On Friday 7 October Central, Southeastern and Eastern European Art Centre hosted its first event this academic year at the Courtauld Institute of Art and invited Dr Beáta Hock to give a lecture dedicated to her seminal 2009-2010 exhibition ‘Agents and Provocateurs’. Titled ‘Agents and Provocateurs’ and After the lecture described how the idea for the show emerged, how it was organised, what theoretical considerations preceded it and what developments followed.
Dr Beáta Hock is a Research Associate at the Leipzig Centre for the History and Culture of East Central Europe, where she contributes to the work of the research cluster “Transnationalisation and cultural identities”.
‘Agents and Provocateurs’ was a project based on the research undertaken by Dr Hock and her co-curator Franciska Zólyom in 2008-2009. Its first implementation took place in 2009 at the ICA in Dunaujvaros (Hungary) in the form of an exhibition, film programme and a series of lectures and workshops. It was later revisited and added to and was shown at the Hartware MedienKunstVerein in Dortmund (Germany), where it became the first exhibition to be presented in the new building. During the opening night more than 1000 visitors attended the show. No catalogue has been published in conjunction with it; instead a mobile archive was created as well as a web-site with all the documentation – allowing the spread of information and to preserve the eclectic aesthetic of the DIY materials.
Dr Hock confessed that the show has influenced her whole academic practice and helped to define methodologies still relevant even now. It was then that she experienced the principle of interdisciplinarity which helped to overcome the boundaries of separate scholarly practices. The exhibition helped to formulated a certain approach in relation towards the concept of Eastern European art as well as to realise the limitations imposed by local national narratives and shift the focus towards problem-based research.
The transforming year 1989 created new conditions which have to be tackled by both artists and theoreticians. In her lecture Dr Hock talked extensively about several artworks in the show, which helped her demonstrate how two major forms of confrontation were surveyed there: agency and provocation. Both, according to Dr Hock, were dissenting attitudes of artistic defiance, applicable in different political contexts. The exhibition asked in which circumstances these opposing positions were shaped and what sort of critical potential they really possessed at that time.
The first project described was by the Hungarian artist Tamas St.Auby, who erected a typical museum barrier around a small piece of paper, on which the phrase “Art is everything that’s prohibited. Be prohibited” is printed. To be able to read an otherwise illegible text the visitor had to trespass and break the rules.
A film by Zelimir Zilnik was also screened within the film programme of ‘Agents and Provocateurs’. His work was dedicated to the problem of homelessness and the silence of the authorities on the issues they deem non-existent. Being supposedly resolved within socialist Serbia, it could – nonetheless – be witnessed by the artist in his everyday life. He therefore invited several homeless people to stay with his family and walked around asking random people – including representatives of the local authorities – their opinions on the matter and what solutions they suggested, bringing the discussion down to an intimate, private level.
Another work mentioned by Dr Hock was a mock protest organised by Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party. Sticking to the elements of usual protests (banners, placards, commotion), the participants strictly abandoned any specific goal, political or civil request. The protest was held formally, but no actual message was presented and the content, ultimately, remained completely abstract.
In the second part of her lecture Dr Hock investigated the relevance of the approach developed for the Agents and Provocateurs project and revealed similar theoretical patterns within recent projects, including IRWIN East Art Map, Anthony Gardner’s book ‘Politically Unbecoming: Postsocialist Art Against Democracy’ and several exhibition projects. She talked about the recent referendum in Hungary, in which expensive official propaganda demonised the image of the refugee via manipulative and deceptive slogans. The strategy of now official Two-tailed Dog Party remained intact: they revealed the absurdist nature of the official campaign developing absurdist counter-propaganda, copying its style and publicly posing questions like “Do you know that the average Hungarian sees more UFOs than migrants in their lifetime?”
Describing her personal academic and curatorial experience Dr Beáta Hock thus managed to link it with the general situation of scholarship on Eastern and Central European history of art, creating a bridge between her own conclusions and recent changes in public attitudes: towards a problematic period in recent history.
More can be discovered on the project Agents and Provocateurs by clicking on the image below.