Artist, activist, educator
Éva is a Hungarian artist, activist and educator. Her works articulate social and ecological concerns and are strongly connected to the specific environment and community. At the boundaries of art and science, her projects aim to raise awareness on various sustainability challenges, in an attempt to catalyse a change. She is keen on working together with local communities and other sectors; these forms of interactions define if an object, an installation, a performance, a workshop, a discussion or a festival is born. She is the co-founder of Green Root Lab, an artist collective dealing with ecological art and activism. She collaborates with other collectives or individuals as well; PAD Foundation for Environmental Justice being the most recent and active one.
Why is it important for you as an artist to deal with ecological and environmental problems and topics?
In the first place, it is important for me as a human being to be conscious about my own existence, my own impact on the world I live in. Ecological or environmental issues and motives appeared in my personal life first, and organically became the focus of my art practice as well, as the two are intertwined. Art is my main tool to communicate messages, share and exchange ideas or practices, thus I became curious about exploring what role art can play in this context.
How did this initiative come? What triggered you to start working with these topics?
The trigger itself to turn to these topics came from my daily life, while the first steps during a university project for Experimental Art class at the Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta, almost ten years ago. Our task was to create a site-specific installation from the materials we find on the spot at the local beach. It was obvious for me that I would like to use the plastic waste which covers the area, I could not turn a blind eye to it, and luckily the guys in my group were totally up to the idea. We started to brainstorm to find the best technique to build a nautilus shell, which is connected to the location in its shape but also reflects on the problem of plastic pollution by the choice of material. This is how Spiral of Existence was born. It is also important to note here the issue of visibility. Generally speaking, we in the West consume and waste more than an average Indonesian, but here there are services that take away the trash for instance, while back in 2012 it was not at all solved there, nor was it public knowledge how much time plastic takes to decompose (or rather, fragment into smaller pieces). So our purpose was to raise awareness on this. Today I would use different methods to do so, as I think the so-called “art from trash” does not contribute to solving the problem. It does not remove plastic from the cycle but turns it into an art form which carry the danger of giving value to plastic waste.
Which work of yours do you consider the most important or most significant? Why?
I don’t think I can pick one. It also depends on what we mean by important or significant.
As the majority of my works are collaborative or community-based, each are meaningful for me due to the people and interactions that surround them, as well as the knowledge and skills we exchange during the project. We have been collaborating with Lilli Tölp since 2015 under the name Green Root Lab, and those projects are very significant for me, especially the period in India when we researched farming practices and their social and environmental effects in the subcontinent. In 2016 we found that due to unsustainable farming practices – namely, the use of chemical fertilizers, Monsanto seeds, etc. that the government advocates – the quality of the soil is quickly degrading, crops fail, and a huge number of farmers commit suicide each year as they see no way out. Our exhibitions aimed to raise awareness on the issue by installations and performances but we also wanted to move beyond mere aesthetic pleasure and have an element of social benefit. We initiated a community seed bank that gathers indigenous seeds, which in the end became the part of an already existing seed bank of a local collective as we left the country. I find the collaboration with that group of artists and activists also highly important, as Gram Art Project is one of the best examples I have seen how a so-called socially engaged art project can really benefit the community it works with. For many years they have been present in a village working on sustainable farming practices and social entrepreneurship projects.
For the same reason, I find our collaborative projects with PAD Foundation also very significant. We are of diverse backgrounds in the team – depending on the project, social scientists, artists, engineers, ecologists work together, merging the boundaries between these disciplines. Our project szabadonbalaton (which would translate as freebalaton) aims to raise public awareness about the ecological needs and risks of Lake Balaton, the biggest lake of Hungary, while our project Everyday Shortcomings focuses on a segregated settlement of rural Hungary to identify and articulate the systemic problems that determine the living conditions of the local population (increased environmental risks, lack of public services, and housing problems). These are both ongoing projects with very important messages and a great potential which lies in the collaborative method with which we approach and represent these issues.
I firmly believe that when we share skills and competences, the effect of the project can be multiplied. I have the same attitude in my solo projects as well. At the moment Designated Breathing Zone is the closest to me, which critically reflects on the problem of air pollution. The prototype is an installation that invites the audience to inhale the air ventilated from an incubated plant modul. I could consult with the engineer of HONF Foundation when developing the object and during a workshop kids were also involved to create DIY objects using the same mechanism. This created a platform to discuss this issue with them, which is another element I find highly important: sharing ideas and practices outside the boundaries of the “white cube.”
I have seen that you travel a lot and your artworks are presented abroad. Is there a big difference in how people relate and react to your works in Hungary vs. abroad?
I definitely sense a difference in mindsets and ways of communication, which I try to take into consideration when doing my work. I have my own visual language but I blend it with the input that comes from all those interactions that happen when I do my research for a project. So I guess my answer for your question is that I try to relate to the people first before expecting them to relate to my work. Then I can choose which form or setting is the best to communicate my message, and I integrate my work in that. Normally, it works. Sometimes, I experienced totally unexpected interpretations due to different cultural references, but that makes it interesting. I love changing thoughts with anyone who we share interest with. There are places where there are a greater number of like-minded people with similar mentality but I feel we can find them everywhere sooner or later.
Is this environmental crisis still very neglected or is it becoming more and more important and dealt with? What is your experience?
