It is somewhat contradictory to write about an international medium such as video on a national level. Nevertheless, I will try to highlight a few specific qualities of Hungarian video art through examples of philosophy and iconography.
At the beginning of the Seventies, film-makers got the chance to work with video who through their contact with the Film Academy in Budapest had access to the experimental film studio of Hungarian television. These works were produced on one-inch equipment.
The experimental work of GáBOR BóDY is important in terms of the video expansion in Hungary in the Eighties. In particular: Unendliches Bild und Spiegelung (1972), a closed circuit, and Psychocosmos, made with computer and video synthesizer.
TIBOR HAJAS, the leader of the Hungarian avant-garde in the Seventies defined the look of the first period of the video scene with his half-inch 'video-études'. Sadly his work has been lost.
The third important instigator is the conceptual and performance artist MIKLóS ERDéLY who, right from the Sixties, made a name for himself by organizing painting, film and theatre activities. The group INDIGO (which he founded) attracted the most important musicians, sculptors and experimental film-makers, who under his direction (or rather advice) began to produce their first videotapes.
BóDY, HAJAS and ERDéLY, all now dead, helped an entire generation to find their feet.
The technical possibilities in Hungary are limited and it is particularly difficult to acquire money for a production. UNESCO set up a SONY high-band studio in the Seventies at the ORSZáGOS OKTATáSI KöZPONT (National Institute for Educational Issues) in Veszprém for the production of audiovisual educational material for Hungarian schools. After five years, the studio was also made available for commercial use so that the production of Infermental III in Veszprém (which was compiled by the BéLA BALáZS STUDIO) was in fact made at the going rates for rental.
MAFILM, the Hungarian film studio in Budapest, has comparable professional facilities. But only MAFILM employés with authorized budgets and a storyboard that has been 'cut' are admitted. The Neue Videogattungen which GáBOR BóDY wanted to make for about twenty punk and rock bands was not realized for 'reasons of content'.
The first official place where video art is produced is the BéLA BALáZS STUDIO in Budapest. Here, people are also admitted who are neither students nor employés and have small storyboards and sketches for the production of a video. But only simple low-band equipment is available: a few U-MATIC, VHS and BETA cameras and a low-band editing suite with a high-band player. The studio's budget is constantly being cut back because the entire Hungarian film industry is in a state of crisis. It is both astonishing and a pity that, even in a socialist country, the system for cultural subsidy is sacrificed to the general climate of consumption. Conversely, the public and illegal videotechniques are positively flourishing.
The second subsidized non-commercial video organization is housed at NéPMüVELöDéSüGYI INTéZET (Institute for National Education). It specializes in documentary video and up till now has been unfavourably disposed towards video art.
Content and ways of production
Poetry is at the root of most Hungarian video artists' work. Thus, you often encounter quotations from poems, sometimes set to music. It enables them to communicate their view of the world to the public. The texts are intensely nihilistic and influenced by Shaman thinking. This is to do with the tradition of Hungarian poetry and has possible connections with the Asiatic origins of the Hungarian people. It was at the turn of the century that the great poet ENDRE ADY directed Hungarians back to these roots. It were precisely these impulses that combined so well with the Punks no future program. The extreme anarchist video songs by the BIZOTTSáG (Committee) rock group are one example as is the VáGTáZóLLALLOT KéMEK (Mad Pathologists) punk group for the discovery of folklore and the Shaman past. Their stage appearances are true 'performances' and Milarepa their videoclip is extremely popular. All members of this group are artists.
A second important trend is the theatrical approach of much of the work of the Eighties. The AMANDINA ENSEMBLE, the group of painters BáRöCS-RéVéSZ-SZIRTES-KONCZ-KUKORELLY and JóNáS, and the work of the bands TRABANT and BALATON are, viewed in terms of scene and choreography, a sort of comedia video arte.
The way that ZOLTáN BONTA, ZOLTáN GAZSI, LáSZLó NAGYVáRI and JáNOS VETö work (in collaboration with the BéLA BALáZS STUDIO) has lead to many innovations in video during the last few years and comes closest to a 'classical' interpretation of video art.
Apart from this categorization, there are some general and specific influences on the work of Hungarian video artists. The strongest is still the influence of experimental and cartoon films which have a long tradition in Hungary. The world of television and American video which has long been an important factor in the development of many German video artists has, partly for technical reasons, little influence. The fact that reception of the necessary images is still uncertain and also that the younger generation who would potentially be interested does not have access to technical facilities as yet places this pivot of the iconography beyond consideration. The consequence is that the few works that analyze the media are of a social-political significance, often taking skits on news programs as a theme. One example is the work of LáSZLó NAGYVáRI and JáNOS XANTUS.
The installations, the videos of various performances as well as the 'classical' videos made specially for the monitor are certainly not independent of the entire international movement of conceptual and minimal art. But I must say that I doubt that the work of NAM JUNE PAIK, PETER CAMPUS, DAVID ANTIN or FRANK GILETTE was known outside the catalogues. Certainly few artists have had the possibility to see an exhibition in the STEDELIJK or elsewhere, but in principle you can assume that Western visual art and experimental film clearly enjoys greater recognition in Hungary than Western video art. The presentations of Infermental, put on in Budapest in 1980, and the inviting of foreign guests such as JOAN JONAS and ROTRAUT PAPE by the BéLA BALáZS STUDIO has ensured that as from 1983 more information has come into the country.
If you'd like to quote something: Bódy, Vera. "Magyar Video." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 1 # 4 (1987).
Translation: Annie Wright