An installation shot showing one of Diane Bielik's 'Makeshift Monuments' in situ at Bradford's Hungarian Cultural and Social Centre. Image © Diane Bielik.
Diane Bielik's father was Hungarian, fleeing with 2000 compatriots after the 1956 revolution failed and settling in Bradford. The Hungarian cultural and social centre he helped set up kept going for more than 50 years but, threatened with closure, it became an intriguing subject for his daughter to photograph - and an even more intriguing, trompe d'oeil exhibition when she opted to exhibit the images in situ for the Ways of Looking festival. Diane Smyth caught up with her at the opening weekend.
BJP: Why did you make interventions in the Hungarian Centre, rather than doing a straight documentary project?
DB: When I started working on it, it was still open but it was going to close in six months. I was panicking, photographing everything, and then it was open for another 12 months. It was really nice because I’d just got into it, and it turned into a long-term project. At first I was doing this very typical, documentary thing but while I was getting lots of images that looked interesting, they weren’t doing much for me.
I did a lot of thinking about why I was photographing something that was closing, and realised that there is the urge to photograph things, but it doesn’t stop them from going away. I started wondering how you could photograph to commemorate, and liked this idea of building little monuments. So I started playing with moving objects and got very excited by interacting with the place, instead of tiptoeing around like I wasn’t meant to be there. I guess the relationship built up with the people who use the club and I became more familiar with it – I used to just come up here and let myself in and work all day.
BJP: When did you decide you’d like to show the work in the club?
DB: When I was making the work the idea crossed my mind but I was never that into it until I thought about making it part of the club by putting them directly on the walls. It loses the preciousness of photography in printmaking and framing, and if you look at an image of a flag and sort of believe it is a flag flying in the wind [because the photograph is tipped on its side and stuck to the wall], it’s a simple photographic trick but it’s also very complicated, because it shows how photography tricks us into believing.”
I’ve used things in the club to dictate the positioning and sizes, and each image has been shot in another room, so as you walk around you go ‘Oh, that must be downstairs’ and so on. You can see marks on the walls where pictures used to hang and I thought about using them, but it becomes more complicated when you’re putting photographs in a space that is already really interesting. In the end I realised how used to it I was [in the club] because while I was thinking ‘I need to make this space interesting’, Anne [McNeill, one of the festival organisers] came to visit and was like ‘Wow, this place is amazing’. I realized that everyone who came was going to think it was amazing.
BJP: What’s going to happen to the exhibition in the club now?
DB: The images are staying for the moment, which I really like. I’ve negotiated it with the guys who bought the place, but they’re putting it back on the market soon. After that, who knows. I’m sad that the club has closed but it served its purpose – when my dad and the other Hungarians arrived, they needed it, but gradually they all integrated with the community. It’s a trace of a piece of history.
BJP: What does your dad make of the exhibition?
DB: He likes it but it’s quite ‘photography’. He’s like ‘Why is this picture upside down?!’
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