At the end of 2022, dot-art invited Chris Routledge, to exhibit in the Hungarian town of Veszprém as part of its European Capital of Culture “InterUrban” programme. Chris has written about his experience in this exclusive blog post.
Veszprém-Balaton is one of three Capitals of Culture in 2023, the other two being Elefsina in Greece and Timisoara in Romania. The idea behind InterUrban, which is organised by Hangvető (hangveto.hu) is to invite artists and performers from former and future Capitals of Culture to bring their work to Veszprém. Since Liverpool had the title in 2008, my Liverpool work was chosen to represent the city.
To say this was exciting is an understatement. It would be my second solo exhibition (the first was just before the pandemic), and with 30 pieces of work required from over 15 years of photographing Liverpool, it was also a significant challenge. To add to that, the prints were to be made locally in Hungary, so I would be unable to see them for real until I arrived on March 27th. But when on the morning of the opening I sneaked into KUNSZT!, the light and airy combination cafe and art space where the prints were exhibited, I found that the printer had understood what I wanted and the prints looked great.
Multi-purpose art spaces, rather like Ropes and Twines on Bold Street in Liverpool, seem to be a thing in Hungary. In Budapest I treated myself to an amazing sour cherry strudel in a restaurant with an exhibition of photographs on the walls, and passed several other restaurants advertising similar things, including one with a full-blown museum.
I walked about 17km on the extra day I gave myself in Budapest and saw the good and the bad of the place. Around the parliament area there are beautiful squares, and the magnificent St Stephen’s basilica, while the parliament building itself is an astonishing neo-Gothic confection. Outside the parliament a rally in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a reminder of Hungary’s illiberal politics and its problematic relationship with the rest of Europe. It’s also interesting how shocking the sight of a Russian flag waved with enthusiasm has become.
And so to Veszprém, a pretty historic town built on a hillside about an hour and a half’s drive from Budapest and not far from Lake Balaton, one of Hungary’s main tourist destinations. The March weather in Veszprém, which is known for being wet and windy, made exploring something of a challenge, but there are plenty of places to eat and drink, and I think it would be a great base for exploring the region. In its Capital of Culture year especially there is a lot going on, from music and performing arts to exhibitions and talks. The castle, which is undergoing an extensive renovation, offers beautiful views across the surrounding hills.
It was also pointed out to me that if you look the other way there is a view of some rather austere blocks of flats from “before regime change” but this juxtaposition of historic buildings and unyielding concrete isn’t so very different from Liverpool. As it happens much of the work in the exhibition at KUNSZT! was from my “Looking Backward” series, in which I have been exploring the relationship between past and present by photographing Liverpool’s historic buildings, often with my back to them. So the famous “bombed out church” is photographed in the reflective window of a former nightclub, and St George’s Hall is distorted by the reflection in an old advertising hoarding for an exhibition of Egyptian antiquities. “Sell Everything” is a photograph of Lime Street before its demolition, reflected in a bus stop advertising hoarding.
Exhibiting internationally is something I feel very pleased to have done, and I must thank my new friends at Hangvető in Hungary firstly for organising the two events I was involved in, but also for their patience in dealing with my worries in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. I’m also deeply grateful to Lucy at dot-art for having the confidence to put me forward for when the opportunity came up. Being able to share work across borders like this is one of the joys of being involved in the arts, and it was a great pleasure to be able to do so in Veszprém in its big year of celebrating art and culture.