It has became very much the focus of attention lately but those in power positions still do not much about it. What is more, there is a tendency of not even neglecting but rejecting the idea on governmental level as well in too many countries. Now the coronavirus dominates everything, environmental topics appear in mainstream media mostly reporting about better air quality in cities where covid forced activities to halt, while the climate and environmental crisis is still there.
We should definitely put more attention to it but unfortunately, the majority of initiatives are superficial, many are even great examples of greenwashing, which we just cannot afford. There are a growing number of grassroot initiatives though which are meaningful but they would need more room and support locally.
We hear ’a lot’ about how Anthropocene has an effect globally but what do you think that how it has an effect on the individual? How is it to live in this era?
It is hard to generalize because different places are affected to a different degree, just like individuals. That is the main point. Even the term anthropocene is debatable, as it is not people in general responsible for the current situation but a privileged few compared to the total global population, or as the term capitalocene suggests, the capitalist system. There are societies, mindsets where well-being is not measured by GDP but clean air, time with our loved ones, etc. But consumerism reached almost all corners of the world by now, and the so-called developing countries also want to have their slice of the cake, as colonial structures thought them to measure their value according to those standards. Such a twisted position! Hardly any of us is outside the system.
Still, I think individuals are affected to different degrees, and of course those who experience the shortcomings of the system the least and profit the most will not be in favour of a change, and will ignore the problem or greenwash measures as much as they can, as they are just fine. Until a point. There are people who know not much of the fancy terms but experience changes in their own life and try to react accordingly. I also know people personally who work in the field of environmental studies and need mental support as they are completely stressed out by the data. But basically we cannot be completely sure what will happen exactly or when, and this uncertainty can also be demanding if we have no tools to manage. For some, religion might serve as a tool for instance, but this is where the concept of Deep Adaptation comes in as well. We know there are certain losses we can’t avoid or turn back, so we need to develop our skills to adapt to the changes. To be proactive and see what we can do now to minimise the loss. What the values we need to keep, the clinging we need to let go of, or the knowledge and skills we need to restore are. It is not the end of the world but the end of how we lived it. We must let go of old structures and be open for new ones. I think this is the hardest for people of the West: to live in uncertainty still have the trust that everything will be ok; and even if not as planned, it is ok. I find this approach useful.
How environmental awareness is present in your daily life?
I guess I am doing those small things that in some ways can practise control over my consumer habits: fixing rather than buying things, if buying, then mostly second-hand. Trying to avoid packaged goods, using my own bags, shopping at local markets. Growing some food on my own. Minimizing the water and electricity I use – as much as I can in this online quarantine time. There are these and other tiny steps which are often criticised as having no real impact in the big picture though I think these matter too, even if not enough. I look at tiny steps as the first to bigger ones, the trigger for more, on an individual and collective level as well. I also find it important to be conscious about being the part of a bigger system. It is much more tangible if you live outside the city closer to the elements of nature, or work as let’s say a farmer depending on weather and climate conditions. That is why I love spending time in communities or cultures which are still closer to these elemental forces in a material or spiritual sense. Even a solitary meditation can give you the abstract but sensual experience of belonging, and when you realise you do not end at your skin, you will have a different attitude to whatever surrounds you.
What are your plans in the near future? Are there any specific events or exhibitions that you are preparing for?
Well, it is pretty hard to plan at the moment! Our project Everyday Shortcomings with PAD would be presented at OFF-Biennale Budapest now, in June I should be joining the Lab of Bucharest Biennale IX. A collaboration with Cargonomia to give workshops on the ecosystem services of agroforests should also be happening these weeks, but all is postponed under the current situation until who knows when. Hopefully in the summer szabadonbalaton can pop up with its next microprojects, and in October I am supposed to join a group exhibition as well in Budapest. Let’s see how things evolve!
Finally, considering this unusual situation…How do you spend your days now, in the caranteen?
After the initial shock I continued working on ongoing projects, at the moment with PAD we are having a fundraising campaign to supply the basic needs of the community we are working with. I have several new ideas as well, so I started to work on them parallel to the old ones. For instance, a very simple household version of Designated Breathing Zone was born, inspired by the masks we are wearing these days. I need to finish writing a publication. But being a workaholic, I am also trying to redefine my own rhythm and give more time for myself. More time for reading, walking or just being. I feel the virus is really pushing us to reconsider things on a personal and collective level as well. It could be a perfect chance to create new modes of living and to finally reconsider our unsustainable systems. One thing I really hope for! I hope this online existence will not be the new model as it is extremely unsustainable both in terms of its ecological footprint and the mental damage it causes. So I am looking for offline modes of being, as much as I can.
Works of the artist
SPIRAL OF EXISTENCE Installation, bamboo and plastic waste Depok Beach, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2012 In collaboration with Putu Dede Suwidnya Arock, Rommy Hendrawan, Surijal, Udien Aee The installation reflects on the environment located in Depok beach, Yogyakarta. The...
BEARTH Installation, video, multiple media of variable dimensions TIFA Working Studios, Pune, India, 2016 In collaboration with Lilli Tölp Bearth attempts to investigate, discuss and initiate a creative response to our understanding of the social and ecological...
DESIGNATED BREATHING ZONE Installation / Mixed media HONF Gallery, Yogyakarta – Galeri Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2019 The gradual disappearance of rural and wild areas, and their transformation into densely populated cities and urban zones are leading to...