(Gasium et Circenses posters)
A project by Katarina Šević and Tehnica Schweiz, in collaboration with the Heroes of the Shaft collective.
Gasium et Circensens is a piece that focuses on an abandoned open-air stage that we fell in love with, when we found it. On the edge of our city, for us it was the stage of the periphery. It became the subject and at once the setting of our interventions.
Why do we talk about periphery?
To elaborate, we need to describe the surroundings of this stage in some detail. What do you see when you are on the stage and you look around?
This stage is set in a socialist settlement, that was designed during the 1910-s as an exemplary model for the gas factory workers’ dwelling. The gas factory produced gas by burning coke, that was a revolutionary technology in the first halve of the 20th century. It brought light and heat to the household, cooking for instance, was revolutionize. The factory itself was a grand celebration of the glory of industrialism until sources of gas were uncovered from underground.
The factory closed quite late, in the 1980-s, and it has been out of use eversince.
Right behind the stage is the largest Roman excavation of the region. Aquincum was a military town of the provinces of the Rome, a town of more than 60000 inhabitants on the Limes lines, protecting the Roman empire against Barbarian invasion from across the Danube. Also the area of the stage and the socialist settlement was within the boundaries of Aquincum.
Just to emphasize how much Aquincum was a point of periphery: one of the main finds of the excavations was the sculpture of the eternal emperor, the head of which was replaced every time a new emperor was elected…
(Gasium et Circenses, video 17″)
The abandoned stage itself belonged to a culture center that was constructed in the 1950-s, as a place of workers entertainment and education. Interestingly, the building that stood there before, the former “Workers Casino” served the same purpose but with pre-war socialist approach.
The idea of the culture centre was an imminent failure. The “large hall” as they called it was primarily designed and used for agitational propaganda events on socialist holidays, 3 maybe 4 times a year. Its architecture served this sole purpose, and it was very difficult to use it for anything else.
Nonetheless, with time, the house was inhabited with alternative culture, almost naturally. Through the cultural censorship during the policies of the 1970-s, independent, and progressive cultural productions were banned in the city. This particular location, for instance, was used among others by a theater collective, the Studio K, whose work has been made made impossible in town. This was a place where they were outside the focus of official attention. What you see now, is documentation of the staging of the greek drama, Electra that was performed in the backstage area of the “Great Hall”, in protest against the architectural concept and the program of the culture house by Studio K collective
When the gas factory was closed, the house was left without an owner. It has been out of use since the mid-90-s. About ten year ago, the Budapest Historical Museum occupied the house, it was basically squatted for the purpose to find storage for excavation finds that are worthless to the museum. If you look through the windows today, what you see is boxes full of, bones, stones, bricks and tiles, stuff that is not interesting for the museum but that cannot be disposed of .
But what was it we were doing there? We dwelled in fading narratives of the world outside the central canons. What we saw was a palimpsest, were one layer overlapped the other, and interpretation became impossible.
Finally, there was a multitude of results of our presence there:
First we repaired the stage, we cleaned it and painted it.
Than, we occupied it, and used it as it was our own. We organized dinners and discussions there, public events on a few occasions.
Finally, we produced a publication that contained the results of our research on the surrounding of the stage as well as the documentation of one corresponding tableau vivant performance. The publication also contains the text for a reading performance, a quire piece that is to be read by three people, based on a 1-year-long rather Kafka-like correspondence between the Budapest Historical Museum and myself, where I was in vain trying to find out what finds are stored in the former cultural house, from which historical era. I never received an answer.
The project manifests in a reading, an installation, a publication and a video of the performance.
Find detailed documentation on the project here.