Mittle 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, Hungary.

TRANZIT HOUSE, Cluj, Romania
http://www.dntcj.ro/NGOs/tranzit

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 awards.

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 a reality?

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 centre.

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.buryzone.sk
http://www.multiplace.sk
http://www.nmn.sk - alternative festival of new media culture
http://www.stupidesign.sk - 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, 2002.

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 and aims?

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
coordinating (spaces).



CONTINUE>>>


Tranzit House (former Synagogue) from the river Cluj



Exhibition at Tranzit House


Csilla Konczei: founding member of TranzitHouse
















Buryzone: Marisa in front of Beyond Gagarin stage set



Buryzone, Bratislava: show & sale of rock records





Words: Nina Czegledy
Place:
Romania, Bratislava, Slovakia, Serbia, Budapest, Hungary
Time: Summer.02
Photos: Nina Czegledy