In the Wake of Accelerated Time: The Kispetri Project

foreward text by Andras Visky

In 2012, the photographer Nelson Fitch and I worked together for the first time. The Invisible Theatre project documented the ritual that happens day after day in repertory theatres: the construction and deconstruction of the production sets. This series of operations, normally hidden from the eyes of the spectator, appeared in these images as complex theatrical acts carrying special meanings. They focused attention on the work of the stage hands who are traditionally dressed in black, thus becoming virtually invisible in the black box of the stage. This reversed perspective, which brought to the fore this invisible and rarely appreciated work, with the spectacle proper completely in the background, was a strong indication of this young photographer’s field of interest: to present the disappearing, the unnoticed, the hidden events in the most direct way possible, while not concealing the personal presence, let alone the emotions, of the photographer. The venue of the project was the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj and a noted exhibition presenting selected photos from the series was opened on 18 January, 2012 in the foyer of the theatre. A copy of the photos of the exhibition accompanied by a personal dedication from Nelson Fitch was given afterwards to the set designers, property masters, and stage managers – to the invisible main actors.

The Kispetri Project was conceived as a much more extended project than the previous one and will last for several years, documenting the daily life of a shrinking village in Kalotaszeg.

I got to know Kispetri thanks to my friends Réka and László Barabás who bought the empty house of close relatives of the well-known Romanian writer Radu Ţuculescu. Over the years they have lived a life there that has nothing to do with the common weekend get-aways of members of the well-established urban intellectual elite who keep themselves separate from village life (Réka is a university teacher, László a software engineer, and their actual home is in the city of Cluj-Napoca). They have integrated into the life of the village in a formidable way, previously unthinkable to me, running a barn theatre, organizing reading performances and film screenings, and building personal relationships with all the villagers, whose average age exceeds seventy years. Thanks also to Réka and László, I became friends with the Ocskay couple, Ágnes and József, as well as András Zsigmond – they are all voluntary citizens of Kispetri, and have been able to discover and show the special values of fellowship and solidarity in a world that is not tangible to many, with its marginality, poverty, and afflictions of old age.

The village, located between Sztána and Váralmás, has seen better days. Its decay has accelerated so much that everything, even the most ordinary event, acquires an unusual, intensified meaning. So even my first, seemingly accidental and insignificant, visit raised the question of searching for and demonstrating ways of participation. When Nelson Fitch contacted me to work together again on another photo project, I suggested without hesitation the documentation of the existence and disappearance of Kispetri. However, we did not want to remain in a position of outside observers, but wanted to be as personal and direct as possible, and so chose a process that would last over several years.

The village has received Nelson and his wife Veronica with love and openness. On her very first visit, local women dressed Veronica in some of the traditional clothing of Kalotaszeg, which they kept carefully stored in a wooden chest decorated with tulips. Several old couples or widowed parents have children living in Europe’s large cities and overseas, so perhaps Nelson and Veronica remind them of those who live far away, as they relate to the young American couple eagerly and directly with much affection.

This present edition is a documentary collection of the process that began in 2017, and has three parts: village photos; a series of 27 pieces portraying village members posing with their favourite objects; and Ilona Bódis dressing Veronica Fitch in a traditional Kalotaszeg costume.

In the future, most probably in the autumn of 2018, the project will be continued with the documentation of personal living spaces, and the photographer will examine the relationship of the inhabitants with the images surrounding them, photos, drawings, paintings, etc.

Theatre is the art of the present, photography is of the moment: so both search an aspect of time that we know hardly anything about. The present – according to Augustine’s teachings – stands behind us as transient past, and the moment, which is a particle of time, overshadows our sight as an electron cloud, and we still don’t know exactly where it is; and even if we could know where, we cannot know how. One person’s story is the story of the universe: anyone who has been invited into existence will not disappear without a trace. Two friends, a young photographer from Chicago, and a theatre man from Cluj-Napoca encounter by accident an isolated village in Kalotaszeg that lives in its fragmented past, and we have already at present a collection of stories, of encounters, and of imprints and impressions of accelerated time.

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