Your Majesty, Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
One must ask the question, where does all this come from? The idea of dealing with other people’s banal memories, will they replace my own? Or my dreams? To find the dreams of inner and external realms, the point of view, the perspective and the changing view of the point, the changing perspective? The changing aspect?
How and why do I remember again and again– in multiple layers, together with all the meanings – and what is the motif of this stubborn quest for the ruins and remnants of what the personal and collective amnesia left for us, the fragments of memory? Films? Not always. The rhythm, the music and the continued observation, analysis of the ruins… Ruins of a house, remnants of a life, and the vision of the phoenix that disclaims the loss…. An East- or Central-European saga?
I remember when at the age of six my mother sent me down for ice, as the ice carriage bell was heard on Attila street pulled by huge fuming horses, and the ice man chopped the cubes into my bucket and I paid about two forint for that heavy load. In the summer of 1956 I had no idea of the electric refrigerator, nor of the history of the open air restaurant that was built on the vanished site of a destroyed house… The house of Dusi and Jeno, my later Private Hungary series film heroes, whose neat bourgeois house stood there before the war – it was about 300 hundred meter south of my home; nor did I have any knowledge that on that very hot summer the Stalinist regime melted like the ice in my bucket – if I hadn’t run home… The time came again for my late maestro Ferenc Mérei, psychologist, who – after six years of inner exile was back again in politics in the hot summer of ’56. From 1940 he spent years in Forced Jewish labor. After the war, he thought his time had come, he reconstructed and created the new Hungarian Educational system and the children Psychology and social psychology education… This lasted only three years…when the Soviet system ruled him out, put him on the sidelines. Logically, after the ’56 revolution Mérei was thrown into prison with thousands of other revolutionaries. There he suffered a brain stroke – for a longer period living literally on bread and water after a prison strike. His left side was paralyzed temporarily, and he could not speak for weeks. But he diagnosed himself and realized his perspectives and illness, and started to cure himself. Like a revived spirit of Count Monte Christo, he escaped into creativity and memory re-construction.
He wrote four excellent books on toilet paper that was kept and collected through the solidarity of the other prisoners. It took him three years to complete books on Group Experience, on Allusion, on Emotional Intelligence, and Implicated Knowledge in Dreams, which have all at a later stage become groundbreaking ideas in Hungarian Psychology… He collected and analyzed his prison dreams (had about sixhundred), wrote his own French-German-English vocabulary as a self-designed memory therapy… And had time to cure and support the others in there.
Why am I talking here about his life? Well, I learned from him how to see, observe, collect, de- and re-structure, create, connect, analyze ideas, trauma, dreams, banalities, emotions, group, my own self; for a good decade he taught me how to process individual and collective emotions, private and public history and arts.
I was a rebel in much luckier times: in the early nineteen seventies just thrown out of the Art Academy, and of all universities in Hungary, but not put into prison. And this deviation offered me new ways to discover at the same time Mérei’s ’private university’ in his home and the underground avant-garde art movements of my country.
From the mid seventies I could understand the repressed memory, the double speak of a regime, the suppressed hidden past, the trauma and hysteria of the personae – of one’s family and tribe, or of a whole nation. Moreover I had the good support of my dear director of the Cultural Research Institute Iván Vitányi who is here today too. He saved, covered some politically deviant researchers and artists like myself in those not always easy times. He made it possible to create the Private Photo and Film Archive in a covert way, in the shadows.
I was somehow predestined to build connections between found film footage, scratchy images of memory, oral history, and the acquiring art – of Marcel Duchamp’s objet trouvé – the recontextualizing, the re-reading of visions; and later to find the bridge of time structure through minimal music – to find the music of images (thanks to Tibor Szemz?, musician and creator, who is also present here this morning). A connection between the archive, the art, the individual and collective psyche; and past as present. History is present time.
Well, here I am with an amateur filmmaker’s Faustian European stories and just like filmic memory they fight against decay, against death, a quest for eternal life.… these are endless Happiness Monuments, where filmmakers collect mostly the banal moments and I became the one who had the questions, many-many questions: why? where? I would like to see what was behind the picture. My way to see the world has grown out of many years of laboratory work of art. To look around without tears in my eyes, to see the private time, private history of my times. The motivation to share these found, repressed, forgotten stories with my friends came after six years of archeological work consisting of collecting my fellow Hungarians’ hidden stories, films.
But how come that I am standing here today, honored with the great Erasmus Prize? One needs a lucky moment beyond challenge, work and creation. This is what we need beyond a place in the world, deep devotion, ancestors, maestros, colleagues, discourse, reflection and questions.
This is my version: just one year after the Berlin Wall came down, in 1989, a wordless Dutchman named Albert Wulffers came to Hungary and in the independent Béla Balázs Filmstudio he selected among others also my work for the – at that time famous – World Wide Video Festival. It happened in this lovely city, near to this beautiful palace. I won a prize that was a great surprise to me: I asked myself how it could be that my Hungarian stories were readable abroad? And after that I met other friends with whom I have a profound dialogue since: like Cesar Messemaker, Peter Delpeut, Nico de Klerk, and Hans Maarten van den Brink. I had my time, my luck to build up a long lasting cooperation with excellent institutions like the Netherlands Filmmuseum and the VPRO TV. This made it possible to broaden my field to the larger horizon of European private histories, to learn how we deal with our spirit. This is a place, this is a country, where I found a unique openness, curiosity and cooperation. I will use this exceptional opportunity to continue and support my quest for memory and culture through art.
Thank you Holland.