Balint Szombathy: Lenin in Budapest
Dr. Miško Šuvaković (Budapest).
Balint Szombathy (1972). Lenin in Budapest.
Photo: The artist.
Since late 1960’s until today, Bálint Szombathy has in his work passed through diverse and dramatic strategies and tactics of the avant-gardes, neo-avant-gardes, conceptual art and the post-avant-garde, yet always as an artist who used the artistic languages of current affairs to react to bio-political technologies of regulation and de-regulation of the ruling politics – from the real and self-management socialism, via late socialism and post-socialism, to the ongoing transition in the context of globalism under way.
Szombathy is an artist who has in an exceptionally subtle manner connected intuitive reactions with thought-out conceptualizations in setting up his works and carrying them out. His creative output is entirely founded in a post-Duchamp and, certainly, post-Kassák tradition of the artist as an actor who recognizes and reacts to the world by the very manifestations of that world in their transfigurations toward the potentialities of the current art practices.
He has in a critical way been exploring the artistic productions which followed that of painting: one of the important and identifiable specificities of his work is that he has never painted. Szombathy is a true and unique artist after painting.
Therefore, close to the artists of the Italian ‘impoverished art’ (Arte Povera), he is an artist-nomad, one not determined by a particular medium but one operating with diverse media in the realization of his interests and conceptual demands.
Szombathy is also a political artist who has not been an artist (with)in politics or in the service of politics; he is an artist who has been using politics – whether it be big or small, personal, local, international or global – as an instrument of his own artistic, as well as real-life conflicts, quests and reactions.
Indeed, his artistic work has consequently been implementing what is recognized and interpreted as ‘relational aesthetics’, which means exploration of the complex worlds of the visual, the phenomenal, the objecthood, the media-involving and the conceptual in the contemporary culture and society.
Also, what determines Szombathy’s work along all the registers of his creative output and what makes him a truly exceptional authorial figure on the art scenes of Vojvodina, Serbia, ex-Yugoslavia, Hungary and Eastern Europe – is his inclusion in the complex policies of structuring and restructuring of social, cultural and artistic processes of real/self-management socialism, late socialism, post-socialism and the transition age of globalism in the east and southeast of Europe.
His work from the 1980’s until today tends to present the power of art in the political and ethical confrontation with the societal power machinery. His work is quite close to the Slovenian NSK movement (Neue Slowenische Kunst), the post-Soviet artists of the Sots Art and Perestroika Art; that is, to the hybrid productions of the contemporary artist in the Age of Culture.
Today, after almost forty years of his work, Szombathy’s artistic practice is still challenging and still provocative – both in relation to art and in relation to the politics in the world that keeps changing before us and with us. Confrontation with those changes, fluxes of global machineries, is the central issue of Szombathy’s art.
Szombathy’s early performance Lenin in Budapest (Budapest, 1972) is an anonymous photo-performance.
In the countries of real socialism, the posters representing the portraits of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the 1917 Soviet bolshevik revolution, were fetish-images or symbols of the revolutionary attitude that used to be put up at Party congresses, state-organized rallies and parades together with the pictures of the local Party officials and the classics of Marxism, Marx and Engels.
Szombathy ventured to carry a poster with Lenin’s portrait around Budapest as an advertising poster or one containing slogans of protest. Thus, the portrait of Lenin was deprived of its fetish function.
The image of the leader was placed within the mundane trivia of life in real socialism.
Moreover, Lenin’s portrait was parodied through its remindfulness of a commodity advertisement. For Szombathy was a citizen in a real-socialist society who failed to obtain authorization to carry the image of the Leader of the Revolution, giving a slip to those who controlled and governed people’s lives.
The symbol of the Revolution outside the field of Party control meant defiance to the beaurocratic system, as it seemed to reflect the impact of the New Left from the West or looked like a Luddism-inspired dodge.