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Local Contexts / International Networks – Conference report

The Kassák Museum is the only Hungarian museum devoted entirely to the avant-garde. It aims to become an internationally recognized research institute for East-Central European avant-garde art. In 2011, the Museum launched a programme centred around the presentation of archives and private collections, contemporary reflections on the avant-garde, and a reconsideration of Kassák’s oeuvre. Its research group is currently focusing on various themes of periodical research. Most recently, the Museum opened a temporary exhibition (open until 8 November) on the first Hungarian avant-garde magazine A Tett (The Action, 1915–1916). It is the first part of a series on Kassák’s magazines.

 

Coordinated with the avant-garde periodical research projects and the A Tett exhibition, with the support of the International Visegrad Fund and CEFRES, the Kassák Museum organized an international conference between 17 and 19 September 2015. Under the title Local Contexts / International Networks, the conference had as its subject the ‘Central European avant-garde magazine’, arguably the most important medium of communication for progressive literature and visual arts in the region during WWI and the interwar period. The conference brought together researchers of different disciplines and approaches to analyse the multifaceted nature of the avant-garde magazine. It aimed to draw attention to the tensions between national/local and international/cosmopolitan and offer possible answers to the question: how did the different cultural and historical characteristics affect the local avant-gardes of Central Europe?

 

It emerged at the conference that recent studies of Western periodicals have useful lessons for work on the avant-garde magazines of East-Central Europe. A complex approach to Slovak, Czech, Polish and Hungarian avant-garde journals has discovered what made these magazines distinctive. The historical avant-garde periodicals of the ‘Visegrad countries’ imagined and defined themselves as parts of an international network, publishing artworks from different countries, using various languages, and employing a layout that involved a supposedly ‘universal’ visual code. However, as was pointed out in several conference presentations, many of these magazines went beyond their ‘universal’ messages and also dealt with local problems such as the potential of town planning, nationalism (or opposition to it), folklore, and resistance to the hegemonic discourses of cultural life in the country.

 

The conference was based on cooperation among research institutes in all four Visegrad countries. In a break from the usual form of academic projects on this subject, typically established via national or bilateral partnerships or directly hosted by Western institutions, the Local Contexts / International Networks conference was aimed at promoting the participation of young researchers from the Visegrad countries, supplemented by established experts in the field. Our cooperating partners were the Charles University, the Jagiellonian University, Adam Mickiewicz University, the University of Warsaw, Masaryk University, the Institutes of Art History of the Academies of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Poland, the National Museum in Warsaw, the newly established Slovak Design Museum, Monoskop.org, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Eötvös Loránd University.

 

The main outcome of the conference was a new regional discourse in avant-garde periodical research, a field that is interdisciplinary by its nature. The speakers had backgrounds in applied and theoretical literary and art historical studies, anthropology as well as intellectual history. They presented their research in English at the conference sessions and plenaries, which were all followed by extensive conversations and debates. At the roundtable discussion, representatives of all participating institutions provided each other with a broad overview of their current avant-garde projects. The conference audience included members of the Hungarian academic community, researchers from as far afield as Estonia and the United Kingdom, and university students from diverse fields of the humanities. As we originally envisaged, the conference provided an excellent starting point for regional cooperation. The participants have decided to set up a research group and apply for long-term support to initiate future conferences and workshops.

 

Gábor Dobó and Merse Pál Szeredi


The conference report was written for the website of the CEFRES.

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