Utopian Socialism

The Hungary Pavilion at the Venice Biennale showcases a series of installations, interactive video works and sculptural pieces by Gyula Várnai. Drawing on the notion of futurology, Várnai’s interactive works evoke the promised utopias of the past and confronts them with the challenges of the present. Recreating the slogans and symbols of socialism, this commission critiques an idealised, futuristic vision using ordinary materials that transcend their everyday function.

A: How do you think that the pavilion is a showcase of multidisciplinarity? The commission includes installations, interactive video works and sculptural pieces. Why do you think it’s important that there a number of different media to demonstrate the conceptual idea?
GV: Multidisciplinarity is an essential characteristic of my artistic practice. I’m not afraid to use any kinds of media if it adds a new aspect to the concept. In the Peace on Earth! project the multi-layered nature of the project requires a diversity of approaches to mark out the contextual field for reception and interpretation.

A: How does the pavilion tie together the past and the present, and why is it important to create dialogues across different times and spaces?
GV: Our general approach is to look at how the present can learn from the past and recreate positive models for consideration of the future. Recently, taking into consideration problematic local issues and conflict, the universality of 20th century modernism seems to be irrelevant. From another point of view, if we believe in the general development of humanity, we should move towards creating positive beliefs in the future, and the power of societies to fulfil such ideas like global peace.

A: Using symbols of socialism, the works comment on an idealised futuristic vision, how do you think that audiences will respond to the functionality of everyday materials being undermined?
GV: I think that the audiences are open to follow the meaning of the images or objects they see. The references, if they just point to something what existed in a period of time, are not sufficient for a contemporary artwork. But if the meaning is changed by the context it is presented in, that creates discussions and debates of the topic. In our case as well, either the big neon dove with the forgotten slogan “Peace on Earth” or the rainbow of 8000 badges, they both take out the original objects from their time to create a meaning which is defined by the conflicts and problems of contemporary Europe.

A: How do you think that the theme of utopia is one that is positive, even innovative?
GV: We should distinguish Utopias from Dystopias. The utopias are primary motivations for us, as how we imagine the future. It’s not that easy to create a positive scenario and an optimistic plan today. It seems naïve, based on past historical and political realities, but we are trying to consider the necessity of hope in this period of time.

A: How do the works comment upon the current social and political landscape, and either provide catharsis or use contemporary art to create discussions about humanity on a larger scale?
GV: I think that this year brought big expectations to Venice. A year after the migration crisis, the question was if contemporary art should give primary responses to everyday politics, or that should be done by the media. Our point was to get above this discussion and examine the necessity of utopias. I also face the impacts of global conflicts, but instead of reacting to them, I would like to make one step forward and create discussions about the future of humanity

A: Are the works a display of technology and development? How do they bring together contemporary materials or methods as well as historic ideals
GV: Technological development is a global belief that by automatisation and faster internet we can reach a comfortable life. But I think that this hides the everyday problems of interpersonal communication, so as a counter-reaction in my work, I often use low tech, or analogue technology to solve visual problems. I think that a hand-made quality brings the audience closer to the methodology and allows them to understand how an artwork is made.

A: In what way does the pavilion comment on the future of art within a wider network – making a point for the vitality and necessity of the market within a world rife with funding cuts and galleries in a state of flux?
GV:  The market is an important issue, but when we place alongside other issues in contemporary culture, I would not put it at the top of the list. Related to the arts, our statement is that artist has a deeper responsibility in society. Regarding distribution, art galleries and the management of an artist play more and more of a role in getting across the message to a wider audience. I also have an outstanding relation with my gallery, acb in Budapest.

Pavilion of Hungary at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Until 26 November. For more information: www.labiennale.org

1. Gyula Várnai, One of the Rare Moments. (2006).