“A piece of artwork could determine your destiny” – 5in10 with Márton Orosz
Márton Orosz is Curator of the Collection of Photography and Media Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest and the Acting Director of the Vasarely Museum affiliated with the same institution. He has recently curated “Time Landscape. Alan Sonfist and the Birth of Land Art” (2014); “Nathan Lerner: Photo-Eye” (2012); “Film Experiments Brought to Light” (2014); and “Hungarian Artists and the Computer” (2016). He earned his PhD in Art History at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. During his studies, he was Terra Fellow at Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and Gyorgy Kepes Fellow for Advanced Studies and Transdisciplinary Research at MIT. His publications range across the histories of photography, film, and collecting. His essay on Gyorgy Kepes’ Polaroid experiments appeared in “AR – Artistic Research” (Walther König, 2013) and his study on the European abstract animated film industry of the 1930s in “Regarding the Popular” (De Gruyter, 2011). He is currently a Fellow of Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices at the Forum Transregionale Studien.
What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
Both of my parents are artists, which pretty much determined my background and the environment I grew up in. I spent my childhood in the end of the communist dictatorship in Hungary, but in one of the suburbs of Budapest, where none of its repercussions were directly palpable. Living in that micro-society provided some protection to my family and also a certain freedom. However, as my father created a set of political posters (that became iconic after the change), there was a moment when we did almost get detained and we were on the brink of leaving the country. There are certain situations that are just out of your control, and it is intriguing to realize that even a piece of artwork could determine your destiny – that was the lesson I learned early on. It was also hard to get a passport to travel abroad, but on the other hand, we had lots of visitors from across the world. Collectors, designers, historians came to visit us on a frequent basis. I think that my affinity to the museum world also dates back to there. These encounters with foreigners also helped me to understand the need for a cultural dialog and helped me to discover the mutual appreciation of our universal heritage. I also came to the recognition that, through artworks, we can eventually overcome political borders, and that aesthetic autonomy does not necessarily correlate with political emancipation.
How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator?
In my studies, I focus on the intersections of art and science. It is a large field, but my research addresses György Kepes’ contribution to the subject. He was a Hungarian-born American visual artist, the co-founder of the School of Design in Chicago that grew out of the New Bauhaus at the end of the 1930s. As a painter and a photographer, he was interested in the historical, theoretical, and phenomenological aspects of vision. He published some remarkable books on these issues, and his contribution became a strong foundation for design teaching almost everywhere in the world. Many of his curatorial endeavors were doomed to failure, however conceptually pivotal they were. In 1967, at the epicenter of the Cold War military-industrial complex at MIT, he established an interdisciplinary program for the civic responsibility of technology, a place where artists were able to discuss their ideas with engineers. It was a game changer in the academic world, at a time when the gap between the humanities and the sciences seemed to be unbridgeable.
Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative for you?
I certainly like to be in and to discover the same places where my research material originates. This makes me think that coming to Berlin was an unavoidable choice. During my undergraduate studies, my most formative journey actually took place to Weimar, where I had the privilege to participate at the local summer academy in three consecutive years. It was my first transnationally and transdisciplinarily scaled experience on timely issues such as sustainability and future viability. There, I met some high-caliber scholars in the field of the Weimar Classic as well as the Bauhaus, and I was part of a remarkable workshop held by a former associate of Joseph Beuys, the South African-born artist Shelley Sacks, founder of the research center for social sculpture in Oxford. As someone who has a strong museum background, I was always thrilled to be connected to the academic world. I feel that these are still two simultaneously existing spheres, and although they address the very same issues, their activity somehow needed to be reconciled.
Based on my personal experience, the only place where those gaps seemed to be seamlessly bridged was MIT, where I spent a semester to conduct some research for my work. Having your own office at MIT where you can work day and night (even on Christmas Eve when you are alone in campus) and benefiting from all the advantages of being a student there, giving you access to literally everything, was just something you can only dream about and it still sparks fond memories. It was utmost stimulating in the sense that you felt you arrived to the right spot where everything seems to happen around you. Corridor chats with visiting guest like Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, elevator discussions with Joan Jonas or Otto Piene, accidental encounters with Noam Chomsky provided me a great incentive to revise your knee-jerk expectations towards the everyday and most importantly to reframe your vision how to look at certain things.
How is it to do research in Germany?
I would reply to you with the title of Werner Hofmann’s book “How German is German art?” Well, it really depends. Berlin differs from every other city in Germany. It is like being in New York. A country within a country. Still is, I reckon. It is more cosmopolitan than any other Central European capital. From my own research’s point of view, what lends special topicality to Berlin is the mysterious stratification of the present and the past, in almost a Zizekian sense, granting a parallax view that I constantly experience throughout my work here. Before emigrating first to the UK, subsequently to the United States, György Kepes spent five years here – that was his direct connection to Berlin. For me, it is almost a peek-a-boo game to find the same places where he went more than 80 years ago. It is interesting to see the extent to which the various locations he photographed or wrote about have been modified. It is also inspiring to draw a parallel between the Weimar Republic and today, and it is quite stunning to believe that the city offers a similar cultural climate now. I think that the genius loci is something that should impress you in the first place. Sometimes I can’t help mulling over the fact that immigration can also take place in time, not just into a physical space; and that is something that greatly excites me when I am sitting in the library.
If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your subject?
It is amazing to realize how much time you really need to finish a research project, especially if you are like me, who prefers working leaving no stone unturned. I would like to submit my book manuscript at the end of my term and start to work toward an exhibition and a documentary film. It may well sound somewhat ambitious, and, of course, it would require massive fundraising to make all these things happen. We should, however, keep in mind that the priorities of scientific research have dramatically changed over the years and we now have to utilize all the possible tools to reach out to a larger audience and to find new forms of representation to express our ideas. Anything that would make your arguments convincing enough for most people.
Citation: Márton Orosz, “A piece of artwork could determine your destiny“ – 5in10 with Márton Orosz, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 12.11.2016, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/5550