An international contemporary art event, OFF-Biennale Budapest is the largest civil, independent arts initiative in Hungary. Organized on a grassroots basis, OFF-Biennale is based on self-organization and a voluntary collaboration of artists, groups of artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors, among others. OFF supports the work of Hungarian artists and brings the international art scene closer to the Hungarian public; it produces new artworks, exhibitions, publications, events, and education programs. Settling in private apartments, vacant shop premises, industrial buildings, alternative theaters, and public places, it invites the public to explore the city. It does not apply for Hungarian state funding, and stays away from state-run art institutions. It strives to take an active part in the social discourse on public issues and to enhance the culture of democracy by the means of art. According to OFF-Biennale, art is a laboratory for social change; it is bewildering, putting the familiar into new perspective, interrupting the routines of thought and action. As such, it contributes to new thoughts and ideas, to the dismantling of prejudice, to the discovery of individual and common opportunities previously unnoticed. Thus, the role independent contemporary art plays in a democratic society is essential.
We launched this project in 2014 to help reestablishing the foundations of an independent Hungarian art scene. To create a common platform for them, we invited the partakers of the scene to realize a biennale on a grassroots and collaborative basis, without any support from the Hungarian government, outside official state arts institutions. During its five weeks in spring 2015, the first edition of OFF-Biennale Budapest hosted nearly 200 programs, featuring more than 350 artists from 22 countries in more than 100 venues (the majority in Budapest, and a lesser number in cities outside the capital and abroad). Our programs attracted 35.000 visitors. The first edition of OFF-Biennale drew momentum from the joint struggle for the sustainability of a critical-minded and independent art and thinking, in a social environment that witnessed increasingly antidemocratic, segregationist, and xenophobic tendencies. As a next step, we must move forward and prove art’s competence, audacity, and commitment in social issues. With this aim in view, we have decided to give this year’s biennale a thematic frame that allows us to address crucial and intriguing issues having their bearing on both the present and the future, as well as to discover the liberating power of art, as we occupy the city in a variety of ways.
“OFF” stands for similar values and qualities as in the case of Off-Broadway: “OFF” diverts from the mainstream, from solidified routines, and ventures to find its own path, establishing its own form of operation. It finds its own people, resources, and locations. Although smaller, more spontaneous, and with a tighter budget, it makes no compromises in quality, and is less constrained by unchallengeable protocols. “Instead of fast-changing prepositions—‘post,’ ‘anti,’ ‘neo,’ ‘trans,’ and ‘sub’—that suggest an implacable movement forward, against and beyond, and try desperately to be ‘in,’ I propose to go ‘off’: ‘Off’ as in ‘off quilter,’ ‘off Broadway,’ ‘off the path,’ or ‘way off,’ ‘off-brand,’ ‘off the wall,’ and occasionally, ‘off-color,’” wrote Svetlana Boym, whose Off-Modern theory served as inspiration for naming the project.