31 January 2011

Hungarian Pop

I have been shamed by Hungarians for listening to their pop. I was told the lyrics were stupid (which applies to all pop music, really) and completely lacking the depth and imagery of their folk songs. They said it was "too American" and ridiculous. Did this stop me from watching VIVA? Absolutely not. Mostly because watching TV in Hungarian hurts your head after a while.

Barbee (ezalegjobb.jay.hu)
SP (neon.hu)
The funny thing is, I unabashedly like their pop. A lot of the music on VIVA was imported, but they have a pretty lively music scene considering the size of their country and the number of Hungarian speakers in the world. The first song I heard was "Kapj el!" by Barbee and despite the vapidness of the song, it was catchy. The next was "Ne add fel" by SP and I mostly loved it for being ridiculous, but then my love turned pretty serious. I began to listen to Hungarian pop more because it's simplicity made it possible for me to hear the words and figure out the meaning through my tenuous grasp of Hungarian. It's the equivalent of basic language instruction without a teacher or a textbook (but I was taking lessons).  So I kept watching it but I stopped telling people about it.

28 January 2011

Romanian painter Valeriu Boborelu

I don't know about you guys, but I'm no art buff.  I like what I like and I have valid reasons, but sometimes I just feel like "???" when I see certain things.  I have to ruminate for days afterward.  Then it usually takes one sentence one article on the artist/work and then it starts the brain chugging.  I'm not as much a visual person as I am a word person.  The magical combination is when I just get it.  I don't saunter through galleries enough to get art very quickly; I recognize it's a matter of exposure and not intelligence.  Like music.  It took me a while to fall in love with opera.  This is getting beside the point.

I want to feature a Romanian painter I just happened to find during an internet search: Valeriu Boborelu. 

27 January 2011

Prague and Its Art

Before I delve into today's post, I have two announcements.
1) Next week's theme is MUSIC.  In case you're wondering, I'm going to discuss contemporary CEE music.  Get psyched.

2) The EU news as of late has been exciting!  Kosovo and the organ trade, Lukashenko, Hungary's controversial media law (which the EU cannot force Hungary to change––big surprise?), and possibly fining France and Sweden for not protecting its wildlife...it's been an interesting week.  I do have to sadly let you all know that European Voice is not entirely free!  Ack!  I signed up for a 4 week trial, but it's too expensive for me to do  more than read the headlines.  Phooey.

On to Prague's art.  Today is a departure from museum space to the public space.   Naturally, this is another place I visited, but I'm including it in art week because it was actually Prague's public art that made me curious about the post-communist transition.  Prague is a rather progressive city that is full of history and tradition.  I'm mainly focused on post-communist era public art (another given), but I have a few examples of art that is not.  All the photos below, except for the one labeled otherwise, are mine and if you use them, you better cite my blog.

26 January 2011

Thought on the Role of Art

(George Ştefănescu "Singurătate", courtesy of Wikipedia)

The book I am currently reading is an anthology of short stories from CEE called "Description of a Struggle: The Contemporary Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing" edited by Michael March. There is a lovely short story by the Romanian writer Ana Blandiana that fit in very well with Art Week:

"The Open Window"
by Ana Blandiana

Back in those days, whenever artists were arrested, they were allowed to take their paints and brushes with them into the jail. Thus, on entering the dark cell at the top of the tower, the first thought that struck the hero of this story was to have a window painted on one of the walls. He got down to work and painted an open window through which a dazzling blue sky could be seen. Thus his cell became much brighter.

25 January 2011

Over the Counter exhibition: Budapest

Today's post will be about an exhibition I saw in Budapest. The name in Hungarian is "A Pult Mögött: A posztszocialista gazdaság jelenségei a kortárs művészetben", which is translated as "Over the Counter: The Phenomenon of Post-Socialist Economy in Contemporary Art". It was shown at the Műcsarnok Kunsthalle, which is on Heroes Square right across from the Szépműveszeti Múzuem, from June-September in 2010.

