Endless Horror Laughter

Against the background of the conservative political culture in Hungary, which trivializes and diminishes the art scene, the artistic movement Budapest Horror Scenes aims to create »free space.« With aesthetic hybridity forms as the central concept, that is »a hybrid of body, text, and images: fusions between man, beast and machine in an unhygienic way,« a radical vitality and existential physical language lead back to the excessive margins of being human and sensory experience. Writers Kinga Tóth and Márió Z. Nemes, the most important representatives of the movement, explain its inspiration, its aesthetics and socio-political background.

Clara Herrmann: Budapest Horror Scenes is meant to be a new movement in Hungarian poetry, with a growing community. You are two of its most important representatives: How would you define this movement and what are its source of inspiration and references?

Kinga Tóth: It could be considered as an invisible spiderweb among artists, and of course among writers and poets with the same interest. Because I come from a village of around 280 people and I lived in another one with the same amount of people, the source of the horror from this point of view could be related to microcommunities. It is a fact that many people with a similar background now have a common basis in Budapest. But all of us work with a different language, a different way of expression. However the same corn, superstitions, folk stories, and fears bind us. My horror is a combination of visuality, music, and sound. As a member of several underground movements, like Trash Festival, Periferia Festival, Monthly Noise – which also function as a meeting point for artists, musicians, and writers (such as Tóth Pál aka én, Sőrés Zsolt, Menyus, Kata Valami, Talajmenti Agy, MKB, Tóth Kína Hegyfalu, Kinzo, and so on) – I can interpret »Budapester Horrorszene« from this perspective. These places with exhibitions, magazines, and concerts are the physical cradles of Budapest Horror, especially Roham, the place I saw the first time I arrived as an experimental musician and performer in Budapest and the place where I still work as a cultural program organizer. This place is more a brand, the brand of a group of some of the greatest fine artists (such as Szöllősi Géza, Kis Róka Csaba, Bánki Ákos, and so on) who already had a magazine, a place for trash festivals, and a gallery. The fine artists are working with writers; poets such as Márió and myself; and also with musicians. In those events, you can find crazy painters, poets in skafanders, and extreme music shows. We cannot talk about a pure poetic movement, but something which comes from the underground, which works as a fusion of experiments, hybrid genres, but – most of all – action.

Márió Z. Nemes: The term »Budapest Horror« actually originates from the visual arts scene and was used to describe young artists who utilized subversive presentations of the body, horror effects or provocative sensory elements in their work, such as László Győrffy, Csaba Kis Róka, Ágnes Verebics, Pista Horror, and so on. This aesthetic was tendentiously presented for the first time in 2011 at the Organs & Exstasy group shows. Since then, the term has extended to include those poets and authors who work in a similar aesthetic manner and also collaborate intensively with the artists, such as Imre Bartók, Zoltán Komor, László Sepsi, András Bajtai, and so on. The inspiration is partly cinematic – for example, trash and splatter films, bio-horror from David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and Jörg Buttgereit. But it also comes from comics and excessive experimental and genre literature from New Weird to Bizarro.

CH: What are the leading motives of the »Budapest Horror Scenes«?

KT: Communication, experimentalism, action, fear and fun, border crossing – as in borders of artistic genre as borders of the body and body representation. To sum up: anger and fun.

MZN: In current Hungarian mainstream culture, such artistic border programs are still rare and, from the point of view of high society, viewed with mistrust. The aesthetic hybridity forms the central concept here. That is, a hybrid of body, text, and images: fusions between man, beast and machine in an unhygienic way. The humanistic, organic picture of humanity is deconstructed; the main characters of this aesthetic are mutated identities and non-human actors. The works point to an open view of culture in which trash, science-fiction and elite culture melt into one. The post-apocalyptic union of Godzilla and Heinrich von Kleist.

CH: Why does it appear in Hungary? Is it symptomatic? If so, why is it symptomatic for the time now?

KT: The time we live is a great one for horror. Aggression, racism, limitations of the freedom in the press, anti-art/education/health sentiments. More concretely, antisocial arrangements are the best foundation for horror movements. Those far from democratic actions, as seen in the Hungarian government – which are now even affecting private and family life – create anger and reaction. In this double-faced time, in this false puritanical middle age – a huge pest epidemic, Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – this world is coming to life again.

