Working Towards A Rural Agonistics — Counter-hegemonic Collaborations in Post-Socialist Rural Space

A Collaborative Approach to Curating Critical Rural Art in Hungary

How can socially engaged, collaborative artistic and curatorial practice contribute to producing knowledge about processes of transformation in post-socialist rural space? Rural realities and subjectivities are often underrepresented in contemporary public discourse and cultural production (including the art field), whereas engaging with rural change is crucial for a better understanding of social change at large. Inspired by Chantal Mouffe’s theory of agonistic public spheres, I would like to challenge this urban hegemony by initiating counter-hegemonic collaborations with people from different walks of life—from farmers to folk singing choirs—who live and work in rural areas. Conceptualized with different artists, these collaborations involve participants in a collective creation process that fosters self-articulation, highlights situated knowledges (Donna Haraway) and strives to create rural counterpublics, drawing on the notion of subaltern counterpublics put forth by Nancy Fraser.
I examine how post-socialist rural space is subjected to a double othering—as both post-socialist and rural (Marianne Liljeström)and how decolonizing methodologies can contribute to theorizing about post-socialist rural space. Drawing on recent criticisms in art and social theory, I will also discuss the need to complicate our understanding of post-socialism (Angela Dimitrakaki, Ágnes Gagyi, Katherine Verdery). My research methodology consists of (1) Chantal Mouffe’s agonistics, (2) collaboration as a form of knowledge production—including a critical examination of participatory approaches, from social practice art to political participation—and (3) feminist curating understood in the structural sense, as geared towards a micropolitics of curating. With these methods I aim to show how curating critical art practices with a collaborative approach can contribute to fostering a rural agonistics—a pluri-vocal rural of fragmented and kaleidoscopic realities—and thus enrich our perspectives on social change and on the political potential of curating. In order to avoid false dichotomies and binary thinking, I argue for a trans-local and cross-cultural curatorial approach that transgresses the rural-urban divide, entangling rural and urban publics and contexts.

These theoretical reflections are underpinned by my practice-based research that draws on the experiences of selected curatorial projects I have worked on from 2017 in rural Hungary. Developed with artists such as Alicja Rogalska and Antje Schiffers/Myvillages, these collaborations span different places, regions and contexts across the country, initiating a dialogue with people from varied backgrounds, skills and expertise. Inspired by decolonizing methodologies and post-colonial theory (paraphrasing Dipesh Chakrabarty’s call for Provincializing Europe), I will make a case for provincializing curating or ‘curating in the backwater’, voicing my critique of contemporary attention economy and posing the question of what we can learn from these more peripheral practices.

Katalin Erdődi is an independent curator, dramaturg and writer based in Vienna and Budapest, who works across disciplines in the fields of contemporary art and performance. Interested in socially engaged art, experimental performative practices and artistic interventions in public space, she realizes projects in different formats, from performance through exhibition-making to site-specific and process-oriented approaches that explore the possibilities of art as social practice and as a tool for knowledge production. In 2020 she received the Igor Zabel Award Grant for her locally embedded and inclusive curatorial practice.
Recent curatorial work includes Watermelon Republic (THEALTER Festival Szeged, 2021); the artistic research project Rural Productive Forces, co-led with Antje Schiffers/Myvillages (2021-2023, Belarus, Germany, Hungary and Spain); News Medley (OFF Biennale Budapest, 2020-2021); I like being a farmer and I would like to stay one (as part of the group exhibition Common Affairs, Ludwig Museum Budapest, 2017-2018).