Europe: Recent Cultural Initiatives
> Nina Czegledy
Over the past summer, I visited and have been
deeply impressed by new, alternative cultural initiatives in the Middle
of Europe. While the profile and focus of these cultural (ad)ventures
vary from place to place, all of them were self or grass roots initiated
and became rapidly successful indicating a need for diverse, often
spontaneous and in many cases informal interactions.
The following four interviews are part of a study in progress and
concern Tranzit House, Cluj, Romania; Buryzone, Bratislava, Slovakia;
Kuda org.Novi Sad, Serbia and Two Artists Two Curators, Budapest,
TRANZIT HOUSE, Cluj, Romania
In 1997, Tranzit House, began operations in a former Synagogue in
Cluj,Romania. The dilapidated building has served as a storage place
for several years and could be accessed only through a back alley
Back in the late nineties, it would have been difficult to foresee
the current extent of activities in the renovated building. The Foundation
itself has been established in 1998. Events began sporadically as
early as 1997, however due to the condition of the building regular
programming was not possible until 2001. The events ranged from folk
dancing for children to experimental film projections. Within this
time frame - said Csilla Konczei, founding member- the programming
allowed the assessment of the cultural atmosphere of the city, which
in turn was reflected in the order of the events. Over the last year
in collaboration with individuals, especially Joanne Richardson and
organizations such as the IDEA Foundation new trends emerged in programming.
Between September 26-29, 2002, Tranzindex Media Theory
Symposium, the latest collaborative project of the Foundation was
held in the Tranzit House.
This interview with Csilla Konczei and Tincuta Parv
coordinator of the Tranzindex Media Theory Symposium was conducted
by e-mail over the summer and on September 29,2002 in Cluj.
Csilla Konczei, anthropologist, artist and curator worked most of
her life in Cluj. Csilla is teaching in the Department of Ethnography
and Anthropology at the University of Cluj and she is also involved
in non-verbal communication research. In the former political regime
she couldn't get a job and has been working as a freelance ethnographer.
In 1990 she began to work at Romanian National Television.Around this
time she started to produce independent video art, which has been
shown at many international festivals and has received prestigious
Tincuta Parv has graduated from the Art Academy of Cluj in 1998. She
has completed one year of post graduate studies at Nantes, France.
Following this she has obtained another degree in cultural anthropology
in Cluj. Tincuta has been working full-time at Tranzit House for the
last two years.
Nina Czegledy: You have initiated the Tranzit project a few
years ago. Can you tell me about the background in Cluj in general
and your project in particular? How and why did this initiative become
Csilla Konczei: When I started the Tranzit project, Cluj was
a sort of a depressing place. This was the second depressing period
in my life -the first being of course during the Ceausescu regime.
Many interesting people left the country; the intellectual/artistic
life has being vegetating in a very closed and static institutional
system. I did not find a satisfying context for my activities at home.
The empty building of a former synagogue on the bank of Somes River
presented a very inspiring apropos for initiating an artistic and
community building project. So we rented the building from the Jewish
community together with my husband and I started to look for people
with whom to develop the project of establishing a contemporary art
By now, Cluj is a much more lively place - maybe in a certain way
Tranzit contributes to this as well .Our project means a permanent
activity facilitated by a small staff and many visiting local and
international artists in the partly restored building of Tranzit House,
as we call it. During the five years of our existence we succeeded
to attract artists and increasing grant support by organizing artistic
manifestations, which expressed our ideas and revealed the possibilities
of the project. We could say that the Tranzit project is a specific
low budget project, which gradually succeeded to transform non-monetary
values into monetary ones.
NC: I have been very impressed by the events you organize.
Can you describe your activities and aims?
CK: Maybe a clue for our progress can be found in the freedom
integrated into the concept of Tranzit, which is based on transgression
of boundaries. More concretely: Tranzit Foundation in the first years
organized a few major artistic events to show this direction (We and
They, 11-13 October 1997, The Passer-bye, 1998, New Meeting Places,
1999). This was accomplished parallel to establishing the infrastructure
for basic utilities (water, electricity, gas), and restoration of
the building. So when the space of Tranzit House became functional
in 2001 February, complete with a heating system, plenty of offers
were received from groups and individuals. Beside our own projects,
now Tranzit House functions as a host for very different artistic
activities. We came to a period in which there is a need of a stricter
planning, so we have to decide our priorities, on which major Tranzit
projects to focus and how to use the space of the house for others'
activities. In the future, we will probably keep a few major events,
like Tranzit Days festival in the period of May-June, or an annual
conference on media criticism in September, and some other projects
concerning informal education, intercultural activities, the representation
of Jewish culture, and so on. Turning to a more strict planning is
also an economic necessity, as we are totally self-sustained, a fact
that hopefully will not seriously affect the freedom of the house
and of the activities.
