Katalin Cseh-Varga

Lecturer in the Department of Theater, Film & Media Studies, University of Vienna

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies?

When I studied Theatre, Film and Media Studies in Austria and was about to choose a research topic for my MA thesis, I thought of adding some non-existent insights into the history of Hungarian theatre in the German-speaking academic diaspora. The thesis was about the relations between the 1956 revolution and theatres in Budapest. Already at that time I found it stunning how the communist dictatorship influenced the art scene and despite pressure from cultural politics, forms of counter-opinion and counter-expression appeared.

How have your interests changed since then?

I moved away from institutional theatre to forms of event-based and intermedia art, but the overall interest still remained the same: how could independent activities arise and develop under serious suppression? My dissertation, of which the monograph will be published this year at I.B.Tauris, dealt with aesthetics of subtle resonance, venues of non-/semi-conformist art in Hungary of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. My main interest for the last couple of years was the re-definition of the public sphere in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, with a focus on the case of Hungary. Together with my colleague Adam Czirak (Freie Universität Berlin) we recently published a collection of essays on process-based art in socialist Europe – the narrative that holds together these contributions is that of the so-called “second public sphere“. A differentiated understanding of this notion lies at the heart of my forthcoming book Hungarian Avant-Garde in Late Socialism: The Art of the Second Public Sphere.

What is your current research/work project?

Although as participant of the COST Action New Exploratory Phase in Research on East European Cultures of Dissent (2017-2021) I will mainly be working on the genealogy of the phenomenon of “alternative culture“, my current project is much more about how exactly artworks were produced in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania between 1956 and 1989. This research focuses on thinking about art, instead of analyzing the actual outcome of intellectual processes. I am currently applying for funding and a postdoctoral position.

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

I am very new to ASEEES, I joined the community a few weeks ago. I did so because almost all important people from my personal research network are already members. My impression is that it is a welcoming and professional environment which provides opportunities for further collaboration. The annual convention seems to be a must-go event and I hope that I will be able to take part this year.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I am a passionate distance runner, and I love outdoor activities such as hiking and cross country skiing. Besides visiting exhibitions all around Europe, I am into cooking, but among all these spending time with my family is the most important.