MZN: The conservative political culture trivializes and diminishes the art scene, which produces a great uncertainty, a »culture of nervousness.« But that’s only the most current context. A schizoid context between ideologies, tradition and culture – mutual alienation – has prevailed for several years already. In a certain way, you could view the horror aesthetic as a medium through which this interplay between order and chaos is reflected. Although, the most important thing for me is that I can create »free space« in this culture through these subversive poetics.

CH: It’s aesthetics of the ugly and the obscure. Is it also an aesthetic of evil?

KT: As my point of view comes more from the fields of pedagogy, psychology, and communication, the Pygmalion effect could be an answer for that. Placing concepts and definition next to each other can easily be dangerous. It’s the same in folk culture; repetitive incantations create something. Are ugliness and evil close? Is ugliness evil? Lucifer is himself called the »shining one.« This is probably what makes horror work; it is incomprehensible. That’s why it is so terrifying.


3. good morning
rise your mouth
will be cut
for breath

the head is gut
no burning inside
they dry it before
your morning
on lantern day

4. drawing
from the lamp hangs sister
swings frightens mother
in the pot dumplings drop
blue the kitchen furniture
the table we cannot reach
even from the chair
she leaps from the lamp

Horrorrhymes by Kinga Tóth


MZN: For me, these poetics don’t stand for something »moral,« but rather something »vital.« Horror aesthetic in this sense is ideologically critical because sensory and physical experiences of art can be reproduced through the deconstruction of cultural dichotomies. In a grotesque hybrid »mix,« a post-human vitality is exposed, which appears beyond good and evil, just strange – but also sensitive.

CH: Political, social as well as figurative orders constitute themselves in opposition to the genuine otherness, the monstrosity, the madness. To what degree do you broach the question of norms and normality?

KT: The root from which I research or handle norms is the »first« small community: the family. Party could show the process from the pedagogical, psychology or social standpoint; we start from the smallest unit – the self through relations and groups, like the sibling/family/age group or society, their norms; their normality; the process of learning them; and how the „why?” questions are not answered. Norms do not always have a cause; they are accepted anyway. Party shows various possible norms and how the members of the society with fixed norms do not accept them or do not want to accept them. All Machine examines hybridity; self-destruction; and opening, forming, and destroying the body, like a metamorphosis, a becoming, a merging. Here, norms are also borders, but different: more material borders. The focus is on questioning them on the side of the development. Is development (i.e. becoming a hybrid through destroying or »forming« the material) the process of madness? In this book, it is a natural way of having the function of sound. In the next text, the poems will examine the social behavior, the »stranger/foreigner«- connection to each other, and the community of strangers (i.e. different norms). However, my novel Moonlight Faces deals with modification of the body; illness as metamorphosis will be its topic. Here, the illness is the basis of the development, mentally as well as physically. Is this change from the normal then madness? Is survival mutation (i.e. departing from the »normal«), madness or just adjustment?

MZN: In my poetry series Bauxit, I wanted to pervert and undermine the traditional »Ego-Lyric,« to explore that psychotic plurality which lurks »behind« the lyrical subject. This »Us« as opposed to the »Me« manifests itself – in a similar way to with Kinga – through the metaphor of family. But this family isn’t a humanistic unity, but rather a dynamic rhizomatic fusion of voices which exist »after« or »behind« human disposition. This fundamental otherness only imitates human norms. But this is only a post-human masquerade, as with doppelganger or body-snatcher movies. In this new book Der Herzogprimas weint (Herzogprimas Cries), this psychotic plurality condenses itself in the concept of »people.« Through the surreal staging of elements from Hungarian history, these people are seen as a mutating, wild, rampantly growing matter, between organic and anorganic life. From this perspective, the boundaries of hygiene and non-hygiene, normality and anormality, perversion and politics blur.

CH: Horror means dread mostly in relation to the awareness of the uncanny. It features in Aristotelian tragedy and the concept of »catharsis,« which means a certain emotional cleansing of the spectator, the purification, and purge of emotions – especially pity and fear – through art; there is a certain kind of pleasure in horror. How would you describe your fascination with horror?