NC: The wide range of audiences coming to your events are also
impressive.Can you tell more about your audience?
CK: Talking about our audiences, we should really speak about
our audiences in plural, as there is a real diversity concerning the
public of different events. Although the majority of our public is
composed by young people, especially students - which is a local and
regional phenomena -, we can mobilize different ethnic, age and social
groups due to the diversity of our program. We have projects working
with Romani people (artistic education for children, experimental
theatre), we organize programs concerning Jewish culture inviting
the local Jewish community (these are basically elderly people). The
inhabitants of the city got used to the idea that different social
and ethnic groups use the same space, but still the number of occasions
when events of different profiles are mixed are not very numerous.
NC: What are your plans for the future?
CK: Concerning the future, five years of existence have passed
which means that we could build on the image of a permanent place
and organization. The economic difficulties make it extremely difficult
to sustain this image in reality. We are expanding in many ways: we
continue to restore the building, we have more permanent collaborators,
more success with applications and projects -consequently we have
an increasing budget and increasingly important art projects. We are
trying to seek solutions for self-raised resources, for example running
a cafe and offering cultural services in order to maintain our independence.
The Tranzindex Media Theory Symposium, organized by
the Tranzit Foundation and Joanne Richardson in collaboration with
Next 5 Minutes (Amsterdam), Idea Foundation and ANO Foundation, was
held in Cluj. "The project aimed at strengthening a critical
and active approach towards new visual media both at a professional
level and in the public opinion by launching a debate on the content
of media representation.The stated purpose of the conference was to
find alternatives to existing models of media content, to evaluate
already implemented alternative strategies elsewhere, to adapt these
strategies to local social contexts and to consider visual media as
a channel for communication and community building. More than twenty
participants came from 13 countries - in addition the Kultiplex and
Tilos Radio from Budapest brought 30 members to Cluj.
I have interviewed project
coordinatorTincuta Parv on the topic
of the symposium
NC: Can you tell me about the Tranzindex Symposium?
Tincuta Parv: This is the second edition of Tranzindex -and up till
now, the largest media theory event in Cluj. Censorship was the subject
of the first conference last year and it focused on censorship in
the arts and cultural systems. Some media representatives and journalists
were also involved. We tried to focus on independent media, radio,
tv and new media tools such as the internet. We tried to establish
the background in Romania. In the course of our work, it became obvious
that there is still a lack of connection between the various elements
of what could create a real mediascape. Part of the difficulty is
that the commercial sector is very strong and there is a shortage
of independent initiatives. For example regarding the internet there
have been computers and online connections as far back as twelve years
ago, but independent possibilities became available only lately. There
are very big discrepancies between those who have access and those
who don't. This represents partly a generation gap - young people
have a better understanding of computer related issues. I should add
that today there are many internet cafes in Cluj, however this does
no mean that the users have a critical approach. The customers use
these places mostly for entertainment. We intended to provoke the
locals and to push them into openly discussing these issues. This
was the most important reason to initiate the conference. At the same
time we see ourselves as a cultural center and we tried to make connections
in a wider European context. We developed different subjects for the
conference, such as education in new media, alternative media issues
and questions pertaining as to what is the public domain, what is
a private domain? What is the frontier between documentary and fiction?
How can this be manipulated? We worked on developing the conference
with Joanna Richardson, who is involved in a large global network
of media activists, combining our own connections with hers in order
to create a much wider media scene.
NC. I was missing a larger local audience at Tranzindex. Can
you talk about this?
TP: We organize an eclectic range of events here in Tranzit
- people are used to come to events which are well advertised in the
Romanian press. For example when we organized the Tranzit Days festival,
there were some important theatre groups coming from Bucharest as
well as an important group of Slovenian artists. Although we made
the same publicity for the events, most of the people came only for
the Romanian events, because they knew of these people through an
informal information network. In the future we have to consider this
informal network when we wish to spread information on upcoming events.
BURYZONE, Bratislava, Slovakia
http://www.nmn.sk - alternative festival
of new media culture
- recent Buryzone project New Media Nation
BURYZONE is an independent alternative gallery and club in Bratislava,
Slovakia established in 2001 and operated by a no-profit association.
