Nature Art in Romania and Hungary

In March 2008, together with a fellow German and four Korean artists, I was invited to an exhibition in the MAMU Gallery in Budapest, Hungary,. It goes without saying that I was interested in art in Hungary and Romania, especially in Nature Art movements in the region. I met Karoly Elekes, Istvan Eroess and others, who told me all about the development of Nature Art, and I would like to share this interesting story with you here.

In the late 1970s a group of young artists, who had known each other since their childhood in Transylvania, graduated from art schools in Targu Mures, Romania.

They wanted to remain in contact and show their work to each other and to their friends. Their works were presented in private places such as studios, kitchens etc, exploring the limits of art at the time and enabling dialogue within the group. The official art world was old fashioned, with galleries displaying only official art influenced by the Communist Party’s cultural ideology and refusing to show other concepts. The artists` alternative was a form of escapism, from which a dialogue with nature evolved. Although there was little awareness of ecological aesthetics at the time, people were very close to nature, it was normal to live with nature and be in it. Some artists` work looked like that of children.

In the early 1980s Romania was a country paralysed by Ceaucescu`s dictatorship. Everyday life was dominated by surveillance and regimented (self-) control, and public space was dominated by nationalistic policies of modernisation and representation.

Artists responded with demonstrating their opposition to the understanding of orthodox iconography. They developed allegories that referenced the figure of the politically oppressed, and its bare existence. For instance: at that time the people in Romania were starving of hunger. In 1981 several artists collaborated to make a huge red sausage, which they placed in a green meadow. Visitors immediately understood the meaning behind it, a comment on and criticism of Ceaucescu`s politics.

The artists met several times from spring until autumn at a Neolithic grave site. Their meetings were an opportunity to stage small actions and were accompanied by parties and lots of alcohol.
They also invited young fellow artists from Budapest to consider collaborating and presenting their art.
The artworks presented at these meetings were initiated by individual as well as groups of artists. Some of the works were private performances and rituals, such as that by Karoly Elekes about a lost love, while others were observations of nature.

In another action (1983) five artists burnt the official correspondence relating to applications to art schools, galleries, and official authorities.
Other actions involving burning things functioned as a protest against politics, though the slightest deviation from conventional behaviour aroused suspicion.
In another group work, textile flags (not national, just personal flags) covered the top of a hill where there were ancient graves (1982).

Most of the events were staged for the artists themselves and not for the public, but they were documented by photos and catalogues.

In 1984-85 the entire group of artists escaped from Romania to Hungary. They met in Budapest and established an artists` association called MAMÜ. MA is the name for town and MÜ stands for a piece of art. It also means: actual work.
The new residents were able to hold regular meetings and in 1990 they established a showroom for their activities, which was also called MAMÜ. Exhibitions with a focus on Nature Art and related topics have been presented ever since. In Budapest the artist y faced different situations and financial problems. Some are still there, while others have moved to Israel and other countries.
To make a living, most of the artists teach at art schools and art academies. Support for public art education is very rare, since there is almost no money.

Regular weekly meetings keeps the association together. In terms of structure, small groups of three to four members come under the umbrella of the main association. Altogether there are some 120 members, of whom 20 to 30 work actively for the group.
MAMÜ has presented its works in several countries including the USA, Austria, Poland, Germany, Finland, and Korea and it has also organized workshops and art camps.

The aim is still to create works for Land Art or Nature Art projects, as well as to meet other groups working in this field.

Also in the East, following the demise of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s individual and groups of artists displayed an increasing interest in the artistic experience of nature. Creating works for, in and with nature functioned as compensation for the desire for nature on the part of the artist and the recipient as well.
Since then, the concept of working with nature has changed and is now influenced by travels and meetings between artists from all over the world.
The most important members of MAMU are Elekes Károly, Garda Aladár, Nagy Árpád, Krizbai Sándor, Borgó György Csaba and Istvan Eroess. The full list of MAMU members can be viewed at www.MAMU.


Anke Mellin