'Makeshift Monuments, A study in psychological' sculptures by Anne McNeill
Diane Bielik is the daughter of a Hungarian freedom fighter from the 1956 revolution who, with his elder brother Lászlo, fled Budapest when the revolt was overthrown. The brothers settled in Bradford as political refugees where in 1957 the Hungarian Cultural and Social Centre was established. Situated on the periphery of the city centre, in the once wealthy neighbourhood of Manningham, the Hungarian Club (to use its colloquial name) closed its doors in summer 2010. Membership had dwindled such that on some nights no more than four men would be sat around the sakktábla (chess board) contemplating their next move. Fifty-three years on from opening its doors the club no longer symbolised the heart of a community. Instead its large empty rooms once heavy with cigar smoke, where voices rang out in a blend of familiar, yet strange, language and where children ran around high on coca cola - had become no more. The children of émigrés had moved out, a second generation no longer living the cultural ways of their parents. Many, like Bielik and her brothers had simply moved on and disappeared into the wider community. Yet, does anyone ever disappear or break away from the umbilical cord of their cultural heritage?
Makeshift Monuments is Bieliks desire to capture the place of her childhood and adolescence. Many Lilliputian memories, of stealing grapes from vines hung on the ceiling of the dance hall, of chalking faces or scoring on the pool table blackboard, and latterly the last place she saw her Uncle Lászlo alive, are all woven within the fabric of this Victorian building and this place is at the heart of her work. The photographs are set within the disused club, its architectural features have determined their size and positioning. Images are pasted directly onto the walls and we need to move through the terem (dance hall) and the nöi szoba (ladies committee room), amongst others to experience Makeshift Monuments. The club is the work and the work is the club. As we wander we see Hungarian motifs, textiles and artefacts and "objects soft arrows, pointing back to a country that had [been] abruptly left behind" that comment on both the club and Bielik's cultural identity. 1
Photography in essence is about time and the passage of time, yet we know that the camera cannot stop time it only pretends that it does. Uncomfortable with the connections to a 'documentary photographer' Bielik plays with notions of the documentary truth. The camera plays little tricks and makes us believe in the veracity of the image; even when we know the image is mostly a lie or at least a version of the truth, and therein lies the dilemma of picture making. Bieliks response is to dislodge what Baudelaire termed 'absolute material accuracy' in which photographs were thought to be the 'sworn witness to the appearance of things'.
Her work has an undertow of surrealism. 'I built these monuments, playfully shifting and balancing furniture in sometimes nonsensical, almost childish arrangements. This intervention references the absurdity of the idea of attempting to hold onto things and monumentalises the... remains of this symbolic place' 2
Makeshift Monuments is the antithesis of Cartier Bressons infamous 'decisive moment'. Its geniuses is what David Campany has described as 'late photography - the forensic detachment that slows down the pace of a photograph and allows the viewer to contemplate what is depicted within the pictorial space of the image'. 3 And whilst the images, are at one level playful (higgledy-piggedly chairs, regimented towers of pots and pans) on closer reading we are cannot but be helped drawn to the mournful regret contained within. Perhaps it is worth noting that Bielik was born fourteen years to the day of the Soviets brutal crushing of the Hungarian uprising.
As a study in the passage of time and a reflection on the Hungarian diaspora Makeshift Monuments (just like the old penny-sized, copper-plated cigarette token, hand engraved with the words Magyar Klub Bradford given to me by the artist) represents a powerful memory that has to be treasured and commemorated.
1 Interview with artist August 2011
3 Authors italics. Where is the Photograph?, Ed. David Green (Photoworks/Photoforum, 2003)