Buryzone organizes regular events on each Friday in a small family
house. These events include alternative exhibitions, lectures, discussions,
presentations, screenings etc.The bigger events are organized off-site,
mostly in cooperation with other organizations. Last year the great
opening event of Buryzone was celebrated by a performance and an exhibition
by STUPIDesign in collaboration with Polish graphic students. The
opening of the library offering catalogues, books and an exhibition
of book-like art objects served as a good excuse for a second opening
event. In the summer of 2001 Beyond Gagarin. was one of the biggest
events organized by Buryzone This open air festival took place in
a nearby park presenting performances, drama and concerts. A monument
made from concrete dating from the Socialist era served as the festival
stage. The Multiplace alternative festival of new media culture was
held in April 2002 in three Slovak cities: Bratislava, Trnava, Nitra.
The series of events included an interactive exhibition by Ivor Diosi,
projections, VJs. etc.
This interview was conducted by e-mail with Maria Riskova and in person
with Ivana Moncolova at the Tranzindex Symposium, on September 28,
Maria Riskova graduated 1998 with a degree in art history in Trnava,
Slovakia. She has co-founded with other graduates of the university
the ERRATA group (www.errata.sk).
In 1999 she started to work for the State Gallery in Trnava, where
she was responsible for the realization of the Poster Triennial the
biggest international event in the field of graphic design in Slovakia
(www.gjk.sk). In January 2001 Marisa
in collaboration with STUPIDesign, co-founded BURYZONE, where she
continues to work as the curator and manager of the organization.
Marisa is also an editor of the 3/4 revue - magazine for arts, culture
and media (www.tristvrte.sk).
Ivana Moncolova is a student of art history and culture at the University
of Trnava. She has a part time job at the Slovak National Gallery
and is also a free lance journalist. Currently Ivana volunteers at
Buryzone, working as a curator of some of the exhibitions and fulfills
some other tasks as well.
Nina Czegledy: In view of Buryzone's success, can you tell
me more about your audiences and special events?
Ivana Moncolova: Our regular audience ranges from ten to one
hundred people, consisting of students, artists, theorists and the
general public. On the three weekdays when we are open the public
has an opportunity to come in for a coffee or a drink, read journals
and chat. Every Wednesday evening we have a broadcast event, however
our broadcast range is only 10 meters. We would like to stream on
the internet, but we have neither the time nor the funds to do so,
consequently we began in this modest fashion and intend to develop
it step by step. Heavy Metal For Sale was one of our popular events.
People brought objects and records for sale as well as video tapes
and curiosities such as a guitar made of soap. These events bring
in not only artists but a much wider audience. Eighties was another
similar event, dedicated to fashion items and other objects from the
eighties. We had an exhibition of posters from the eighties and an
opening disco party with hits from the eighties.
Nina Czegledy: You have initiated Buryzone less than two years
ago. Can you tell me about the background, in Bratislava? How and
why this group formed?
Maria Riskova: Concerning the art scene, just like in some
other EE countries the issue of the "missing generation"
is still evident. Artists and theorists from the 6Os remain active
and are still having their small and big arguments. But this is disappearing
now. My peers, who finished school 4-5 years ago and even later, are
starting to be very powerful. We have so many possibilities compared
to our colleagues who had to "sit at home" in the 70s and
80s. The other side of the story is that a lot of people are still
passive, used to be consumers. And what is worse they still believe
in dreams about the West and thus they make the difference between
East and West bigger then it actually is. Many young people prefer
to leave the country, instead to start their professional life here
(and I understand them - "I am tired", is the feeling of
my last few months as well). I also planned to study abroad before
BURYZONE. Now this idea is only postponed. I recommend to everybody
to spend some time abroad. It is for a lot of young people the biggest
education and I think we will see results here in few years when they
start to come back home. So, maybe this was an answer WHY we started
BURYZONE last year. Of course, my words are somehow black and white
as the situation is much more complex. The beginning of BURYZONE itself
was a happy coincidence. It seems to be a logical consequence of the
situation and our previous activities. The beginning is quite simple:
two friends: Robert Parso, rented the space for the graphic studio
STUPIDesign and I (having experience with organizing events) intended
to share. Robert came one day with the idea to start a club with a
gallery. Everybody in the studio knew how the place should look like.
