Ágnes Básthy: Case Study for Tranzit.hu workshop. 2015

Project title: National kippah and rainbow cockade
Date: 15th of March, 2015. (Context: the national celebration of the 1848-’49 revolution and struggle for freedom and independence from Austro-Hungarian Monarchy)
Place: Astoria, Budapest, Hungary, simultanously with the official celebration
Website of the artist: http://www.eperjesi.hu/public

Antecedents ( the date and place of birth of the project) – The Live Memorial
The antecedent of the project goes back to 23th of March, 2014, to a flashmob called Eleven Emlékmű (Live Memorial) that later came to be a movement against the „Memorial of the victims of the german occupation”, a plan of a memorial by the “Orbán-regime” . The memorial’s concept widely judged as distortion of the historical facts, because it relativise the resposibility of Hungary in the WWII. The concept of the memorial also harms the descendants of the victims of the Holocaust.

Despite the protest movement, which continues until today, the memorial was erected at 30th of The purpose of the flashmob was to initiate a new discourse about the collective history of Hungary, because the Hungarian society is divided by it There isn’t a collective narrative of the basic historical facts legitimazed by the majority of the citizens. Actually the memorial – and also the reaction for it –
The organizers of the Eleven Emlékmű (Live Memorial) asked the participators to bring to the memorial their private remembrances in relation to the victims of the Holocaust, or objects that can express their solidarity to the victims. They also asked the participators to bring white plastic chairs, and start to communicate about the collective history of Hungary. They asked the most prominent intellectuals (András Rényi, Ágnes Heller...etc.) to moderate and outline the topics of these
One of these demonstrations in 17th of May in 2014, Eperjesi brought some of her „national kippahs” – she made the week before – to the event and, asked the male participators to put on them. The action was documented by photographs. This was the event when one of the objects was born, and used in an action. After a contextual change this object became an art object when it was exhbitied in a group exhibition first in Knoll Gallerie Wien (Aug 7 - Sept 20, 2014) after in Knoll Gallery

The happening
Eperjesi chose one of the most important and most problematic national celebration of the Hungarian society. On 15th of March Hungarians celebrate the Revolution of 1848-49; the struggle for freedom and independence from Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. They fought for the suverenity of the country. The phenomenon was accomodated by the nationalist movements of the 19th centutry. Throughout the decades this comemoration’s significance was artifically kept alive, but year after year the context of national symbols used in the celebration, the relation to national history, and the traditions changed significantly. The all-time political power always felt authorised themselves to form and exploit them (hereby they erodate them), so several times they appropriate and use them for their own purpose without being mindful of the consequences. The National Flag, for example, lost it’s deepest meanings such as collectivity, togetherness, the symbol started to be appropriated by the far-right political movements. Unfortunately this situation is the outcome of a long process, when for decades these symbols could not be redefined and recharge with legitimated meaning.

The course of the happening
Eperjesi published an appeal on her social media profile where she asked her male acquaintances to join her happening by wearing her „national kippah” on the official celebration of 15th of March, 2015. She wrote that she will also participate in the happening by wearing her rainbow cockade. Her explanation about the purpose of the happening is „I don’t want to provocate, that’s because I don’t want to wear it, and also I don’t want any woman
to wear it. And because I really don’t want to provocate, we won’t get close to the „árpádsávosok” (an expression to the far-right wing people). This will be a moderate demonstration against the appropriation of our national symbols and against jewish people’s condemnation as non-hungarians”.

At the beginning the happening was controlled, but when they reached Astoria at 15th of March, 2015 where the celebration really started, a male participant who joined Eperjesi after her announcement, became frightened by the real situation. Therefore Eperjesi spontaneously tried to demonstrate to him the real situation, she got in contact with the partictipants of the official celebration. She got in contact with a boy who sold cockades. After a discourse she asked for permission and she put the rainbow cockade in the selling box, and they documented this action. One other people joined them, Eperjesi asked her to wear the „national kippah”, as a solidarity gesture. The happening was documented by photograper Ádám Urbán.

The representation of the happening

Our most basic national symbols are loaded with various different shades of connotations, which have very little relation to their original meanings. In my opinion Eperjesi’s purpose was an experiment with a national symbol to redefine them with the meanings of collectivity, togerherness and solidarity, with the minorities who lives among us. Actually, if we would try to decode them, in a harmonical democratic stituation, the statement behind these objects are evidences. But in fact, the political situation in Hungary is definitely not harmonic, and not consensual, therefore the decoding of these objects is problematic. The happening, by testing thes objects, was a method for Eperjesi to see how do these objects work in such circumstances, and what are the effects of the appearing of such objects in a situation dedicated to the official rhetoric of natonality.

Reactions and responses or the outcome of the experiment
As it was predicted the outcome of the happening was various. There were both negative and positive reactions by the participants of the official celebration.

Positive reactions
Some people in the official celebration, who decoded the objects and the happening the way Eperjesi wanted to communicate. They agreed with the meaning and the content therefore they were
1. As I mentioned before there was a male participant who joined to the happening, and who asked Eperjesi to let him wear one of the „national kippah”. Eperjesi valued his action as the most positive reaction (She hoped, and a bit expected it, that’s why she brought some kippahs with herself).
2. She got in contact with a boy who sold cockades. As he recognized the rainbow cockade on her chest, he was so happy, that he almost cried. He really liked the object, and he said that: „This national wing is very good, but in the practise of recognition it has some deficiency, especially in the recognition of his difference.” It was a symbolical moment because the boy was seemingly gipsy and his enthusiastic behaviour in realtion to the rainbow cockade (which was very similar to the LMBTQ flag) referred to that he is part of one of the sexual minorities in Hungary. (via oral statement of of Eperjesi)
3. There were passively supportive participants in the crowd.

Negative reactions
There were some people in the crowd who decoded the objects and the happening as a provocation.
1. There was one recontructable verbal abuse: „ It’s not a problem if you are a jew, but don’t be a jerk.”
2. There were people in the crowd who were passive, but we could sense their dissaproval.

Eperjesi’s happening have a very significant now days. It is strange to say, but the meaning behind her objects are evidences. As they combine different traditional symbols, they represent, redifine and reconstruct the collectivity, togetherness and solidarity by the minorities live among us. They get their real significance, actual meanings in the context of the contemporary hungarian existencial and political situation, that is fulfilled with nationalist emotions. The strong forge ahead of the far-right is a real and very frightening tendency these days. Therefore in my opinion we have to represent Eperjesi’s happening as a powerful political statement that gets its significance by the disturbed and

Information / Bibliography:
Private interview with the artist (undocumented)
The homepage of the Knoll Gallery, Wien (more informations about the exhibition (Aug 7 - Sept 20, 2014)
The homepage of the Knoll Gallery, Budapest (more informations about the exhibition (sept 25 - nov 22, 2014)
Gócza Anita: A nacionalizmus forró téma egész Európában, in.: Artportal, 2014-10-31
Deák Csillag-Kölüs Lajos: Epizód: Unicorn is More Than a Nation
Krisztina Dékei: Kipa és kapa in Magyar Narancs, 2014/41. (10. 09.)
Saskia Monshouwer: Vijf dagen Hongarije: Alles wordt zo plat en simpel, zegt Ákos Birkás, complexiteit is het enig mogelijke antwoord.