The exhibit is featured on the Műcsarnok website. You can read the full description of the exhibit on the website, which I highly suggest. I will be focusing on a few pieces in the exhibit that I found compelling. The Műcsarnok is an exhibition space, even though the outside suggests it's a museum, and it's incredibly spacious, with vaulted ceilings and large doorways. It's a blank canvas that provides a perfect spot for the collection because the pieces in the exhibit are larger than life and there were quite a few videos, which I had not expected. I waited all summer to find someone to come with me, but I ended up going alone and for a limited amount of time. I was there for two hours, but I could have easily wandered around for four. My little guidebook was covered in notes scribbled as I walked through and took note of artists I particularly liked.

24 January 2011

Art Week Kick-Off

To kick off the exciting Art Week on this wee blog, my friend Christine Armbruster is doing a guest post!

Her featured work is "Mortar Shells and Cigarettes: A Memoir of Sarajevo 15 Years After War". Her collection was exhibited at the Southwest School of Arts in San Antonio, is currently exhibiting in its second location on BYU's campus for 5 months, and will exhibit in several locations in central Utah. This is only a year after her highly successful collection, "Working Identities", shot in the Dominican Republic, which was displayed in several public venues (and won the "Celebrate Human Dignity" prize from the Kennedy Center in 2010) and is now available as a book.

Christine Armbruster is graduating from Brigham Young University this year with a BFA in photography. She's a free spirit from San Antonio, Texas with a belly full of wanderlust and camera collection to match. She spent her past summer doing an ORCA Grant project in Sarajevo, Bosnia i Herzegovina. She also got the "Commie fever" during her short time there and (desperately?) wants to live in Eastern Europe. If you remain unconvinced, I think her hair in this photo says it all. Her next project will take her to Moscow (!!), which is very thrilling. She's a fantastic freelance photographer who has done commercial work, any photography related to getting hitched, travel, photojournalism, some travel video work for the Travel Channel, and fine art. What hasn't she done is the better question. She generously told me she's "very excited" about this blog and I hope she continues to contribute her artistic point of view in posts. To see her work, follow the jump.

21 January 2011

Weekend Post (Art Week is coming up)

This is the last post before ART WEEK!

I may or may not post something over the weekend, but I am a little impulsive. It's also Why So Red's one week anniversary today! Hooray! I am very very VERY excited about art week and I've been doing some research to find good stuff. If the discussion of politics and books hasn't sparked your interest yet, hopefully next week will.

Today's post will include a number of RSS feeds that I recommend. I will admit that they are EU-centric, but the EU is an important aspect of Europe regardless of the region and it's important to at least know something about it.

20 January 2011

Hungary's Censorship

image from unitedpersons.org*

It's time to highlight another place I am particularly fascinated by: Hungary.

Part of what I always loved about Hungary is that it has an air of mystery and fierce independence. Their failed revolutions, based far more on principle than the ability to win, have been an example of how Hungarians make their thoughts known and don't compromise. The equally interesting part is how submissive they are after being beaten. For all I can tell, there is simmering resentment and defiance, but nothing outright. Hungary is different from its Slavic neighbors and they have a pride in their uniqueness. Hungary is an intoxicating place and I loved it more after 4 months there, though I have my reservations about their bureaucracy (which I have with most countries, actually). Currently, it's also considered one of the most westernized nations, along with the Czech Republic and people from more eastern European nations always said this to me. The recent events have made me wonder how westernized Hungary really has become and if they have lost their dedication to higher principles.

Just wanted to share

From a commentor on an Irish news site who didn't cite the source.

19 January 2011

Belorussian Elections

(Note: I am not well versed in Belarus, so take this with a grain of salt!)

