The Designer’s Commendation
(Quotations from studies, articles and conversations 1992-2003)
Currently we “have it easy” – well actually its going to get much harder.
Easy, because if a democracy follows a dictatorship, then the truth has no alternative, the truth of democracy is proved by the historical process. Harder, because this thought is so obvious and clear that we easily forget about the tendency itself; in the process of political ideology, works of art get placed here and there.
This is where the sensitive dignity of Art comes in: finding and taking on the responsibility which currently leads to a narrow ethical path.
It’s a joy to be a part of such a peaceful process.
As I was designing, I gradually began to realise what a complicated problem this is. I had to recognise that I needed to summarise the individual thought-provoking elements of an historical series of paradoxes into one conceptual thought process. Paradox, because these statues are both the reminders of an anti-democratic society and at the same time pieces of our history; paradox, because they are symbols of authority and at the same time works of art; and finally, paradox, because despite the fact that they were without doubt originally set up for the purpose of propaganda, in assigning them a new location, I deemed it important to avoid the possibility that they would become anti-propaganda, which would have been no more than a continuation of dictatorship mentality.
Every violent form of society formalises the need and the right to reanalyse, touch up and appropriate their own past in order to shine favourable light on the “historical necessity” of their regime. Democracy is the only regime which is capable of looking back to its past, with all its mistakes and wrong turns, with its head up. The wonderful thing about looking back is that you are free to do this. Democracy is the only regime that has dignity. This is what I was trying to describe in that sentence which became the key sentence of my design: “This Park is about dictatorship, but as soon as this can be talked about, described and built, the park is already about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide the opportunity for us to think freely about dictatorship, or about democracy, come to that, or about anything.”
These statues are a part of the history of Hungary. Dictatorships chip away at and plaster over their past in order to get rid of all memories of previous ages. Democracy is the only regime that is prepared to accept that our past with all the dead ends is still ours; we should get to know it, analyse it and think about it!
All of the statues, therefore, were positioned according to the original sculptural and architectural plans. This park is not about the statues or the sculptors, but a critique of the ideology that used these statues as symbols of authority.
I realised that if I made this park with more direct, drastic and real tools, as many thought I should, I would create an anti-propaganda park from these propaganda statues and in doing this, I would be faithfully following the same recipe and mentality that we inherited from dictatorship.
A foreign tourist, for whom dictatorship is merely something they have read about, has completely different thoughts when in the park than the person with a tragic past, who lived here, survived and under the aegis of these statues takes the drama of his own ruined life into the park with him. But the silence is shared.
Ákos Eleőd, Architect.
The conceptual designer of MementoPark.
“…Memento Park is characterized by a careful and intelligent, theme-oriented design as well as by high quality, impressive architectural composition. Its first phase, “One Sentence on Tyranny – Statue Park” was cordially received by the public. The way Hungary treated this sensitive topic is to be considered exemplary even in international terms. The Statue Park utilizes politically neutral means of art to emphasize the dignity of democracy and the responsibility of historical thinking. When the planned second phase, the so-called “Witness Square” is built, a unique educational, art and tourism theme-park and historical museum will be created that is unparalleled in the world.”
Árpád Göncz, President of Hungary (1991-2001)
“The complex idea and historical thinking behind Memento Park – the way it distinguishes the two eras, recreates tyranny through the eyes of art – is of international significance and a symbol of the dignity of democracy.”
András Bozóki, Minister of Culture (2005-2006)
“…I studied the plans of the Memento Park project with great interest. I find it a promising plan to keep our historical memory alive and to strengthen citizens’ sense of responsibility and commitment to sustain democracy.
I consider it especially important that by further developing its educational program, the Park would be frequented by students, whom, having no personal experience and memories themselves, would gain insight and impressions of the era represented in the Park.”
Zoltán Pokorni, Minister of Education (1998-2001)
“…Whenever given a chance to make a free choice, our nation chose freedom and independence – both in 1956 and in 1990. Not only in words did she make this choice but in sacrificial and exemplary deeds as well. We need to be proud of our ancestors’, fathers’ and grandfathers’ commitment to freedom. The only way to pay tribute to them is by keeping them in our memories, by remembering and commemorating them daily as well as on special anniversaries.
We need people-friendly and dignified places to celebrate and to responsibly consider the future. We need squares, parks and museums where we can take our children and anyone else who is eager to better understand the present through the past. That specific need makes the plans for Memento Park and the events that are to be held there extremely worthy and important.”
Tamás Deutsch, Minister of Youth and Sports (1999-2002)
“Memento Park, both architecturally and thematically, is a place worthy and able to catch the world’s attention and strengthen Hungary’s cultural reputation on an international level. (…)
Following its opening celebrations the park will house grand cultural events (international conferences for historians, concerts, exhibitions, film-showings, stage performances). In the future, it can also function as a mini educational centre (with history classes for high-schools and universities on related topics) and a centre for culture and tourism. (…)
Szilárd Sasvári, President, Cultural Committee of the Parliament (1998-2002)
“… the project will become complete when a proper environment is created. Partly it will mean the completion of the Statue Park itself by building a wall around it that will enclose the statues and give them a unified image. Partly it will mean working out a plan for the surrounding area so that visitors can enjoy a proper and inviting infrastructure. When all those are in place, we will be able to announce that this memorial sight, unparalleled in Europe, is finished.
According to the architect’s concept, trapeze-shaped “Witness Square” will be given a central role. The pedestal of Stalin’s statue with the boots will be placed in its original size facing the façade. On either side of the square there will be two buildings: one will be a catering unit with a small podium, the other will serve as an exhibition hall, video-room and art shop. The main tribune would provide space for various performances and concerts… we are talking about a sight of international significance.”
Miklós Marschall, Cultural Deputy Mayor (1990-1994)
“… The Memento Park projects would be an attraction to tourists and would give a significant boost to tourism in Budapest. By including proper marketing activities it could easily add a new and exciting colour to the palette both for external and internal travellers. (…)
…depending on the communication style and the guest-list, its opening celebration may easily become an internationally recognized event and thus play an important role in building our country’s image. Surrounding cultural events also have the capacity to attract international attention… (…)
In summary, we consider this project to be of great significance and, as explained above, we … support its development.”
László Fekete, Head of Tourism Office, Minsitry of Economy (1998-2000); President, Tourism Office Budapest (2001-)
“The question of the Statue Park is of historical significance. It is an extremely sensitive and complex issue, a special task for the artist to express in the language of architectural design.
A chief merit of “One Sentence on Tyranny” – Park is the dignity with which it treats its theme: by refusing to sacrifice its historical significance to the ever-changing powers of daily politics… with its grand design concept and disturbed peacefulness it serves as an example for solving a controversial problem in an intelligent and elegant manner.”
István Schneller, Chief Architect of Budapest (1994-2006)
“.. a unique collection of the monuments of a fallen totalitarian system, characterized by true architectural design, artistic and elegant communication between the de-legitimized statues and space and by the dignity of expression.”
Géza Boros, art historian
“… What we see here is a thoughtfully designed complex structure. Architect Ákos Eleőd deliberately created an environment reminiscent of social realism and a structure referring to the Potemkin-type system; (…) creating a context and an atmosphere with dignity, cold objectivity, moderation, as well as elegant and gracious design.”