Five weeks of contemporary art
24 April – 31 May 2020
Breathe in! Breathe out! – Respiration is a basic physiological process that functions involuntarily but can also be controlled. We take a deep breath when we want to say something or when we brace ourselves for a difficult task. ‘Fresh air’ is also a symbol of freedom: metaphorically it may refer to a place or a situation in which it is possible to breathe freely.
The 2020 edition of OFF-Biennale Budapest addresses issues of the 21st century that affect and concern all of us. The featured projects offer a local take on the global problems that pose a threat to humanity as a whole and even to life on Earth as such. Climate catastrophe, artificial intelligence, total surveillance, authoritarian rule, raging nationalism, frenzied consumption and the dangers posed by these are the topics that need to be addressed. Not only on an individual level, but also collectively.
This time around, OFF supports projects of contemporary art that boldly confront these problems, and do so in the free and daring, although occasionally unusual manner of artists. They are not trying to beat around the bush or hold off taking action. Instead of comfortable passivity they choose responsible activity, as they are aware that with true freedom comes responsibility.
The projects of the third OFF are created by Hungarian and international artists mostly under forty: owing to their age, the quality of life for humans in the 21st century today and in the future is their utmost concern. As is the quality of our environment and society here in Central and Eastern Europe. Their approaches emphasise the significance of an immediate relationship with the public along with collective responsibility – as a powerful example of cooperative practices, the artists themselves work in close collaboration with each other. Their projects are characterised by clear and direct articulation, straightforwardness and audacity as well as the exhilarating fresh air of experimentation and uncompromising creative liberty. The OFF community makes ample room and allows abundant time for this to be accomplished. Our support entails more than financial assistance: we participate in the long-term, complex process of carrying out the projects in many ways including organisation, logistics and communication. The title refers to a 21st century interpretation of the 1935 poem entitled A Breath of Air! by Attila József: neither is it a desperate call for help, nor a demand only, but rather an imperative pertaining to all of us. It is a direct reference to how we must take action for clean air, for the protection of our freedom, for the liberation of our imagination, and to the fact that it is time to take a deep breath and get to work. Collective engagement is the only way to preserve and create conditions and places for breathing freely.
A BREATH OF AIR!
by Attila József
Who can forbid my telling what hurt me
on the way home?
Soft darkness was just settling on the grass,
a velvet drizzle,
and under my feet the brittle leaves
tossed sleeplessly and moaned
like beaten children.
Stealthy shrubs were squatting in a circle
on the city’s outskirts.
The autumn wind cautiously stumbled among them.
The cool moist soil
looked with suspicion at streetlamps;
a wild duck woke clucking in a pond
as I walked by.
I was thinking, anyone could attack me
in that lonely place.
Suddenly a man appeared,
but walked on.
I watched him go. He could have robbed me,
since I wasn’t in the mood for self-defense.
I felt crippled.
They can tap all my telephone calls
(when, why, to whom.)
They have a file on my dreams and plans
and on those who read them.
And who knows when they’ll find
sufficient reason to dig up the files
that violate my rights.
In this country, fragile villages
– where my mother was born –
have fallen from the tree of living rights
like these leaves
and when a full-grown misery treads on them
a small noise reports their misfortune
as they’re crushed alive.
This is not the order I dreamed of. My soul
is not at home here
in a world where the insidious
among people who dread to choose
and tell lies with averted eyes
and feast when someone dies.
This is not how I imagined order.
I was beaten as a small child, mostly
for no reason,
I would have jumped at a single kind word.
I knew my mother and my kin were far,
these people were strangers.
Now I have grown up. There is more foreign
matter in my teeth,
more death in my heart. But I still have rights
until I fall apart
into dust and soul, and now that I’ve grown up
my skin is not so precious that I should put up
with the loss of my freedom.
My leader is in my heart. We are
men, not beasts,
we have minds. While our hearts ripen desires,
they cannot be kept in files.
Come, freedom! Give birth to a new order,
teach me with good words and let me play,
your beautiful serene son.
November 21, 1935.
Translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki.
Winter Night. Selected Poems of Attila József.
Oberlin College Press. 1997.