Beautiful Budapest with Marina Abromavic
The second leg of my trip is to Budapest, Hungary. This is a new country I have never visited before and was very excited. While I try to return to Berlin as often as possible, I think it is very important to visit new places as well. I never know which trip will be my last, and there are still a million places I need to experience. So I’ll try to tackle them one at a time.
To be able to afford this additional trip, taking the train was the best option. The drawback is that it is 12 hours! This seemed insane. Many, many years ago I backpacked through Europe for a month, hopping from country to country by train. I’m sure some trips were very long, but I think they were reserved for overnight trips. This lovely train left at 6:30 am, arriving in Budapest at 6:30 pm. Armed with German pastries and coffee, as well as sandwiches and water to make it through the day, we made our way in the barely light of the day to the Haupt Bahnhof, the main train station in Berlin. Despite my lack of energy, the station was fully alive, shipping off to many different countries.
Arriving in Prague, I want to jump out and stay. I was here about 10 years ago and remember the magic of this medieval town. But the promise of a new adventure is far too tempting! Here a cool Czech guy joins our cabin, wearing a shirt from California. We begin to talk, just about everyone speaks English. He is from Prague heading to Bratislava. He likes to print and bought a letterpress but doesn’t have any room to work. We talk about my art. He invited us to get off with him, but unfortunately, we have to get to Budapest, otherwise this would be a welcome detour. We did exchange emails. I have a picture of us, but I will not post a picture of me after traveling over six hours (so far). He invites us to come back and stay in Prague with him. Yes, we would love to do that. As he gets out of our compartment, a young couple in love replace him. They are 18, German students that met in their program in Budapest, and just finished a weekend trip in Bratislava. They tell us all about how they love living in Budapest and take many weekend trips together.
In Budapest, I have rented an apartment to stay in. The internet makes it so easy to book a place across the world. This is great because it is normally cheaper than a hotel, is much more private, and located in a regular neighborhood, not surrounded by tourist traps. The local restaurants are delicious and being surrounded by original buildings of Budapest is amazing. We are also located only a few blocks away from Andrassy Avenue, lined with expensive shops and gorgeous architecture. This avenue is apparently listed as a world heritage site. It is incredible exploring this new city. It has been quite a while since I have been in a country where I didn’t understand any of their language. Not even the slightest clue. The signs are no help at all. But the world is so global now, it really doesn’t matter. Everyone seems to speak at least a little English. If they are younger than me, then yes, they have already learned English in school and speak fluently.
I was surprised to find out that the subway system is the 2nd oldest atin the world, the oldest in the continental europe. Although when I got in the aged car, it wasn’t hard to believe. But as old and rickety as it may have seemed, it was just as functional as any other subway I have ever been on. Besides the subway, there is a tram going through the city. But most of the time was spent walking around this amazing city. There is just too much too take in speeding by on a bus or tram. Andrassy Avenue actually was a straight path, connecting you to other parts of the city, almost all the way to the Chain Bridge, and was a beautiful stroll. Beautiful architecture framed the expensive items housed inside.
Arriving in Hero’s Square, there is no other word than magnificent. It is one of the largest squares in Budapest with a beautiful adjoining park. The huge open area has been an important location in Budapest history. It was built to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895. The statues are the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars.
To the right is the Kunsthalle, where the Marina Abramovic exhibit, Eight Lessons on Emptiness with a Happy End, is on display. “The title of the work refers to the traditional Buddhist notion of emptiness – emptying the mind to allow transformation to a different state, in this case to achieve purification through the viewing process.” While a small exhibit, the multi media installation was large scale. Consisting of a five channel video installation and large scale photography, Abramovic discusses how cultures filled with excessive violence affect children. Depicted by imagery of children playing or posing with toy weapons, it is referencing imagery shown in the media. The video alternates this with serene images of the local landscape of Laos, waterfalls, trees, and the wind blowing. I appreciated how minimal and clean the presentation was while using five screens and giving the viewer so much imagery at once. The representation of the children in the video was calm and familiar, almost like it seemed there was nothing wrong with what is being depicted. At one point the children calmly tie up Abramovic, then drag her away. This type of imagery is often shown on the news in the US, but it often seems so far removed. There are many countries where this footage comes from and is a reality. It’s impossible now to say what the long term affect from excessively violent cultures will have on children, but in such a grim environment, it doesn’t seem that it will be a positive outcome, Beginning with the initial horror, then desensitization, where will that ultimately lead? It was all a game. While I responded to her imagery, this was not my favorite piece by Abramovic. Her more visceral pieces, such as washing the blood off hundreds of bones or laying naked with a skeleton on her, are the ones that inspire me. She did not participate as much here, which is what I most admire in her work. I suppose what I really mean is she was not the main vehicle for her ideas. Of course she participated by creating and directing her vision. However I would rank this piece, as usual Abramovic’s work gives me plenty of ideas to consider.
Being a huge fan of her work since I did a paper on female performance artists in school, this was an exciting opportunity. I was also fortunate enough to see her retrospective at MOMA in 2010, where she was also filming her current performance piece, The Artist is Present. Seeing her pieces be recreated and watching her as she was in the middle of her current performance piece was one of the best art experiences I have ever had.
However, she has been in the middle of controversy since last November, when she was creative director for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s (LAMOCA) annual benefit gala. Issues with the artists payment and exploitation arose. While some of the complaints are legitimate (I felt typical mistreatment of artists by the Art World), others seemed a far stretch. Personally, I felt it boiled down to what would an artist do for an incredible opportunity to work with a major artist? Is the experience worth practically volunteering? While you can’t pay the bills from this job, what does having it on your CV really mean? Will it get you other fantastic opportunities? The Art World can be as slimy and self serving as Wall Street, but ethics occasionally come up, discussing what is right, not necessarily what is popular. Would I have laid down naked with a skeleton on top of me for $150 to get the chance to work Abramovic? Probably. Unfortunately, I have done much more for less.
A review of the actual event: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/11/marina-abramovi%C4%87s-silent-performers-speak-out.html
Either way, I’ve noticed a lack of internet love for Abramovic since this incident. But I still greatly respect her ideas and work and am happy to have an opportunity to view one of her recent projects.
Crossing the beautiful Chain Bridge to the Buda side is breathtaking. The Danube is a huge and powerful river, crossing over it reminds me how life is delicate and can be consumed in a second. Surrounded by beauty that has been here for centuries, I can barely comprehend that I am here. It is so inspiring. But no matter how many pictures I take, I can only capture the size of the river, not the power it is exuding. In all of my pictures it seems quiet and calm, but that is far from the reality. It is an incredible force.
Meandering through the beautiful park to the top ended at the Citadella with a breathtaking view of the city. Overlooking the Danube and looking out to the rooftops. Walking through the historical neighborhoods is inspiring. These building have been here far longer than I have, they have withstood so much. Seeing churches, bridges, a castle, and many gorgeous buildings makes me incredibly jealous of those here that experience this beautiful, European life everyday.
The Citadella at sunset.
Spending more time in Budapest is something I would love to do. I would also love to explore more of Eastern Europe. This is the farthest I have been East so far. Each city further in is just as wonderful as the last. The culture is incredibly rich, the architecture is beautiful, and the local cuisine is always something to experience. I am very fortunate to even come here once in my lifetime.