TVFE on Színhá / Review by Klára Nagy

By Klára Nagy on színhá

English translation:

Klára Nagy: Free? Europe?

TV Free Europe stays true to its stated manifesto. As it pulls the rug from under our feet with the tools of trash, it actively deals with the possibilities of freedom and change, (re)interpreting the relationship between the regime changes around 1989 and the present.

You can think long and hard about the changes that quarantine has brought to Hungarian theatrical life. Old archive recordings of performances popped up in industrial quantities, some aesthetic canons were reinforced and some re-formed, and people downloaded as many lectures as they could and their internet connections allowed. New performances have also been created, theatres have tried to ride out the flood by using superlatives: and so emerged new performances with “unique significance in theatrical history.

However, since many people think of theatre that was born during the coronavirus only as a way to fill a gap, there are only a few works where the creation of an unusual form can be seen as a result of a coherent creative choice or of an aesthetic creed. Fortunately, some counter-examples exist, such as the performance Closer by Panna Adorjáni and Dániel Láng, or TV Free Europe.

TV Free Europe is a community-based, experimental online TV channel, the joint work of seven local studios. It is an international project with Hungarian, German, Danish, Austrian and Slovenian artists working together. Their starting point is the change of regimes around 1989, exactly 30 years ago. In Hungary even two studios exist, one in Budapest and one in Szombathely. The Hungarian studios mostly consist of the members of the artist group Pneuma Szöv. and KÖME – Association of Cultural Heritage Managers, with partners such as Pneuma Visual, BOHÉM Club, the Department of Visual Arts of ELTE Savaria University Center, as well as the Motion Picture and Animation Department of the Szombathely Art High School. 

The process itself began before the coronavirus and will last until 2021. Due to its particularly flexible format the project adapts better to the quarantine situation than most performances created in direct response. A horizontal organizational structure connects the creators and gives them a common identity without undermining their uniqueness. If something has been learned from quarantine, it is the power and importance of organizing small communities and the importance of solidarity in connected local groups. Horizontal organization makes you flexible and creative, tipping the balance of the status quo. The creators of TV Free Europe are moving away from the creative hierarchy, often taken as the norm, and pointing in the direction of the theatre of the future, looking for new forms that allow free experimentation and that respond flexibly even to a pandemic.

TV Free Europe’s programme is available on their website from morning to evening. It’s a regular TV format, with the difference that instead of commercials, we can watch tadpoles swimming in an aquarium between shows, and we can even run into anti-commercials.

TV Free Europe is a real flesh and trash, which the creators are already signalling with their choice of genre. In the age of Netflix and TikTok, the founding of a TV channel is a great ‘ in your face’. With this the creators choose a form for the content, giving a breath of fresh air in the format-wise rather dusty Hungarian theatre culture. The trash can even incorporate the constantly weak points of TV Free Europe broadcasts: the technical problems and the stuttering broadcast. What could be more trashy than trash not loading properly?

Everything we would expect from a TV turned on its head. For an action film, we get a 15-second show called Fence Un-Bond, instead of a wave of family video nostalgia, we see a trashing of the past like Gerhard Richter, and a phone-in Hangman game show ending after just one letter. Each local studio favours a different language: zoom conversations with a changeable background; photo films; mixed-media videos and original documentaries. Once, the creators themselves appear in the space, they toast the joint work with the kind of embarrassment of a joint video call, and then the regular show continues.

TV Free Europe stays true to its stated manifesto. As it pulls the rug from under our feet with the tools of trash, it actively deals with the possibilities of freedom and change, (re)interpreting the relationship between the regime changes around 1989 and the present. My personal favourite is the Ghost Hour, in which the spirit of the past created with the help of a sheet, wanders the streets while conversations from the era of the Regime Change are heard. While we are fed interesting and informative archival documents the program makes a fool of the viewer – it does not allow the quietly moralising murmuring of the intelligentsia as they wonder over and over at the fact that our political leaders have indeed changed their opinions in quite a lot of things in the past 30 years. The broadcasts often use original recordings: we can watch a German show about the fall of the Berlin Wall, we can hear Stefan Heym’s speech on Alexanderplatz or David Hasselhoff’s legendary song, ‘Looking for Freedom’ performed in a flashing jacket. The need for social change does not only appear as a quote from the past, but gains currency by presenting examples such as From Streets to Homes Association and the The City is for All highlighting the fight against housing poverty. The programme has a strong revolutionary atmosphere, various adaptations of the Internationale are heard, and revolution is in the air, as in the ‘Revolutionary Minutes’ kicking off at 19.56.

Each studio puts the change of regime into its own local contexts videos of varying length and quality. The creators of TV Free Europe feel well that the thirty-year-old Regime Change can still be saved from the embarrassing pathos of becoming only history. It can be joked about, and can be criticized. We get a mosaic, multi-faceted trash and retro-packed set of questions, with the diversity of form and medium closely linked to the diversity of content. It is of course impossible to watch and digest a broadcast that lasts for several days. Everyone can create their own image of TV Free Europe that suits their interests and time, there is never a stable impression.

As I am ending this critique, on the TV, to my greatest confusion, people are dragging an E. T. figure across the highway.