Soon we had a lot of volunteers, mostly our friends, helping with
everything we needed. Of course, after some time the first excitement
was not so high and a fewer number of permanent volunteers stayed
helping with the realization of the project. I am working as program
coordinator and also manager of the club and gallery, (what is actually
the living room of the house), and off-site events. At the beginning
people in club and the studio were the same. Now the club is independent
from the studio, paying its own rent but still closely cooperating
with it. We decided long time ago not to enter into the battlefield
of older colleagues and established our own playground at Buryzone.
NC: Can you tell me about recent Buryzone developments?
MR: The biggest one is the ability to realize the New Media
Nation project supported by a grant from EU within the Culture 2000
program. The project aims to involve people from arts and cultural
environments It consists of various types of events, alternative new
media festival, workshops, international text competition for students,
conference and more (please find more information about it at www.nmn.sk).
Actually, this is a very new development for BURYZONE, the program
begins in September.
NC: I have been very impressed by the spontaneous way the regular
Friday events are organized. Can you describe Buryzone activities
MR: We try to educate people how to change from consumers to
producers and presenters of their works. The club is also a contact
point and informal space where one can meet people being active in
different cultural and social environments. Practically, we offer
space and any help needed mostly for young, not established artists,
theorists and organizers to prepare exhibitions and any other activity
- screening, VJing, presentation of work, lecture. Everybody is also
welcome to bring interesting topics or the persons who can present
a lecture. People use this possibility -more then half of the events
are presented from tips of our visitors and friends. Some people need
conceptional help that we can also provide. Often it's the first impulse
for public presentation of their work or knowledge. Sometimes better
known people from the domestic scene give a presentation especially
if their work needs alternative space or audience. Events which we
initiate are mostly presentations of foreign artists and theorists
and events which are providing a balance for the program. We always
have some extra suggestions and if we need more music, or more fine
art we utilize this. Now during the New Media Nation project it is
a little bit different, we initiate many more events. The structure
of our program is simple. The Buryzone gallery and library is open
three days a week from Wednesday to Friday. Every Friday we have an
event, every three weeks a new exhibition. From this season on we
have every Wednesday non-live music events.
NC: Before Buryzone you worked as a curator can you tell us
about your previous experience? especially the conference CENTRE?EDGE,
Elite? Averige, organized in 1999?
MR: I was active in a Group of Young Art Historians and Art
Consumers, called ERRATA. We formed the organization after finishing
our studies at the university in Trnava, the city which is on the
cultural periphery of the Slovakia capital. In 1999 the situation
with the "arguing old generation" was still strong (and
we felt it even stronger right after our studies, without our own
experiences). Everyday we had to face a situation when someone had
considered us less skillful then our colleagues from the Bratislava
university. So, we decided to discuss this issue at the international
conference which we named CENTRE?EDGE, Elite?Averige. We knew that
the topic was at that time already old-fashioned but it was the main
issue for us after finishing that school and we needed to face it
somehow. The conference was the first one, then we did one very successful
exhibition in a train from the west of Slovakia - Bratislava to Kosice,
a big centre which is also considered on the cultural periphery. Then
we did few more things and by now the members are having their own
"business" - I have Buryzone, the initiator to ERRATA Viera
Jancekova is now the youngest state gallery director in Slovakia,
other two members started to edit an art magazine, etc. This group
was important for me, as I saw that curating exhibitions in a white
cube is not my aim and generally I tend more to organize events then
involve myself in theory, or exhibitions. Before Buryzone I worked
in the state gallery in Trnava, coordinating adjunct events for big
international graphic design events. This work gave me the very valuable
knowledge: in no way do I want to be an employee of any state institution.
NC: What are your plans for the future?
MR: There are a few versions of my plans and as usual they
depend a lot on some other people around me. From the next year, I
will be the only one left from the founders. My priority is to continue
with BURYZONE in the same form as it is now, but I want to find people
who could run Buryzone without my permanent presence and they could
realize their own vision about the programs and the management. I
would like to be responsible only for part of the activities because
I plan to shift my work more to research and educational activities,
mostly in new media. I want to try to establish here a space with
a medialab and mediatheque, but not isolated from other fields of
culture. This shift of Buryzone is on the way now. Slovaks still aim
to stay locked into their own profession, so sometimes one needs "tricks"
to attract them to new things. This is the reason why a space presenting
both old and new media, discussing art, science and social issues
has some sense here. People here do not trust new things which are
orthodox. Next year I will be the curator of the Trnava Poster Triennial,
the event I participated in two years ago. Another plan is to go to
study somewhere abroad for some time, or to start an alternative magazine
with my friends but this plan I can save for later, now I feel this
is the time for