Artist-led or independent spaces engaging directly through programming, protest or boycott of the state was a key element of the trip. Aurora and OFF-Biennale were the most progressive in this approach and other members of the delegation have written about our meetings with them here already, see their posts here: Olivia, Greg, Laura, John, and Anna. I’ll throw my notes here.
Aurora, a social enterprise which is home to a number of NGOs but also is an events space and bar underpinned the importance of place for sharing alternative viewpoints and welcoming marginalised voices. This stance was mirrored in their attitude to the gentrification of the local area and they embraced transience as part of the organisation’s urban identity: moving out would allow them to continue to serve their community.
Our meeting with Hajnalka saw her outline how OFF-Biennale boycotted and disrupted the state’s stake in the arts in order to enhance the culture of democracy through grassroots activity. Voicing her frustration at the impact of protest, boycott and criticism, she also explained how this had driven her to take action. Using the term ‘civic courage’, the discussion outlined the importance of risk-taking and assuming responsibility to demonstrate alternative ideas to a national and international audience. Touching on the financial sustainability, international funding and voluntary activity, I found myself doodling about the fine line between independence and compromise. Voluntary activity can ensure independence but how can this be sustainable in resources, both financial and human?
First stop from the train was a trip out of town to Art Quarter Budapest (AQB). This trip was a direct follow on from the Transylvanian Hungarian Exchange: re-appraising folk and the contemporary talk held at Castlefield Gallery in 2017, which had in part inspired my interest in the Budapest delegation as an artist and fervent fan of the city’s Neprajzi Muzeum. In actuality, the delegation gives me much more to think about in terms of my role at Paradise Works and I’ve parked the folk art interest until later this year.
The huge complex inhabited by AQB was owned and partly funded by one man for the specific purpose of housing artists and art spaces. Philanthropy was cited but it was difficult to gauge the full details of how this came about and worked in practice. There didn’t appear to be any signs that the owner was waiting to cash in on a nest egg once the city caught up to the former brewery’s site on the edge of the city. Studio holders receive subsidised rent and income is bolstered by a number of small businesses – inc. a chocolatier, nail bar and gardening supplier – who pay full fat rent. AQB’s residency programme is self funded but was seen as an opportunity to bring international funds to cover the opportunity rather than a self-funded ‘art holiday’.
This idea of artists in residence bringing in their own funding was shared by Budapest Art Factory, an artist led space run by Márta Kucsora, Dóra Juhász and Sándor Szász, similarly on the edge of the city in a huge former factory building.Art Factory are completely independent and operate outside of any state or arts funding. They are supported by the building’s owner who has enabled them to be in their current premises for the last 15 years and whilst the current site is due for development, this relationship has ensured that the landlord is helping the group rehome in another building from their portfolio.
BAF highlighted the importance of building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in the city, and were clear about their commitment to maintaining financial independence. The political landscape in Hungary means that most artist-led spaces we spoke to will not engage with, or accept any state funding. BAF talked of swapping paintings with collectors in return for residency accommodation, or selling work to generate income. Given the reliance on Arts Council funding within contemporary arts in the UK I couldn’t help but think that we are not developing important skills in negotiation, and that an un-funded approach necessitates engaging and developing an audience for our work in a different way. Of course, the idea of independence in either camp is compromised in some capacity – art collectors will be more interested in acquiring paintings than say, riskier, less commercial works such as film or performance – but I’m interested in what conversations need to be had and with whom to help develop more financial sustainability beyond short-term project grants. This interest is of course based on the assumption that the arts need to be subsidised in some way, but who to foot the bill?