Today's topic is the rather...confusing nature of the Belarus elections. I actually had the same issue with the Iranian elections because the fact of the matter is, it's hearsay whether or not someone deserved to win. I assume only a handful of people actually know the results and the rest of it is based on popular mood. Remember when Bush won against Gore in the hanging chad debacle? Americans were pretty pissed about it and the popular mood would have suggested that Bush rigged the whole thing. I'm pretty certain the laws of land prevented any mischief, but you can see where my skepticism comes from. I'm not particularly into conspiracy theories (though I find them compelling and a good exercise of the imagination), so I'm not easily swayed into thinking that everything is rigged.

18 January 2011

PBS After the Wall Special

Last night I watched the PBS special "After the Wall: A World United" on television. I didn't realize until my research this morning that there was a previous hour long special called "The Wall: A World Divided". I do give them credit for mirroring titles, though I think they couldn't stray too far from the formula and still attract viewers. I was understandably excited for the special because it involved Communism and the transition thereafter.

17 January 2011

Monday Book Review and next week's theme

I want to announce the theme of next week's posts: ART!

I have some fantastic exhibitions and statues to discuss. I want to make each week thematic so the topics don't get stale or center on one mode of research or work. There are many people doing work in and on East Europe and they need to be recognized. I know that I didn't find much on the region (except Russia) until I deliberately started looking for it. I want to help refer people to others with similar interests. If anyone reading this has suggestions, please send them to me! You can even write up a guest post if you feel so inclined. I would rather mediate the blog than write every single post.

Today's post is regarding the book that changed everything for me: Altering States: Ethnographies of Transition in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, edited by Daphne Berdahl, Matti Bunzl, and Martha Lampland. I wanted to highlight the first book to seal my fate back in 2007. This book is an introduction to the breadth of topics being researched in East Europe and what an introduction it is! It has a host of topics from gay sex tourism in Prague to the Russian concept of the soul and they are all accessible to the average reader. The essays are accessible, but they are not watered down. These ethnographies retain an academic quality while also not succumbing to the awful rhetoric of academic writing. This is not your typical library periodical. It has more life than that.

16 January 2011

Macedonian poetry

During my last library trip, I grabbed books like a madwoman and made my getaway via the checkout counter. I picked up "Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers" by Lidija Dimkovska, a Macedonian poet. I didn't know that when I grabbed it, but it was a pleasant surprise. To be honest, I found the poetry borderline absurd. It's very avant garde and half prose, which I don't mind, but I found myself scratching my head a lot. I don't claim to know enough about the tradition of poetry in Macedonia or her work in general to come to any relevant conclusions. I also know no Macedonian or any Slavic language, so I have even less to go on. Simply, I don't know how to make head or tails of 90% of the poems. (Though this blog article helped a little after the fact) It does make me want to learn the dang Cyrillic alphabet and a Slavic language (I'm thinking Polish..). Despite my lack of affinity for the collection as a whole, I really loved a few of her poems. I'm going to share three of my favorites:

15 January 2011

Book Review: German Communists

To kick start this blog, let's have a review of a recent ECE book I read.

A fair trip to the library in November ended with me checking out "The Last Revolutionaries: German Communists and Their Century" by Catherine Epstein. I was intrigued by the scope of the work and ventured to read this summary of several dozen German Communists over a scope of 80 years. Catherine's work was certainly impressive; she interviewed many of the people featured in the book and spent years collecting their memoirs in addition to the arduous task of interviewing. Having done interviews myself, I could only applaud her stamina because it must've been trying to get through all of them despite how interesting they must have been. The task to collect all these histories and put them into a coherent book was behemoth and she did it wonderfully.

14 January 2011


Some T-shirt companies are selling these. Can I have one?
I am starting my third blog ever, but this is solely for intellectual writings on Eastern Europe. For years, I have been infected with a viral disease known as "Cannotstopthinkingaboutcommunismitis". It know it's not a real disease, but sometimes my preoccupation with ECE, Communism, and transition nations feels like it's taken over my life.

But I love it.