are working permanently and also parallel on different sort of things. We can’t answer this… Concerning this project, we were interested in the change of the life situation of the artist. How does the role of the artist get changed by the times? Especially, if someone used to live half of his life time in a completely different context than the other half, now meaning the person portrayed here in this film. This is interesting, isn’t? So, this should become a starting point. And then begins a long process of discussions, research, analyses and experiments. So, finally we realise a kind of encounter of all that.

AS: When I read essays and reviews on Little Warsaw, e.g. the article by Edith András in the book “Art After Conceptual Art”* you have been described in a unique, almost outsider position already during the early days of your collaboration – which coincided with the fall of communism. While the Hungarian or even Eastern European art scene of the nineties was busy with trying to enter the Western art market and buy into the gallery system, you were more interested to “Go East” and explore Hungary itself as well as its exsocialist neighbouring countries. You also did not want to play the art market game – so they say – and instead set up your own underground ‘institution’ for artistic production, exhibition and discourse.
In the meantime, your career has taken off considerably to a high esteem also on an international level; you are considered amongst Hungary’s most relevant contemporary artists, stressed not least by the fact that you just won the Aviva Arts Award.
If one would reenact “Game of Changes” with you in the late nineties and today, how would your expectations, hopes and outlook onto the (art)world shape up now and then, what developments in your own views have you gone through?

LW: Yes, it was a different period. It was obvious for us then that the western art market approach can’t be imported in such a simple way. And it’s a fact that in the late nineties our most concern was our own identity and its roots. It just seemed to us the most relevant issue for ourselves at that time. Of course, we are interested in the changes of the role or position of the artist as a subject matter also because of reflecting on the changes in our own status, what you are asking about here. At the same time, we feel like nothing has changed – we are not like stars, we are not doing better than ten years before and we are outsiders the same way as we were earlier. Although, probably, it has changed a bit, at least the context around us. It is a view from outside, the honour – like an award – to our work. It’s nice, we do respect it, don’t refuse it, however, keeping on that it is not our own image of ourselves but it is that of others of us.

AS: What’s next on the cards, what are you working on currently?
LW: At the moment we are working in Germany preparing a new project for the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach. This latter project relates to a quite similar issue to the one we were talking about above, while it goes beyond toward an international comparative level.

AS: Well, many thanks for this interesting conversation, it’s been a pleasure getting a little more insight into your views.

27. September 2009

* Edit András, Transgressing Boundaries, (Even Those Marked Out by the Predecessors), in New Genre Conceptual Art; in: Art After Conceptual Art; edited by Alexander Alberro and Sabeth Buchmann; MIT Press 2006

Little Warsaw; András Gálik and Bálint Havas (Hungary)
Little Warsaw is the name under which the two Hungarian artists András Gálik and Bálint Havas practice. Born in 1970 and 1971, the pair met while studying at the Budapest Academy of Arts. Since coming together under this name in the late 90s, Little Warsaw has realized a multitude of projects and artworks.

Today, Little Warsaw are considered among the most important contemporary artists of Hungary and their work receives international recognition. They have exhibited widely, participating in the Venice Biennale 2003, the 2nd Berlin Biennale, Manifesta 7, exhibiting at the Apex Art Gallery in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Hungarian duo has been awarded several prizes, most recently the Aviva Art Award.