KT: Horror is more of a process for me, the way to the fulfillment. So in this interpretation, it’s the way to the catharsis. In music, industrial noise can function in the same way; there are musical frequencies and sounds which can literally clean and purge the human body. My interest or fascination might be linked more to the pre-phase: the hidden, the secret, the puzzling. The process of all of them together is for me horror. Horror is the experience of incapability, the lack, the mistake, and the aggressive outcome of the anger induced by them. In the performance of Control, this is exactly what we aimed to show with Silvia Rosani. She could modify, reproduce, and take away my voice very effectively. Full control gives birth to the fear. Here, there is no catharsis.

MZN: Horror is radical freedom. In this way, »violence in text« means something creative. The destruction of the language opens new paths and formations – beyond ideological contexts. Horror is a radical otherness, also a self-differentiation. The self-transcendence through strangeness. And – as I have already mentioned – horror is a radical vitality, an existential physical language through which you find the way back to the excessive margins of being human and sensory experience.



M: Eine junge Frau, die der Zufall heraussticht,
klammert, hält aber dicht.
Sie wohnt zur Untermiete, und
wenn sie abends joggen geht, und
draußen der Asphalt geschichtet wird,
lässt sie eine Glühbirne im Flur brennen.

K: WO die abgedrehten köpfe verschleißen
kalkstein // den ellenbogen beklopft auf
der emaille der daumen // dort reibt er
sich auf der stelle // streicht den schmutz
die dummen buchstaben aus dem haar

ZUSAMMEN Ihre Lieblingswörter: Kalk und Ohrmuschel.

M: (Ab und zu kreist ein Mund um ihre Brust,
aber es handelt sich dabei mehr um eine Vorahnung.)
Sie schreibt an einer Arbeit
über kommunizierende Gefäße,
das Fett, das zwischen die Schaubilder tropft,
sticht in ihre Augen,
macht sie schwindlig.

Extract of Kommunizierende Gefäße by Márió Z. Nemes


CH: What role does humor play in your writing?

KT: While writing Party, I was afraid of the language, its own language, the evil in the book. For its launch, I chose an unusual place, the National Cemetery. While editing and translating the book, as during the book launch, it quickly became apparent that it does contain humor, a slightly dry and black one. But it is definitely there. Black humor operates in the text. It does not resolve the problems, namely the fear inside, but giggles about them in the corner like a naughty child. In each piece of writing, I try to use a different language and emphasize its different functions. Allmaschine is probably more sacral and mechanical. For me, it’s not really humorous. However, the catastrophe scenes do become funny in a certain way. My upcoming book is linked more to pain. It should be in between a laugh and a strong cough, when the diaphragm starts to hurt; but it won’t stop there.

MZN: I don’t like purity or pure aesthetic qualities. It bores me. Horror is also heterogenity – dirtying of forms and norms. Humor is very important in this viewpoint, but also fairly complex. »Dying is fun.« (Vladimir Nabokov). Horror humor is something grotesque because you laugh about distress, about something savage. I laugh about Goethe’s skin cancer, therefore I laugh about something absurd. Laughing is thus a strong physical reaction to the inhumane.

CH: In what way is your work and content related to new media in the sense of narrative techniques, motives, and stories?

KT: Interactivity and new media is important. In All Machine, a story has been told, and with machines, cables, and sounds, the text appears visual and acoustic. But it becomes material, like in the video. I build a world with them. The layers are connected; even the tapes on the wall have a texture. But I would like to involve more fields. At the moment, making-of films interest me, how to go deeper into the text. All Machine shows experimental and noise music; describes sound machines; and models interactive hybrids also in the form of the poems. In Moonlight Faces the circulation of the text will be important: »living textbodies« bounded to technology. In its story, the human is securely fixed to machines. Mechanical functions present his/her organs and monitor their condition. It features colors, textures, sounds, and inner and outer control – like the performance of Control, where the program Silvia created controlled my voice and sounds and gave live impulses. Text, sound, technology, and the human are linked.

MZN: I mainly find the appropriation and alienation of the media important. I work a lot with artists, film-makers, and musicians – and I always find the mutual, collaborative irritation important in these projects. To produce hybrid collages of art elements, where art becomes an inter-subjective mutant without a precise, definable origin and genealogy. Together with Kinga and the other artists, Ákos Bánki and Géza Szöllős, we recently made a short film for my last poetry series. This project effectively embodies what I mean; fragments of images and music float in a post-historic room where an estranged voice recites the text. Endless horror laughter.

CH: What is the »horror« of our times?