In lieu of a more imaginative way to blog, and because I have a very bad memory, I’ll write about what happened, and what I thought, across an 8 day Budapest Delegation Trip in chronological order. Hopefully this will develop into something slightly more organic and reflective…
I was lucky enough to attend a trip to Budapest last month. Full frontal appropriation of Castlefield’s text here, the trip was: “a delegation of artists from Manchester and the North West will travel to Budapest to meet with artist-led projects and experience the Hungarian capital’s grassroots art scene, traveling overland via Munich. The trip will take place between 17 – 24 March 2018 and is being made possible thanks to eight funded places supported by Castlefield Gallery’s Lee Artists’ International Bursary Fund and a-n The Artists Information Company.” Full details.
I had the pleasure of traveling with the following bonafide good eggs: Jamie Allan, Bob Dickinson, Olivia Glasser, Grace Harrison, Laura Harrison, Gregory Herbert, Anna Horton and John Powell-Jones. We met in London and took the Eurostar to Brussels, narrowly made the connecting train to Frankfurt, and dumped bags at a youth hostel in Munich. A hardcore, but delirious, core group of us made it out to Lothringer13 for the finissage of Der Komfort-Kuppel-Komplex (The Comfort Dome Complex) which took a porcelain-Kaiser-Roll-shaped -rinket-pot under a glass dome as its starting point. This set the political context for the trip, exploring themes of identity, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and ownership. Works I have yet to complete any follow up research on, include:
1. Fred Forrest, mass media and use of newspapers, TV advertising, etc. Hype of art market speculation. Real estate adverts – buying land to auction, he develops the “artistic square metre“.
2. Yona Friedman – social architect and urbanist. Understanding as a social tool. Ideas of politics. Booklet on gentrification. Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/17130045
My reasons for applying to the delegation drew heavily on my role with Paradise Works over the last 12 months. This activity is tightly framed by the 8 artists-led spaces who have been moved out, or have closed in the last 18 months in Manchester. I wanted to research sustainability, reflect on the role of the artist in the city and to open out my/our ideas about what PW should be and what support we might need to get there. So, my notes focus on landlords and money, but wider ideas about taking action, adapting to change, independence and frankness were the other major take-homes either side of this.
So, with this in mind: Lothringer13 had a huge gallery space which was funded by the council. Our late night tour included the bookshop and cafe which provides a street level presence and Jorg, curator, outlined the importance to create quiet and independent spaces in the city, breaking from the consumer focus elsewhere. It is also a space for events, screenings and to share details of other events and spaces in the city; a place for fliers and a ‘Munich Tips’ chalkboard isn’t revolutionary but it does demand a bit of care and attention, and an understanding of mutuality.
The gallery focuses on group exhibitions and is primarily interested with societal issues rather than self referential art theory. The council pays Lothringer13 for staffing and programme. The budget received for each exhibition left the group a bit speechless, but Munich is a wealthy city and these expressions of wealth were more keenly felt when we went to visit Haus der Kunst the following day.
Due to limited time, Blind Faith at Haus der Kunst was whipped round with an impending sense of FOMO: stopping just long enough to be dwarfed by the scale of the works and read enough of the text to follow up later. I know it is uncouth to talk money but you do realise you’ve been living in Austerity Britain™ when your major take away is being awestruck by the potential costs of each work. Ed Atkins and Raphael Sbrzesny were my top two. Underground, Again and Again was an amazing, but again rushed visit with works I’m not sure I might encounter again in the UK soon. One early resolution made was to get out and see the heavy hitting shows – in London – a bit more often.
We visited Loggia, an artist-run gallery showing a solo by Maximiliane Baumgartner, Handlungen für eine komische Figur (Actions for a comedic Figure). Stefan talked about familiar issues regarding the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, how to retain artists in the city and the importance of making things happen for other artists. The wealth in Munich was not making its way through to the artists working in the city readily enough, with art collectors pitching their interests on vouched-for international artists, the usual roster of European art fairs. Regeneration was a hot topic with many artist-led spaces having already been pushed out, but they were able to secure their space thanks to long term support from a private sponsor, and some council funding. This theme of patronage became recurrent as the trip progressed.
My notes from Munich also include “Fatty’s College” and “IF YOU LIKE IT BUY IT”, absolutely no idea why.