Symposium

Beyond Friendships: Regional Cultural Transfer in the Art of the 1970s

Konferenz mit einem Vortrag von Aneta Zahradnik.

MAY 11 WEDNESDAY, 13:00 – 14:10

Aneta Zahradnik:
Jiří Valoch and Heinz Gappmayr: Artists in Exchange across Political Borders

The Austrian artist Heinz Gappmayr and his Czech colleague Jiří Valoch knew each other since the mid-60s through their experiments in the field of visual and concrete poetry. From that point onwards, they developed a "professional" relationship that lasted throughout the following decades. In a constant dialogue, the two artists repeatedly exchanged their artistic creations. They were both very active in theoretical writing and shared similar thoughts on subjects like concrete or conceptual art. Through such interactions and thanks to his continuous collecting efforts and far-reaching international contacts, Jiří Valoch accumulated an impressive number of artworks by artists from inside and outside the Eastern bloc in his Brno apartment. His collection and archive, which is preserved today at the Moravian Gallery in Brno and the National Gallery in Prague, is a rich research object, not only for tracing Valoch’s exchange with Gappmayr but also for tracing the lines of his wide-ranging international network.

Heinz Gappmayr, who was born in Innsbruck in 1925 and is therefore twenty years older than Valoch, belonged to an earlier generation of participants in the field of concrete poetry. Using language as his artistic material, Gappmayr worked with a radically reduced selection of linguistic elements and categories, aiming to eliminate every trace of personal subjectivity in favor of maximum objectivity. Like Valoch, he saw himself in a tradition of concrete and constructive art. At the same time, he reflected intensively on the relation of his work to conceptual art. In Innsbruck, where he resided his entire life, he maintained close ties to the Studio UND in Munich—an important contact for Valoch as well. In Gappmayr’s and Valoch’s artistic and theoretical practice there are remarkable similarities: both are practitioners of visual poetry, both live and work outside the capital cities of their countries (Prague and Vienna), both wield influence from the periphery, and they share the same personal network.

In this paper, I focus on their role as conceptual artists, taking into consideration the materiality of a "dematerialized" art practice. I question the specific role of media like text, photography or printed graphics in conceptual art as the ideal means of communication across geographical distance, physical and political borders, and in a historical situation where travelling across the Iron curtain was extraordinarily difficult for Czechoslovak citizens, especially in the 70s. In tracing these connections, I reflect on the development of conceptual art in the countries of Czechoslovakia and Austria and establish a narrative of conceptualism in Central Europe by bringing together two geographically neighboring, but politically antithetical regions: an Eastern-bloc country and the most Eastern country of "the West", right at the Iron Curtain. This case study aims to open wider considerations of local developments of conceptualism, revealing striking parallels and interrelations such as the significance of concrete art and neo-constructivist tendencies. In the framework of the conference, I discuss this moment as a transregional cultural transfer taking place in the private realm of these two artists, distinct from state relationships and official cultural exchange.

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The conference Beyond Friendships: Regional Cultural Transfer in The Art of the 1970s organized by the Central European Research Institute for Art History (KEMKI) - Artpool Art Research Center, Budapest, investigates the concept of cultural transfer and its relevance for the transnational art histories of Central-East Europe. KEMKI, which includes "Central Europe" in its name, includes archives of both underground and state-run institutions—which were part of different but overlapping international networks—considers it its responsibility to open a transnational discourse on current and yet to be developed approaches to regional art histories. As a reflection on this extraordinary constellation, the conference will approach cultural transfer as a process that transcends the familiar dichotomy of official/non-official. The conference will also reflect on Hungary’s special situation in the region, a status complicated by historical conflicts, transborder minorities, and linguistic isolation.

Cultural transfer and histoire croisée developed in the context of 19th-century transnational cultural history to describe cross-border contacts that trigger mutual changes in cultural concepts and practices. Although transfer originally describes larger-scale processes, the benefit of this application—together with the concept of cultural translation introduced by postcolonial studies—is that it goes beyond mere comparison that assumes a neutral and external point of view and offers the possibility of overcoming the hierarchical, one-way concept of influence. Following the lead of horizontal art history established by Piotr Piotrowski, our conference attempts to shift attention from West-East impacts to the question of the exchanges that took place within the region, between the art scenes of the so-called friendly, socialist countries (not limited to the Soviet satellite countries). Whereas these interactions were often mediated or facilitated through western agents and events, the conference endeavors to initiate reflections on the consequences of contacts, dialogues, and reciprocal effects between the art practitioners of the region.

The program is composed of five sections that investigate different scales of transfers and translations. The first panel, "Theories of Translation and Transfer" will examine how the concept of cultural transfer and translation may be applied to write art histories transcending the boundaries of national cultures, and what specificities, cultural differences or epistemologies can constitute joint histories of the former "friendly" states of Eastern Europe. In the second section, "Interpersonal Friendships and Dialogues," speakers will present actual cross-border friendships as micro-sites for cultural transfer and translation. The last section of the first day, "Hubs of Transfer," will discuss unique, multi-ethnic, interdisciplinary and collaborative milieus, in-between zones that facilitated transfers between different languages, ideological discourses, and localities. On the second day of the conference, panel 4, titled "Agents, Vectors, Mediators," will focus on transnational protagonists who imported, exported, and translated various artistic concepts between different languages and localities, and as such, also negotiated transnational interpretations of East European art. Finally, in the section "Institutions of Friendship," speakers will highlight the role art galleries, institutions, and international exhibitions played in connecting and confronting various local idioms of art.

The conference is the second chapter of the four-part series organized in the framework of Resonances: Regional and Transregional Cultural Transfer in the Art of the 1970s, which is a long-term research project that is realized in cooperation with Andrea Euringer Bátorová (Department of Art History, Comenius University, Bratislava), Pavlína Morganová, Dagmar Svatosova (Academic Research Centre of the Academy of Fine Arts (VVP AVU), Prague), Hana Buddeus (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Institute of Art History), and Magdalena Radomska (Piotr Piotrowski Center for Research on East-Central Europe at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań).

The conference is dedicated to the memory and work of László Beke.

Speakers: Zuzana Bartošová, Andrea Bátorová, Boris Buden, Hana Buddeus and Pavlína Morganová, Tomáš Glanc, Daniel Grúň, Emese Kürti, Zsuzsa László, Małgorzata Misniakiewicz, Cristian Nae, Radek Przedpełski, Magdalena Radomska, Alina Șerban, Natalia Słaboń, Jelena Vesić, Aneta Zahradnik and Tomasz Załuski

The project is co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from the International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.

20220511 Budapest AZ
Image: Anna Kutera, Prezentacja (Introduction) detail, "F-Art", Festival of Baltic Art Schools, Gdańsk, 1975. Courtesy of the artist.