In late March I travelled to Budapest with Aitch (aka Peter Haining) to look out hundreds of single page artworks covering several years of the DATA project – to scan and bring back the digital simulacra on a Hard Drive for a show at Street Level in April. Jet2 fly relatively cheap flights out of Edinburgh – though these have went up recently since their budget Hungarian airline competitors went bust in March – and there are a number of hostels that provide exceptionally cheap accommodation, should that be your mode of preference. So if you buy your food to cook yourself you can live there probably cheaper than you do at home. Across the street from where I am staying, the old and the new blend – new buildings retain the magnificent architectural features of the old, which remain pock marked with bullet holes, either from WWII or the Uprising in 1956.
The project in question is DATA – Daily Action Time Archive, run by Dundee artist, Pete Horobin which involved documenting 10 years of his life on a daily basis, from 1st January 1980 to 31st December 1989, using art, films, audio recordings, journals, photography and a few other methods to construct a detailed time capsule of a decade. The project was based in The Attic, at 37 Union Street, Dundee, a laboratory visited only by a select few who he collaborated with, locally and from many national and international locations. The Attic Archive closed down in 2011, the contents of which have since been distributed far & wide – the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Dundee University Libraries, but the most of this now resides in the incredible archive which is Artpool in the centre of Budapest.
Artpool Art Research Centre is a non-profit institution located in the centre of Budapest, and it is dedicated to contemporary avant-garde media arts and it houses a public library, multimedia archives, and an exhibition space. It draws upon the extensive archive directly relating to the experiences of Gyorgy Galantai, who had previously founded the Chapel Studio in Balantonboglar (1970-73). Its collection includes books, magazines, documents, invites, catalogues, correspondence etc relating to the Hungarian avant-garde and also conceptual, performance, fluxus and mail art networks in Europe, America and the some from the UK (including Robin Crozier, Andre Stitt, and Peter Haining/DATA). They have a substantial collection of artists stamps, artists books, audio works, cassettes, etc and also a huge collection of Hungarian banned punk music from the late 70s. It has emanated from practice and from the strong relationships built through international networks. In other words it considers itself as an ‘Active Archive’ which means it ‘lives’ and it creates a lot of the material through activities which it archives. They have collections of material by Antonio Muntadas, John Cage and Ray Johnson, and hundreds more. It was first set up on 1979, but since 1992 it has operated from its current location with an increased international reputation and annual support from the Municipal Council – the latter however happens on a year-by-year basis, with no guarantee of sustained funding. Coincidentally, Gyorgy pops his head in the door of the room we are doing the research to announce that today (Tuesday 21st March) is their 20th anniversary of being in the current space. There’s no party as such. They are currently in negotiation with some bodies concerning the possibility of the State taking responsibility for the archive as a publicly accessible resource (as straightforward as that sounds, many archive collections can be inaccessible).
I give them some material and ask for a Scottish section to be entered into their inventory for future researchers – these books include Transmission’s publication, ‘Social Sculpture’ by Sarah Lowndes, The Mag.Net Reader, Free Association, plus some collected brochures of Street Level. I also give them a copy of ‘This Cannot Happen Without You: the collected archives of the Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus +’. I point out that the Basement Group was the main port of call for performance artists in the period of the late 70s and that their archive is worth being aware of (Locus + have the archive of Alastair MacLennan, for example, another Duncan of Jordanstone ‘alumni’ from the dark days of Scottish art!).
There are connections between Scotland and Budapest. In 1849 the Chain Bridge, which was Budapest’s first bridge across the Danube, was completed. At the commencement of the build, its chief engineer Adam Clark, a Scotsman, had asked for English language church services to be held for his workers and their families during the several years build. A school was started in 1846, funded by Jewish Christians. In 1932, a Scottish church missionary named Jane Haining became matron of a school’s girls’ home. There was growing anti-Semitism throughout Central Europe at this time and at the start of the war in 1939 she returned to look after the welfare of the mainly Jewish girls. She was asked to return to Scotland by the church but refused, on a few occasions it is said. She was arrested in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz where she died a few months later. Her crime was helping Jewish children and listening to the BBC.
On the way home, I’m slightly anxious at customs – Aitch has already shared several stories of raising some eyebrows with officials, including a frozen trout and a bag of freshly harvested carrots from a field, in his bag going into Belfast, a first for customs officers I am told. He has also managed to create a security alert at the small airport in Shetlands. This time I have to take his camping kettle and knife in my check-in luggage. He is returning with a bag containing the original blood pressure kit he used throughout the 80s in the DATA project – a rather suspect looking piece of equipment in any x-ray scan.