ESR 1 Blog November 2021: Gabor Erlich

Was I really joking about how I feel about traveling just a month ago? Well, I must admit that I am en route to Warsaw now and am very excited to meet Sophie and the folks over at the Biennale Warszawa. Does it make me a hypocrite? A friend and fellow artist, Miklos Erhadt shared a story recently: he says that he felt participation-based socially engaged art was over when a curator wearing all Margiela asked him to come up with a new long-term project— here’s to hope that I won’t end up being a RIMOWA-ambassador, jet-set researcher.

These months are all about structure and order. Recently I am putting together my bibliography for each chapter. How do you feel about this specific labour, I wonder…? The repetitive mechanism of compilation is a frustrating chore for me, although, I really learned to love bibliography for what it is. Some of you may know how much I admire graphs in general (and some of you may have seen my childish attempts while summarising my research project). This is exactly what I appreciate about bibliographies, too: just piling up all the books I have been reading, all the papers I now have the privilege to (legally) access- it makes up a very specific, I’d go as far as to say, unique corpus. Which is of course, not to say, “Show me your bibliography and I tell who you are”, but it certainly makes me revisit/focus on the conflicts, all those precious jitters in the literature, through which I am seeking to connect the multitude of approaches I draw on. To me, it is Conflictual Aesthetics per say. A map in constant flux, this ever-expanding hue of (meta)data holds my research together. But also, there has to come a point when the accumulation must stop, as the engineers of the Voyager Project did, when they froze all technology at a certain point in time to ensure compatibility – which is a battle I save for a later time.

Clearly, I have not been investing the same amount of energy in all fields. The bibliography is much more detailed for my first chapter, which is okay, since this is the one I will have to declare the epistemic ontology of my project. What does it mean to focus on the Central and Eastern European region in such research? What makes the case of CEE special? I am tempted to start this explanation with going back to the roots of the story, all the way to the period between 950-1200 CE which I know is far-fetched – but bear with me for a moment, please. This is the period when the ‘seven joint tribes’ who call themselves ‘madzsar’ (Hungarians) have already conquered the Carpathian Basin (through shady diplomacy and military power). Just settling down after centuries of nomadic dwelling from the southern edges of the Ural Mountain through today’s Azerbaijan, the ‘Hungarians’ had a very different set of social as well as religious dogmas than their new Western neighbours. They were pagan tribal communities with a distinct military technique which allowed them to carry out short invasions towards the West with great success. In the language of the history books, this was ‘The Age of Adventures’, in reality this was a crazy period in which small hordes of the very talented horsemen- Hungarians looted the neighbouring towns leaving behind them men killed, women raped, and churches burned. Some forty years of such invasions was more than enough for the otherwise polarised kingdoms and various Lords to put together an army that defeated the Hungarians in the town Augsburg in 955. There were not many options left open: either settling and establishing a kingdom or slowly getting chopped up by the Western armies. Geza, the Grand prince of the Hungarians opted for the first, and he really meant it. After the defeat at Augsburg, he focused all his power to ensure that only his son Vajk was able to follow him onto the throne, but this time around, as a proper Christian King. This basically entailed a merciless purge against all tribal leaders who showed not much enthusiasm for the new religion and even less for centralised power. The details are blurry, but via torturing or killing all other contenders, Geza succeeded, and pope Sylvester II coronated Vajk, who, under Christianity changed his name to Istvan (later becoming a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by the name of King Saint Stephen).

Why am I taking you so far back? Well, for one, this period is considered as the foundation of the country, the proof of Hungary’s European-ness, which has been serving as a major argument whenever the public discussion is about whether or not Hungarians are Europeans. Also, the historical facts show us that whatever we want to call it, this ‘Europeanisation’ did not happen as a result of the consensual agreement of the Hungarians but rather, it served as a road to power for a powerful elite group which then became the first Royal dynasty that was challenged by the heirs of the exterminated tribal chiefs whose will to turn back to ‘the old gods and social structure’ was so popular that the consolidation period was no less than two centuries (yet another Saint King, Laszlo introduced statarial measures [the return to a fixed place] to solidify the Christian order).

Further, it is also really interesting that throughout the Medieval histories of the two countries, Hungary and Poland were ruled by the same Kings, as well as the Jagellonian dynasty had very strong influence on Hungary.

Nowadays, it seems that these two countries are on the same track of ‘de-Europeanisation’; we are the black sheep of the family that is herded not as much by the belief in the shared values of the union, but more by the belief in the unquestionable ruling position of some very rich and powerful elites. This though would take us to start thinking about the ‘Invention of Eastern Europe’ to borrow that phrase from Larry Wolff, which, I think, I will save for the next time when I’ll also show you some memorabilia Warszawa.

Take care.

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