Urbanism – the study of the urban built environment, public space organisation, public architecture, public money, public memory, public taste and public life – is certainly a public matter. There is no need to explain it further. However, the precise subject of what counts as a public matter is not so clear. Especially when we think of such ever-changing categories as the formation of cultural canons: what we hold as worthy of attention, archiving, and protection.
The reputation of modern architecture, based on utopian and humanist theories, is in global decline. Beyond the sporadic brutalism-fan Instagram accounts popping up in recent years, even more voices denounce the modernist units built around primary geometric forms of unadorned metal, monochrome concrete and light as dystopian and anti-human. Similar tendencies surfaced in the former Eastern bloc countries, where the legacy of the state socialist past aggravates the rejection of modernism. The collective transgenerational psycho-traumatic traces of the era determine the way we think about the cultural legacy of state socialism. An integral part of the region’s 30-year re/integration into Western hegemony is the expulsion of the state socialist era and all its cultural imprints from the national cultural canon, from the national cultural identity.
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In the exhibition’s focal point, in the series of Sights, simple tourist maps become the material imprints of changing cultural realities. From Belgium to Japan, Fogarasi selected a wide range of old and new publications highlighting the architectural landmarks of these cities. Fogarasi removed the small schematised image of buildings emerging from the maps from their graphic context and transferred them to blank maps. As a result of the visual reduction, the audience is left with only those replicas of buildings that the editors of the time considered to be cultural products of prime importance in the matrix of Zeitgeist, national cultural trends and values, national identities and political ideologies. The series, from various periods and countries, offers multiple possibilities for comparison while at the same time influencing the viewer’s own experience. Looking at a map of Budapest from the 1970s, even if we recognise the buildings marked, these are certainly not the sights we would send our foreign friends to. What was then the pride of the city now bears the forced presence of existence. These maps are not only interesting due to local timelines but also as they draw parallels across time and space, between eras and countries. The images of Hiroshima, Kyiv and Budapest evoke different examples of the barbarity of destruction. In some places, foreign governments and armies are bombing, in others, domestic political arrogance and cultural indifference.
The abstract storytelling continues in the Budapest, Stripped series. Moving on the border of constructivist sculpture and found objects, Fogarasi tightly bundles changing paneling elements of public space and building reconstructions. Former and new paving stones, windows, façade elements, metro station tiles tell the sensual story in the language of material, form, colour, size and quality through the realised architectural constructions of the past and present cultural realities.
The benches are atmospheric elements. You can sit on them.