Spanyolnátha művészeti folyóirat

Petőcz András

The Tiny Circle of Freedom

Greeting the 10 year-old Spanyolnátha

“The tiny circles of freedom” this is how historians and researchers named the intellectual and artistic initiatives — as we call them today civil initiatives, which started to emerge towards the end of the Kádár-era and served as “nests” for the young and the not so young so we could experience and live by our own creativity and want for awareness. They made us able to construct or in other words to “self-construct”. By these gestures of self-construction the members of these circles gave themselves and others a perspective by which — almost invisibly, in small steps — they could create a better world for themselves and for their surroundings.

Numerous circles of the kind were formed in the beginning of the ‘80s and all of these, now legendary, societies had common characteristics like the seeking of perspectives, the infinite want for freedom and some kind of an enthusiastic approach to the realization that it is possible to experience our everyday life as something meaningful, a time worth living.

“Hétfői szabadegyetem” (Open University Mondays), among others, was one of these circles which used to organize lectures on the meaning of expressions like “democracy”, “alternative”, “different way of thinking” in a private apartment in Óra district, Buda. This private apartment was owned by István Jávor — it is now safe to mention this. However, most of us who appeared there in great numbers were not even acquaintances. We used to listen to János Kiss’ or Gábor Iványi’s lectures, it was in 1981 and we all had good feelings about what was happening. Another circle like this in the beginning of the ‘80s was Jelenlét, a creative society where we gathered, read poems and short stories together and we had the feeling that good things were happening to us and there is a perspective in our everyday life. The now legendary Örley-kör was also very similar, we used to meet in Cafe Astoria and had discussions about our “things in common”. The long list includes Magyar Műhely, Médum-Art, the Galántai’s „AL (Artpool Letters or Actual Letters)” and the diverse network of mail art groups. All of these were small circles of freedom which opened new perspectives in a very enclosed world.

These were all so-called initiatives “coming from below”. These groups represented the creativity and organizing ability of those who had one thing in common: the ability to reform the world around them by making it more independent and worth living in, and to teach us to think. The ways these groups represented themselves were diverse. In some cases actual meetings were organized with live discussions, which proved to be a good opportunity for self-development and in other cases the society was organized around certain journals or samizdat issues. Sometimes these societies regularly organized art and literature events where they could put their creativity into practise. And again there were numerous groups but the ways they represented themselves were of a great variety.

This all happened in a dictatorial, one-party state political and cultural environment. In the midst of the decaying Kádár-system tiny sprouts of freedom emerged and changed things, showing us that our natural environment as humans is the opportunity to experience freedom, open-mindedness and creativity. Civil societies indeed make the foundation of democracy, citizens can enjoy being in these circles, they can live by their own opportunities for development and they can be informed about the world. If there is a necessary amount of these circles in the life of a bigger group of people, like a country or a nation then the chance for a dictatorial system to be formed is much less — this is also why every developed constitutional state puts much emphasis on keeping and financially supporting its civil circles, maintaining its own security by this gesture, since the foundation of its very existence is built up of these circles.

Spanyolnátha is a circle like these, the depositary of freedom.

It is not simply a journal; it is much more than that: it is a community that provides a perspective not only for its members but for everyone who gets involved. It provides a space for creative thinking, the expression of self, the experience of learning and teaching the positive vibe of social life. It does all this with the aid of the latest technologies often binding artists, friends and people keen on arts several thousand kilometres apart. Hence Spanyolnátha is indeed a network, the circle of freedom and creativity where everyone is the “inhabitant” of the same space or rather the network. We are all “fellow-men”, we live in the same “village” as the editor in chief Tibor Vass puts it: the distance between us only means that “you are at the other end of the village”, so we all live in the same place. I remember when I lived in France for a few years our correspondence with Tibi Vass would usually start like “Dear friend there, at the other end of the village”, and I visualized this huge Hungarian style village with Tibor Vass gardening in one of the yards along the main street while we discuss things. At the time I was living at the end of that long street barely 1600 kilometres from Tibor, however, I had the very impression that I could come over to him for a pint of beer any time if I happen to have a long and boring evening.

It might already sound great as it is but Spanyolnátha is not only about forming a community and opening new perspectives. There is another feature of it to be considered, which may be interesting for the future fans of Spanyolnátha.

It is namely the fact that Spanyolnátha represents the alternative and avant-garde art and literature which, in the view of many, has been pushed to the background during recent decades; some even question its very existence. Today Spanyolnátha art journal and the related editors and authors — as opposed to others, deliberately accept the tradition of the avant-garde, they care about the lifework of Kassák or Miklós Erdély among others or about the neo-avant-garde initiatives of the ‘80s. Spanyolnátha is the workshop where performance-art, mail-art, acoustic poetry are present in a natural way and where visual-art and literature are naturally bound together to such an extent as it cannot be seen elsewhere, because this natural binding is far from being a general characteristic of our journals in Hungary.

This is important for two reasons. On one hand it is important for the aspect of freedom, openness and civil courage as I mentioned this in the beginning of my introductory lecture. As the circles of freedom provided open-mindedness and perspective in the last decade of the one-party state, avant-garde thinking cannot exist without the claim for freedom and openness. So when Spanyolnátha takes on the tradition of the avant-garde it represents open-mindedness, it reminds us to dare to be curious about new things, about the unconventional. Actually this is the real power of the avant-garde, namely that it differs from the conventional, that it intends to take on and does take on initiatives that are unconventional. This is the reason why one who declares to be a conservative cannot be an avant-garde figure. In the same time, besides taking on the avant-garde values, the journal and the circle around it have the power to integrate and accept pieces of art which are not avant-garde in themselves — this makes Spanyolnátha even more unique.

So there are two aspects in which the importance of the Spanyolnátha “civil circle” and the “circle of freedom” lies: one is that it is able to integrate in a way that it helps avant-garde with progressing — in an era lacking the avant-garde. By this the journal smoothly reminds us that there is another canon, the avant-garde canon present in our contemporary cultural life and it is worth considering. It also shows that it is worth accepting that era, namely the ‘80s when the world, art and literature changed around us to some extent.

Spanyolnátha has become 10 years old. At its 10th anniversary visual-artists, writers, art lovers and popular figures who care about civil society celebrate that there is a workshop in our huge „village” which is often visited by curious creative artists or the art consumer citizen and where they can all be happy to experience the perspectives provided for them here. Many people pop in this workshop form several thousand or ten thousand kilometres distance to feel a bit at home and to see that it makes sense to create something great, something unique amidst the pursuit of everyday life.


(Speech given at the opening of the programme series „Tízeset" in Herman Ottó Múzeum−Miskolci Galéria 22nd January 2014.) 

Petőcz András a Tízeset megnyitóján. Fotó: Orosz Tamás