Traces of the Danube in Venice

The Danube makes its way through Central and Eastern Europe, touching the boarder of many countries before emptying into the Black Sea. Still, in 2017, it seems to have stopped in Venice too.  A simple and clear message ‘Peace on Earth!’ is conceived through the artworks created by Gyula Várnai in his studio in Dunaújváros, situated in Hungary, on the Danube. The neoconceptual artist exhibits at the Hungarian Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale.

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The history of the city where Gyula Várnai grew up in is central to the understanding of his exhibition. Dunaújváros is a relatively young city, constructed in 1949 for industrial purposes and therefore becoming known for its steelworks. Its name back then was Sztálinváros (“Stalin City”) until 1961, when it became Dunaújváros, which means “Danube New City” (New City on the Danube). As a consequence, Várnai grew up in a city trapped between present and future.Speaking of Dunaújváros, the artist says that,‘For us, the notion of tradition was unknown, it was replaced by the cognition and the exploration. We experienced the present as future’.

‘Peace on Earth!’ explores this idea of present accelerated into becoming a preconceived idea of future. The national pavilion showcases installations, interactive video works and sculptural pieces drawing on the notion of futurology. The materials are important in order to shed light on the fact that our vision of the future is founded primary on the resources we have today. Therefore, using visual elements and objects from the past, the artist creates artworks with sources which include relics of the Cold War era or the aesthetic of industrial environment. This mixture between material and montage overwrites the stereotypical Eastern European look with contemporary philosophical connotations.

We might think: what does ‘Peace on Earth!’ have to do with a creative, palpable, artistic version of the city Dunaújváros? Nowadays, when progress represents the main idea of every thought or discovery, the Hungarian Pavilion is a reminder that the past plays an important role in establishing the path towards the future and ‘Peace on Earth!’ is the slogan that should accompany each and every step towards that. That statement might be a bit idealistic, but the the exhibition is in Venice until November 26, 2017, so if you get the chance to see it, let me know if it is true.

-Teodora