This is something I’d like to talk about because lately I’ve been spending most of my time understanding some of Hegel’s concepts while reading John Roberts’ book, Revolutionary Time and Avant-Garde (Verso, 2015) which is a revelation, a very-very dense text which not only grapples with dense ideas but also finds a way to understand and interpret them so that reading this piece of philosophy will surely challenge and change the views of many.
I’d like to talk more about it, but I have to book an appointment with a test-center that ‘does PCR’ since I am moving to the UK next week to start this endeavour, be a researcher on the FEINART program for the next three years. I wish it was possible to get it done in the village where I’m staying now, although I know, since I spent my first eighteen years [ ] here, that such wishes rarely come true in the Hungarian countryside. I was right. I will have to take a bus to the closest town, and a train from there to another, somewhat bigger town to get tested for Covid. Which is, I’m aware, a rather luxurious complaint given the fact that many of my fellow villagers just have to do this (or a similarly lengthy) commute on a daily basis in order to get to work – there are not many opportunities around. I grew up here in a working class family, and this upbringing, as I’ve realized some time ago, is and will remain a crucial impact on what I am doing now, despite having left this place at the age of nineteen. The cultural codes of my original habitat seem ever further away during my visits, but even that cannot overwrite the magnitude of the impact this upbringing has had on me. I am telling you all this because I am becoming certain that my long journey to the Left actually starts here, in the village. Not consciously though, the climate of my early years was shaped by the constant struggle my parents and their network had to put up with, after the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’, the period of ‘transitioning’ and ‘catching up with the West’ as a fresh capitalist democracy. For them, as for many in Central Eastern Europe, this was far from being a hopeful period. The working class had to face a crucial shift, which was orchestrated by the compradors of capitalism; respect for workers just evaporated and it got exchanged for some euphoric optimism that the technocrats and the free market will bring us back what we all had once in common, the membership status of the community of Europe. The icing on all this was a vehement anti-communist rhetoric, often antisemitic, nationalistic, which of course not many of my fellow villagers could detect. All I heard at school was that the problems our nation have to deal with are caused by the Roma-Hungarian minorities and the other lazy people who won’t succeed and go to university. Here I am, I managed to go to university, just as they wanted, yet, all I have ever learned proves them totally, and unfortunately, fatally wrong.
After ten years of artistic practice and research and social activism, I am still occupied by the same search: how can an artist with a working class background find ways, in the ample field of socially engaged artistic practices, to develop the potential to create a more just societal fabric, and, as such, how can such artists, learn from the revolutionary thought/practice of past attempts.
My name is Gábor Erlich, and I will be researching the changes that occur with the emergence of socially engaged art in the fields of the economic role of art as well as the social identity of the artist. I will be writing this blog throughout my journey monthly to share the path of my scrutiny. I hope you will read it sometimes. Now I really have to go and be with my villagers.