Guarding the Bridge

Guarding the Bridge

TransArtists meets Karol Frühauf
published in TransArtists Newsletter #7, 2004

This year artists and scientists will start 'guarding' the Maria Valeria bridge in Štúrovo, Slovakia. In 2001 the bridge was renovated to connect Slovakia with Hungary again. For former local Karol Frühauf its resurrection was the reason for a residency project: a sign of crossing boundaries.

How did you get the idea of letting artists watch over a bridge?
Calculate. This bridge was built in 1895. In 1919 it was destroyed. After being rebuilt in 1926 it was destroyed for the second time in 1944. Now, 2001, it has been rebuilt again. So in its 109 years of existence the bridge did lay destroyed for 64 years. Isn’t that enough reason to guard it?

Of course, there is no chance to protect a bridge half a kilometre long against human violence. But there could be means to reduce the likelihood that humans become bridge destroyers again. If more and more mental bridges wrap the real one then the danger might diminish. The guard of the bridge shall be a builder of a virtual bridge. Therefore creative people working across disciplines or shifting boundaries of their own discipline are qualified to guard the bridge.

What is your motive?
I grew up in Štúrovo. At the beginning of the fifties the borders between the so-called fellow communistic countries Czechoslovakia and Hungary were nearly as barred as they were to capitalistic countries. People 'dated' across the Danube in the evening, when it was dark and the wind had gone to sleep, by talking to each other over the water – their voices became a virtual bridge travelling between the banks. This made a deep impression on me as a child – as an adult I don’t want to experience it again.

And now you start the residency out of love for this place?
I don’t think it is love. It is a kind of gravity. After having left the country in 1968 I've never felt homesick, although from time to time there was a longing for certain people. In 1989 I returned for the first time. I will never forget the feeling arriving at the bank of the Danube: a strong physical connection to that piece of land. This feeling caught me by surprise. Ever since I return to this feeling of gravity, maybe more than to the region itself. Another triggering experience was my first visit with my son in Štúrovo. I won’t forget his face arriving at the end of the arch. He simply did not understand: “How come a bridge does not bridge?”

Why a guest studio?
The speciality of this project is its concrete, interlacing character. The guests will work on their own projects while interacting with the inhabitants of the city and reflecting on the bridge. Both the guests and the inhabitants will have the chance to learn more about themselves. There is so much segregation in the world, this shall be a small step towards integration. As it happens we’ll start shortly after both Slovakia and Hungary have become EU members.

What connections are there with the local art world?
Štúrovo has 15.000 inhabitants. It has a gallery in the same building where the bridge guard will live: a local historical museum. There is an artists' circle in the city but 'art world' would be an exaggeration. Esztergom on the other side, in Hungary, is bigger, it is the place where the first Hungarian king was crowned. It has a rich fine art museum but it isn't the heart of the Hungarian art world. Less than 50 km away, on the Danube, is the small city of Szentendre which is 'flooded' with artists. We have connections to some of them so we can help to get in touch. And of course nearby Štúrovo, some 10 kilometres down the Danube, there is Budapest with its rich cultural life. But I am convinced that the presence of artists and scientists in the bridge guard residence will attract other artists and scientists, so cultural exchange will increase in intensity.

You ask each guest to contribute to a 'diary'.
Yes, I'm curious about the observations and associations, the bridge guards really do have the duty to watch over the bridge. Second, the diary might function as a bridge between the guards themselves; one guard can take up the thoughts of the previous one, continue or contradict or paraphrase them. Third, in the hope that the bridge guard's thoughts will be of value to the public, the diary should be published. The proceeds from the sale can contibute financing the residence.

Are you going to guard the bridge guard?
No, by no means I'm intending to monopolise the residence. It should not be tied to my person. I am very happy that both the parliament and the mayor of the city Jan Oravec support the idea. The town provides the apartment with a studio for the bridge guard. As for me, I will take care of some practical matters and the diary book. Hopefully some funds can be raised and with time the residence itself will be able to earn some income. For the time being a cultural society in Štúrovo is very helpful as for matters of organisation, for which I'm indebted to its enthusiastic leader, György Himmler, for his 'midwife' contribution.

And the future?
There are so many other bridges that were once destroyed and rebuilt, like the bridge over the Neretva in Mostar. It would be wonderful if the idea would catch on, and that more of those bridges would be guarded in the future.