The Inconnu artist group was established by a circle of friends in Szolnok in 1978. Four years later, they moved to Budapest. In the beginning, the members were Mihály Csécsei, Tamás Molnár, Bánk Mészáros, Mihály Sipos, and Péter Bokros. Later, Róbert Pálinkás, Tibor Philipp, Magdolna Serfőző, and Miklós Kovács joined the group. György Krassó and András Bereznay were honorary members. Later, some of the members left the group, for example, Mihály Csécsei, who was harassed in the army and whom the authorities tried to force to join the secret police. He refused to join, but the officers, using physical and psychological threats, managed to intimidate him so much that he did not continue his creative activity as part of the Inconnu group.
The name of the group came from the French postmark mean “Address unknown” (“Inconnu”). The artists knew that the police checked their letters and packages, so they came up with a trick. They wrote the address of the person to whom they wanted to send a letter or package in the place where usually one would put the return address. Then, they wrote a made-up address so that the postal service would sent the items “back” to the sender. This practice had a lot of advantages. It was cheaper, and because they did not write their names, on the envelopes, the police could not prevent the letters from being sent to the address given as the return address.
Inconnu created artworks in several genres, including the so-called classical genre and alternative, experimental genres. They made films, took photos, did advertising images, made mail art, composed electronic music, did land-art and object-art compositions, wrote visual poetry, held happenings and performances, and did body art. Their art, which was essentially avantgarde, resembled the actionism of Vienna and the “body painting” trends which experimented with strong, aggressive, shocking visual effects. They used the mail art system, which meant that the artists sent letters about events and copies of their works to one another by post. They learned about mail art thanks to György Galántai.
Because of the growing number of police investigations and house searches, the members of the group paid more and more attention to political topics. According to art historian László Beke, Inconnu became deliberately politicized and openly strove to irritate and provoke the authorities. Péter Bokros said in his interview that the members of the group did not want to be oppositional. Rather, the regime forced them to adopt this stance. Initially, they did not deal directly with political issues, but the genres of actionism and performance art and the search for connections with the audiences created dangerous manifestations of their views of the cultural-political leadership.
They called their genre political art, which meant a fight using the expressive means of art against the limitations placed by the state on the freedoms of the individual. In 1986, their Arteria Gallery was opened. Their aim was to create a place instead of the closed Rajk Boutique and the banned flying universities. It functioned for only one year, but 32 cultural events, which were either “tolerated” or “banned” according to the cultural policy of György Aczél, were organized here.
Inconnu joined the democratic opposition. They began to cooperate actively in 1984. Inconnu helped with the printing, illustration, and distribution of samizdats. They had a close connection with Ferenc Kőszeg and Ottilia Solt. According to Ferenc Kőszeg, the common experience of being arrested made this relationship stronger. Inconnu’s decals appeared in every building in which oppositional activities were underway. Later, the group proceeded more and more independently. They regularly organized exhibitions in the gallery in the Lajos street.
The idea of 1956 played a central role in Inconnu’s mindset, as did their attitude to the Kádár regime. “We liked the dynamics of the revolution, that somebody dared to say no to the communist world and took up arms,” Péter Bokros said.
Inconnu organized an exhibition entitled “A harcoló város/The Fighting City, 1986” for the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They announced an international call for submissions, they announced that the income from the exhibition would be given to the Foundation for the Provision of Support for the Poor (SZETA). Their goals were to put visual images of the Revolution on open display, as an alternative to the commemorations which were held in a private flats.
The exhibition was banned by the police, and several hours before the opening the compositions were confiscated in Tibor Philipp’s flat. They were later destroyed. Paradoxically, the only surviving source on the basis of which we can learn of the works which were on display is the photographic documentation made by a secret agent. The members of Inconnu hung the declaration of the police on the walls. The destruction of an entire exhibition was an unusual method, even for the communist secret police.
In 1987, the group was allowed to travel to the West. They organized a commemorative exhibition in London with the help of Hungarian émigrés. In March 1988, two members of the group were arrested. Later, they organized a hunger strike as a response to the repeated revocations of their passports.
Their next famous action was related to the martyred prime minister, Imre Nagy. Inconnu set up 301 wooden headstones in parcel 301 in commemoration of Imre Nagy and his fellow revolutionaries, who were among the first victims of the communist regime because of their roles in the revolution. This performance was not supported by everyone in the oppositional groups. According to some, the members of Inconnu wanted to be the first people to reform one of the most important sites in the symbolic landscape of the transition. They monopolized the memorial, but this kind of action was outdated in 1989.
In 1989–1990, some members of the group established a civil, independent news-agency, which forwarded news to Radio Free Europe and the BBC. In their native town of Szolnok, they organized their first legitimate exhibition in 1991. They appeared on the international art scene, but the focus of their work was already part of the past. The repressive regime had fallen ended, and the audiences who might have been sensitive to their work had vanished too.In 2002, they reorganized the group under the name ”New Inconnu.” They continued with their political activism. Some members actively participated in the works of civil circles related to the Fidesz party (the so-called Party of Young Democrats), and others joined the far-right party Jobbik.” In 2005, a three-part documentary was made about Inconnu entitled Strangers.
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- Huhák, Heléna
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