From Unearthing The Music
Endre Szkárosi is a Hungarian multi-media artist: poet, art writer, translator, critic, literary historian, and university professor. He is a unique member of the so-called second wave of avant-garde art in Hungary. It is not easy to classify his oeuvre into a single artistic tradition or category, even if he undoubtedly came from the field of poetry to the contemporary interdisciplinary/multimedia art. His interest in literature and poetry focuses on multimedia genres such as concert theater, sound poetry, performance, and space poetry.
Endre Szkárosi was born in Budapest in 1952 as Endre Horváth. He earned his degree in law and another one in Hungarian-Italian language and literature. Initially, Szkárosi was a poet but turned more and more to music from which his practice of "sound poetry" was born. As he emphasized, there is less and less difference between the two: "they are both the art of sound for me, only the starting point and the basis of tradition differ."
In the early 1970s, he created some experimental theatrical works in collaboration with the Brobo group. After a few years, he switched to sound poetry and the so-called “total concert theater”. Simultaneously, he also published poems, critiques, and fiction. He has been also involved in video poetry since 1987. In the mid-1980s, he founded the band Konnektor (power outlet), creating the new genre of total poetry concert theater. From 1978 to 1983, he was an editorial member of Mozgó Világ magazine, which was more of a forum for the opposition, and standing in the grey zone between the official and the prohibited. From 1983, he worked for the publishing office of Lapkiadó for five years. In 1984, he founded the Szkárosi & Konnektor art concert theater. Between 1986 and 1992, he took care of the newspaper and revue company Új Hölgyfutár, which was a printed and live stage forum for Hungarian parallel culture, avant-garde literature, and art.
He considers his most active period to be the 1980s, when he was “a poet, performer and critical resonator in the most intense phase of his activity”: “It was then that the dimensions of poetry unfolded for me, performances, concerts with Konnector, sound poetry, visual poetry became the primary poetic work. I tried to summarize this in the concept of "Spatial Poetry & Transposition" then."
He also organized several festivals in the 1980s, for example, the Új Hölgyfutár revues, Polyphonix-lntermámor, and Polyposis. In the early 1990s, eight issues of the Új Hölgyfutár art magazine were published, representing the Hungarian and international avant-garde literature and art scenes.
Szkárosi was a member of several art groups and orchestras: Brobo (1971–1974), The Fölöspéldány (The Duplicate) (1979–1986), Konnector (1984–1993) Towering Inferno (1992) Spiritus noiste (1994). He has published books that are difficult to categorize (Ismeretlen monológok/Unknown Monologues, 1981; «/ K! KI, 1986; Szellőző művek /Ventilating Works, 1 990); published video works (3 év fatalista vágás /3 years of fatalist editing, 1987; Megsemmisítő/Destroyer, 1991; Üdvözlet/Greetings, 1 992; Halotti beszéd/Death Speech, 1 993; Gépmadárdal/Machine Bird Song, 1 995); and has been featured in major international anthologies.
According to Szkárosi (as he writes in the memory book published in honor of the Hungarian avant-garde poet Lajos Kassák in 1988), the significance of avant-garde behaviour can be grasped in the “radical departure from the current aesthetic consensus. The neglect of the aesthetic consensus is accompanied by a radical rearrangement of forms [...]” In terms of his self-reflection, he defined himself primarily as a poet, which means a world-view for him: “Basically, I consider anything I do to be poetry, so my visual and sound works are based on poetry. This is why I called all my activity transpoetry, on the other hand, space poetry, because it uses the space given at any given time, be it an exhibition space or a stage, or a virtual sound space of a record; and because genre transitions are part of the essence of my work.”
Szkárosi's works proclaim total artistic communication, saying that "a poem can be a movement, music can be a word, and a picture can be a poem...". That is, there are no strict boundaries between genres and arts. Among the mediums of self-expression, the sound has devalued the least so far — incomparably less than the word or the image — so its holdings are still full of excitement, curiosity. The sound perhaps the most personal, most sensitive [physical] means of expression, it never affects something indirectly, it’s code and it’s also direct. Szkárosi's live production is characterized by the use of musical effects, lighting techniques, and projected images. He defines himself as a medium and a creative mediator. It stands as a link in the interpretive band between the work and the audience because, as he states: "The poet (the artist) is not the owner: at the right moments he is merely a temporary possessor, a mediator of the flow of the spiritual energy."
