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Between a Frown and a Spurred Heel

Part 2 Project 2004
Liam Alexander Ross
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
Queing to hand in your Self-Assessment form at the Inland Revenue is a little like maintaining a salute to Sergent whilst touring on duty abroad.

Keeping down a glass of Champagne on a restaurant’s terrace is akin to holding the wind-torn flag of Liberation steady.

These are not affirmations shared by Akos Eleod Junior, architect of Budapest’s ‘Szoborpark’, the suburban cemetary for 34 Communist Statues removed from the city’s streets in 1989.

Explaining the park’s faux Totalitarian lines at its opening, he stated that should the park attempt to represent our own position on the ancient regime, we would be '”following the same prescriptions of the dictatorship that erected the statues in the first place”. Ours is to tend the sick, it appears.

15 years later and in the throws of EU accession, can Statue Park – with all that priestly abstention - ‘keep its flag up’?. Though Budapest’s most widely advertised tourist attraction it lies incomplete and derelict. This project responds to what it considers the park’s ‘representation deficit’. Finding some affinity between its native and the local tongue, it calls ‘Haste Ye Back!’ (‘Harom a Tanc!’) to the Statues, inviting them to a Last Tango (Verbunk) at City Hall.

The alternative Park For Deposed Communist Statues finds itself hand in hand between two programmes, at two scales. Next to City Hall’s reinstated Consumer Information Centre – the public face of civic administration – the statues recollect the authoritarian city, the network of buildings they formerly decorated. Next the new Centre for Hungarian National Dance, the Statues inspire improvisation on the folk stock of conscription dances. Many new ways to keep a flag up are construed, often whilst slapping one’s heels.

Both tales of Nation and State are articulated against the Habsburg hospital that is City Hall, which provides the Enlightenment ground for some militaristic forays, the orderly audience for an energetic display.

Liam Alexander Ross

Liam’s project re-locates the figures of Statue Park from their peripheral urban circumstance into the courtyards of City Hall in central Pest. Although only constructed shortly after 1989 and promoted as part of the tourists’ itinerary, Statue Park is already a dilapidated home to the bronze cast heroes of the Communist era.

City Hall on the other hand is a well-maintained building of the Baroque period that functions independently from both Castle and Parliament as the administrative nexus of Budapest.

Liam’s process initially places the statues as they were across the city, scaled in plan dimension to suit the size of City Hall. As such, the City Hall is at once the new Statue Park but also a representation of the City as previously occupied by the statues. As if to underline this representational possibility, the statues move, tracing their choreographed displacements across the courtyards of City Hall as they search out the parts of City Hall that most resonate with their original city position. The Monument to the Martyrs of the Workers Militia, for example, now sits on the central North-South axis of City Hall on the inside of the arc of the Medieval City Wall (that compromised the completion of the double symmetry of the Baroque plan), echoing its original location in the Octogon on the Budapest 1900 axis of Andrassy Avenue.

All the statues are choreographed to the same dance, the Verbunk. The Verbunk is a Teutonic appropriation of Magyar folk dancing re-presented as part of a military advertising campaign in the Hapsburg period. A new theatre for dance is proposed, extruded from the traces of the dance steps across City Hall’s Courtyards, and fixed in vertical dimension within the trajectories of the statues’ embodied gestures - from frowning gaze to spurred-boot slap. The arrangement of Budapest City Hall, Statue Park and the Hungarian Dance Theatre is a new political arena for Budapest, both mirthful and serious.

Hugh Avison
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