Hungarian Uprising: Blind Spot 1956

During the 1956 uprising, the coat of arms named after the Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi was cut out of the national flag by revolutionaries. The hollowed flag was quickly adopted by those who sympathised with the uprising as the central symbol of resistance to state repression - the ground for a workshop arranged by the artists Katharina Roters and József Szolnoki.

After 1956, the Rákosi coat of arms was removed from public spaces. However, one copy survived in the town of Salgótarján. The symbol appears as part of a large white limestone relief that decorates the façade of the county hall. It was from the roof of this building that members of the state security apparatus opened fire on demonstrators on 8 December 1956, killing several dozen civilians who had gathered to demand the release of leaders of the local workers’ council who had been detained by the authorities. This event is considered the bloodiest act of repression outside the capital after the defeat of the uprising.

In 1992, the local community decided to honour the memory of 1956 by laying wreaths and organising a “memorial run”. As in other parts of the country, the annual commemoration of heroes and victims has increasingly taken the form of a ritual that separates the act of remembering from lived experience.

As part of their exhibition “HACK THe PaST”, artists Katharina Roters and József Szolnoki decided to bring the largely forgotten relief to life by organising a drama workshop in January 2016. They asked participants - who were all from Salgótarján - to personify the fifteen figures who appear on the relief. Their goal was to provide a kind of anamnesis, that is, a punctual foray into contemporary patterns of memory relating to the Stalinist period. To achieve this, the artists chose to provide only minimal information to the workshop’s participants. The only person to be given more detailed information was the person whom Roters and Szolnoki asked to stand in for the Rákosi coat of arms – the “blind spot” – which the artists used to trigger narratives about the past and its place in the present.