In the concept of "Térköltészet és transzpoézis" ("Space poetry and transpoetry" also called "total poetic concert theater") Szkárosi also uses the term “space poetry” which is in his aesthetic universe “a totally material form of expression: the environment, space, all material appearances of life have a poetic appealing force ― if you like, an imperative. Linguistic, acoustic, and visual materials, concrete materials, objects, gestures fit together in space, one bends over, passes through, transforms into another, or just clears up the texture. Transpoetry ― this poetic work is fitting for me. I transfer the sounding sphere to the sight, the sight to the concept, the language to the sound, and so on and back.”
Szkárosi's position in the eighties (and partly today) with sound poetry ― as Bálint Szombathy expressed in the issue 12/2002 of Balkon ― is best described by the metaphor of an "island in the sea". As Szombathy summarized, Szkárosi repeatedly criticized the rigidity and outdatedness of the literary focus of Hungarian culture, as well as its literacy dominance, which left no room for orality, thus leading to the disappearance of the heritage of folk poetry that is authentic to the orality and present tense.
Compared to the innovations of visual art at the beginning of the last century, the progressive tradition of oral art appeared on the periphery of Hungarian culture and only in the early seventies thanks to Katalin Ladik from Novi Sad. Szkárosi, therefore, entered a generally little-known field in the early 1980s that would have been impossible to approach without sufficient historical and theoretical training. Fortunately, these did not constitute an obstacle for him, so he performed and still performs an important task for sound poetry not only as a cultivator but also as a theorist and promoter. His radio program entitled Hangadó ranged from narrated poetry to avant-garde music, featuring poets and orchestras alike. The show aimed to "promote the development of a sound perception without borders by presenting the extremely rich foreign and domestic artistic practice."
In 1991, a selection of his works was published entitled Szellőző művek/Ventilating Works, and the design of the volume was the work of the artist György Galántai. “Definition of ‘Szellőző művek’ ― according to Bálint Szombathy's article in the issue 5/1991 of Kritika magazine ― conceived in the assumption of movement and change and excites a situation in which the gesture of conscious freedom merely offers suggestions to the connoisseur of art, leaving the choice open to a plethora of interpretations of the content and emotional associations. The same work can therefore be interpreted in innumerable variations because on the plane of the meaning it does not know an aesthetic constant of some kind and eternity.”
Szkárosi's album Tűzfal/Firewall (Hungarian Literary Study Book 1985–1991, co-produced with Konnektor and Sándor BeRNÁTh(y)) summarizes two decades of his works. The album is based on collective work, with artists with characteristically different backgrounds and differences indicating the importance of free movement between genres and styles.
The concept of the album draws attention to it ― as József Havasréti emphasizes in the issue 9/2005 of Kritika magazine ― due to being a very complex product based on complex interactions in terms of how it uses different kinds of mediums. Various motifs, references, and quotations emphasize that the concept of the record (which includes musical, literary, and linguistic considerations) is a follower of the intermediate aspirations of the Hungarian underground scene, which was completed in the first half of the eighties but still preserves some of its aspirations. Music, literature, language, sight reinforce and interpret each other on the record. In addition to the representation of intermedial aspirations, the questioning and even the provocation of routines and aesthetic nature related to the reception of literature and music is an important component. This subversive-provocative endeavour can be grasped through several moments. The avant-garde inspired adaptation of “literary classics” is a flick to interpretations that see the literary-cultural canon as inviolable or celebrate it as a carrier of some kind of national essence. According to Endre Szkárosi, the avant-garde literary practice is directed against the immovability of conventions, but even more so of the institutions embodying conventions―this is one of them (though not exclusive) basic conditions of its operation and impact.
Endre Szkárosi also sought to renew the methodology used in education. As early as the mid-1990s, the Faculty of Arts of Eötvös Loránd University developed new types of literary and cultural history lessons, the professional material of which was based on the archival base of the Artpool Art Research Center and its archive.
- Székelyhidi Zsolt. A határtalan hang [The boundless sound] Z Magazin 1, no. 4 (1996)
- Sőrés Zsolt PlAZMATIKUS MOZGÁS. Beszélgetés Szkárosi Endrével [Plasmatic movement. Discussion with Endre Szkárosi]. Parallel, no. 14. (2009)
- Bálint Szombathy. A teljes értékű költészet tájain [In the landscapes of full-fledged poetry]. Balkon 10, no. 12 (2002)
- József Havaréti. Tűzfal - magyar irodalmi hallgatókönyv [Firewall - Hungarian Literature Study Book]. Kritika 34, no. 9. (2005)
- Szombathy Bálint. Szkárosi Endre-Galántai György: Szellőző művek [Ventilating pieces] Kortárs 35, no. 4 (1991)