Self-Made Culture at the Periphery

I intend to use the notion of ‘self-made city‘ in a metaphoric sense that is partly related to location but partly the activities which take place at these locations. To illustrate my point I use the example of the project ‘Kultur und Freizeit‘ /2006-2007/ by the Austrian artist Andreas Fogarasi.

The project consists of a series of single channel videos, all showing the present state of different cultural centres in contemporary Budapest. These short videos are not straightforward documentaries since they don’t aim at providing the visitors with a comprehensive, anthropological survey of the current situation of these centres in a given place and at a given time. Rather, they function as signifiers for a contemporary split between mass culture and popular (i.e. vernacular) cultures, and their respective institutional frameworks, as opposed to high culture and its locations.

The phenomenon and the proliferation of cultural centres – at least in Hungary – belong to the past political era in which one of the state’s fundamental missions was to democratize culture in the form of disseminating high culture to the masses. Today, these centres are either closed down or used by various subcultural groups as a platform in the process of their identity formations via cultural means. They also function as stages of „simultaneous collective experience,“ which „the masses [are able] to organize and control“ /Walter Benjamin/. In spatial terms, the locations of both mainstream mass culture and high culture are to be found elsewhere, in the symbolically taken centres, while these cultural centres belong to the social and cultural peripheries. In the temporal matrix, these centres are part of Hungary’s socialist past that has partly survived the political changes. Yet, for many people the complete disavowal of the past is the only means to overcome the effects of its traumatic experience.

Katalin Timar