Bálint Szombathy

We Were Heroes

Venue: acb Gallery
Date: Mar 11 – Apr 21, 2016

Born in Vojvodina, Bálint Szombathy has been active as an artist since the end of the 1960s. His field of interest encompasses a number of non-traditional media from visual poetry through mail art to action art, but his critical activity contributing to the interpretation of the avant-garde is equally important. Two essential results of his consistent career are the establishment of continuity between historical- and neo-avant-garde, and raising awareness of political reflections in artistic practice. The exhibition We Were Heroes presents his emblematic series from the 1970s along with newer works deconstructing the Yugoslav past.

Bálint Szombathy’s art is centered on history and its personal, collective, and artistic aspects. However, these aspects are inseparable on account of Szombathy’s basic stance, and thus the artist’s task is to explore the archaeology of these layers and if necessary, to take action in order to elicit change. In Szombathy’s case, the ideal of the artist as an activist can be traced back to the historical avant-garde predecessors, more specifically, to Lajos Kassák. In fact, this is where the devotion characterizing Szombathy’s entire career originates, compelling the artist to eliminate the difference between art and life. His photo series from 1972, entitled Bauhaus, is a perfect early example of exploring the personal, collective, and artistic layers of history: the artist symbolically places a pivotal group of avant-gardes into his private living space, while this same private living space is politicized by the portrait of the omnipresent Josip Broz Tito. This is how the work grasps the complex Yugoslav reality of the seventies.

The exhibition We Were Heroes undoubtedly hinges on reflection, by facing the Yugoslav past and reflecting on post-totalitarian reality. To realize this, Szombathy opts for the strategy of appropriation, incorporating personal and collected objects, such as badges, party membership books, IDs, and flags into his works. The use of material manifestations of ideology and propaganda is not alien to him, as he has already used such objects, for instance in his radical performances and installations in the nineties. In fact, the flag is one of the most frequently recurring elements of his oeuvre. In his latest series, Szombathy stamps the question “Forgettable?” onto requisites of the party-state past, as a reference to one of his actions repeated several times in the 2010s, the title of which is an artistic-human manifesto: “Remember!”

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