Dilemma (book)

Dilemma, 2013
Edited by Edit András

A touring exhibition of one of the most important representatives of contemporary art in the Central and Eastern European region was at all its sites (Budapest, Košice, Brno) at home and, at the same time, a guest; in all the sites it was a statement made from both the inside and the outside, corresponding to the transnational position of the artist. Ilona Nemeth is a Slovak artist of Hungarian nationality, whose artistic career began in Czechoslovakia, who regularly exhibits in Slovakia as well as in the Czech Republic, and who is also considered part of the Hungarian art scene.

The exhibition was intended to be a retrospective one presented in the four Visegrad countries. The curator of the touring exhibition was supposed to be the Slovak art historian Vladimir Beskid and was to be presented in Trnava, Budapest, Brno, and in Poznań. Finally, however, it took place in Budapest (actually lacking an exhibition), in Košice and in Brno, and it was also represented with one artwork at the biennial in Poznań. Between the initial concept of the touring exhibition in 2011 and its realization in 2011–12, the cultural map of the region had fundamentally changed. Beskid was removed for political reasons, which made the planned exhibition in Trnava impossible, and finally Košice became the Slovak site of the exhibition. Politically motivated changes also occurred in the leadership of Műcsarnok, resulting in the replacement of the designated curator, and under the influence of the turbulent events, even the concept of the exhibition was changed. The exhibition was to be opened at a time when in Hungary – in the middle of an intense right-wing turn at the time – a “scandal around philosophers” broke out, i.e. a political discrediting campaign directed against leftist intellectuals. Since the central piece of the exhibition, presenting feminists artworks and works of art conceived from a female point of view, was supposed to be an interview with Agnes Heller, and since one of the main targets of the “scandal” was herself (and apparently her intellectual 10 attitudes), the artist had to deal with the dilemma of whether to risk exposing her work within the prevailing political atmosphere and stirring up passions, which could result in her exhibition acquiring – in the over-politicized and dangerously polarized public life in Hungary – a completely different meaning or, whether it would be better to change the strategy. Ilona Nemeth opted for a “retreat” and, instead of a comprehensive retrospective exhibition she presented video recordings depicting her own reflections as well as her professional and personal dilemma in the lobby of the closed exhibition space of the Museum.

The original concept of the exhibition was actually realized in Košice and Brno. Although the impact of the Hungarian local context beyond the borders of Hungary was no longer as powerful, it was replaced by the local Slovak context, since the exhibition took place in the former County House of Košice – a historical place where the Beneš Decrees were declared, and in which a meeting room was established for Mečiar’s commissariat. In this context, the exhibition was twisted into something which evoked nationalisms, historical events and the intense political context of regional culture. That was not foreign to the artist, who, after her body politics in 1990, increasingly began leaning towards political art and creating socially conscious works. As the exhibitions toured the specified region, their context and interpretation changed accordingly. The particular variants of the exhibition, in essence, embodied the process of culturaltranslation.

The aim of this publication is to present the milestones of this tour, the particular exhibitions, their different sites and variants along with the changing political and cultural contexts, and to uncover the process of cultural translation by means of parallel visual and textual narratives. The visual scenario allows the reader to make a virtual tour through the venues of the exhibitions and the related documents capturing the response in the local media converging on the local reception of the exhibition.

The exhibition and the artist’s artwork are analyzed – corresponding to Ilona Nemeth’s transnational operation – by an international team of experts in the form of feature articles intertwined with chronological narratives. A comprehensive look at the history of individual exhibitions, their political background, the changing context and the diverse receptions is presented by Gabor Hushegyi, who has, from the very beginning, followed and analyzed the artist’s career, also because he himself – just like the artist – moves around in several countries as if at home. The Serbian art historian living in Berlin, curator of the Gender Check exhibition, Bojana Pejić starts out with the philosophy of Agnes Heller and discusses the metaphor of freedom, while analyzing Ilona Nemeth’s public art works and projects focusing on social issues. Slovak art historian Daniel Gruň explores, through the aesthetics of the absence and failure, the current possibilities of institutional critique. And I, as a counterpoint to the comprehensive viewpoint of Hushegyi, focus on a single element of the shows, the Grandstand, which accompanies the individual exhibitions, and through its close reading I examine the genealogy of the female position from the 19th century to the present, from the female point of view.

We hope that this publication will be a counterweight to the national fragmentation and ethnic nationalism stirred by official politics, and will point out the mutual cultural connectedness while, at the same time, introducing the history, wandering and metamorphosis of an exhibition.

Budapest – New York, September 2013.

Foreword by Edit András

Published by the Kalligram (Bratislava), December 2013. in 2013.

First edition, 352 pages.
Published in English, Hungarian and Slovak.
Publisher László Szigeti.
Production editor Zsolt Beke.
Proof-readers: Edit András, Zsolt Beke, Lucia Gregorová, Karol Chmel.
Graphic design Pavlína Morháčová.
Printed by i+i print, Bratislava.
Buy the book online at: kalligram.sk.