Run by Katarina Sevic and Hajnalka Somogyi
Trafo House of Contemporary Art in Budapest (www.trafo.hu) occupies an intriguing position in the landscape of cultural institutions in Hungary. At one end of the spectrum are the newly enlarged and consolidated giant public institutions (the Ludwigmuzeum or Kunsthalle, for instance, the big-boys of Hungarian cultural edifices, organized architecturally in the new Palace of the Arts complex). At the other are the various alternative cultural spaces, artist-run galleries and (private or commercial) galleries. Trafo is big enough as a cultural institution to demand serious support from the various governmental agencies, yet small enough to not be beholden to "official" culture. The focus here is on contemporary and (at times) experimental forms of practice in theater, dance, music and the arts. Trafo has exhibition, performance and production spaces, runs programs that include training studios and workshops and is very active in developing international programs - involving foreign artists in Budapest as well and Hungarian artists abroad. And, of course, Trafo can afford to pay its staff.
Most intriguing from our perspective was Dinamo (www.dinamo.hu), a space maintained by Trafo quasi-formally and through limited patronage, and located adjacent to it. Dinamo however is neither an alternative space nor actually part of Trafo institutionally - the fortunate position of this space (we feel it more than than a space, it is a project) is that Trafo pays the rent, while not officially running the programming. Katarina Sevic and Hajnalka Somogyi (curator of Art at Trafo) run this space, which "serves as a gathering place for the new generation of creative people (not essentially visual artists) where they can organize events, lectures, screenings, series of programs, one-night shows etc" (Somogyi). Dinamo is occasionally referred to (by its keepers, participants, and friends) as a studio, workshop, laboratory, autonomous cultural zone, think-tank, hub, attitude, hang-out, while its official mission is "a space for work, presentation, experiments in the field of art, culture and communication, outside the established realm of art practice." What happens here is both inside and outside of the establishment; a potentially dangerous game turned playful by Sevic and Somogyi. This has allowed them creative risk-taking while at the same time giving the space more visibility and credibility as a project.
Dinamo is proof that one need not have an institutional infrastructure, a solid budget or even clean walls to become an important and influential cultural space (though patronage helps). The delicate negotiation of its becoming is an acknowledgement of continuous flux: it is not built on aspirations for longevity, not on a fixed notion of what, indeed, the (social and physical) space itself actually is. The physical space of the room as well as the social space it activates are far from the clean surfaces, clean identities, clean politics of more institutional settings. The walls are rough and far from white, the carpet is uneven, stairs lead to nowhere but act, instead, as storage for a surprising assortment of furniture parts, lamps, pillows and unassembled cabinetry. Everywhere you see residue of former projects: signs painted by little kids, posters and cards from previous shows, holes in the walls, bunches of tape, cloth covers, the signs and smells of a well-lived in, well-used environment. Each new presence responds to, builds upon all those before it - it is not necessarily a harmonious, pretty picture. Nor is the social environment (that other, less physically bound aspect of what Dinamo is) necessarily homogenous. The Dinamo-ees (caretakers, visitors, collaborators, participants) range in occupation, age and political affiliation - from established artists to young anarchists, Hungarian and foreign alike. It is rough, fresh, and it smells a whole lot like what autonomous collectivity might very well be.
In its initial year (2003-2004), the programming was fairly tightly organized, with calls for entries from local artists. Very quickly however, a self-organized dynamic lead to a more organic way of programming. Projects became initiated from many different sources, intersecting in the physical space of Dinamo at times for a month, at times for just an evening, with Sevic and Somogyi as main channels, keepers of the schedule, hosts - themselves not one, but two, gravitational presences. Because there is less of a centralized organization, Dinamo may not have an official profile in the sense of more institutional spaces; it seems, however, to attract a public, projects and events through osmosis - once established, the space is well-known and attended by a group of loyal followers who heavily utilize and understand its unique character as a promoter of interdisciplinary and collaborative production, with the relationship between cultural practice and public space seemingly at the heart of the matter.
Dinamo has been closed since 2006.
It was a very low-budget project, nobody got salaries, and the installation costs were very small. Those were funded through some applications we made under the umbrella of Trafo.
There were no commissions of works. Dinamo was more an event and process space, rather than an exhibition space.
Everything was organized organically, together with people using the space.