academia (re: an exploratory journey)


The Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) owns numerous collections that have been built for many years, decades or, in some cases, even for as long as 100 or 150 years, and have been the basis of academic research. Their institutionalization has never been free of complications; over the time, there have occurred radical changes in their allocation, maintenance, and organization. Due to their scope—ranging from local, regional, national, international, global or even universal—the functioning of these collections has been influenced by the shifts in national boundaries, and international relations. In the meantime, their classification, interpretation and usage have undergone changes emerging in the wake of ruptures in national and international scientific policies and modes of financing, not to mention the ones in the academic paradigms that shaped the framework for processing data.

The project academia (an exploratory journey) is conceived as a subjective documentation of the scientific collections of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in the form of images, videos, sound recordings and texts. They were created between the end of 2016 and the end of 2019 by Éva Bicskei, the curator-in-chief of the Art Collection of the HAS, when visiting 46 research institutes of the HAS in order to draw up an inventory of their artefacts. During this series of trips, she gained comprehensive insight into the various scientific collections, as well. At first, she recorded them incidentally which turned later into a systematic effort of documentation. Bicskei began to research the history of these collections and to interview the scientific staff and researchers.

These documentation trips took place at a time of an intense public debate concerning the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (its research network, its competitiveness) and academic research in Hungary in general. Finally, in September 2019, the research institutes were detached from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, despite protests, and transferred to a new, state-owned institution called Eötvös Loránd Research Network (Eötvös Loránd Kutató Hálózat, ELKH). The project is thus part of the wider public debate about scientific research that had gathered momentum recently; at the same time, it is also a personal coping with the radical changes of the recent period.

The exhibition documents these collections exploring their functioning, their institutional history, and their place in the world of academia, and highlighting the structural continuities at administrative, institutional, technological, ideological, methodological, or epistemological levels, through which collections are built and knowledge is constructed.

The installation (made of recycled exhibition materials) invites the viewer to join this exploratory/peripatetic journey at the Academy/academia by embarking at any of the images, videos or soundtracks and accompanying texts. However, the pictures, videos, sound recordings and texts explore systematically the different ways of data collecting, ranging from monitoring and screening up to recording entries in different data banks or “classic” archives. The “objective” inventory of the collections nevertheless turns into a docu-fiction, in which the faithful rendering of the collections become a metaphor of our society, politics, history and the world of academia.
Moreover, together, these testimonies turn into a holistic rediscovery of the world of science seen from the prism of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’s collections: they offer an exploration of the interrelation of the human, social and natural sciences, enabling a more complex understanding of our world.

Concept, image, video and text: Éva Bicskei, Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont, Művészettörténeti Intézet, ELKH – Art Collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Curator: Dóra Hegyi, tranzit. hu
Installation: Tamás Kaszás
Graphic Design: Virág Bogyó

In collaboration with Museum Kiscell – Municipal Gallery, Roland Pereszlényi and Enikő Róka

Image: Installation of the exhibition at the Research Centre of the Humanities, Budapest

Photo: Éva Bicskei