Paris, Art Press international, n°5, march 1977

Judit Reigl : True Time, Official Time

The most thrilling - and the hardest - thing watch out for, to be able to seize (in a game of now you see me, now you don’t) the moment of an unstable, precarious balance, to stop painting - to suspend time on the border between birth and death.
If one could only have two lives.
Border…two lives?…This reminds me of something.
A place…a date…something rises from the past, growing clearer, more precise, I follow:

1950, the 10th of March, around 9 in the evening. I have breached, in this very instant, the Iron Curtain (a narrow minefield corridor bordered by two parallel barbed wire fences and a no man’s land fifty meters wide on either side).
I have just crossed right over the mines, using a ladder placed horizontally on those very same fences. I crawl over the second fifty meters of bare no man’s land and stay put, flat on my belly - safe at last (relatively), hidden by the first rows of a field of corn, dried and left standing, at the threshold of Austrian territory. I chance a quick look back at the border that I have just crossed, waiting for the peasant who helped me with his ladder. He is bringing it back to his nearby farm and will quickly return to explain how I should pass through the Russian sectorcrosstwo rivers, locate and then avoid three villages and the Russian patrol before finally arriving, undetected, to the English sector. I wait… Darkness and silence, both complete; no barking of the guard dogs that last night were more frightening to me than the thought of being blown up by a mine. I wait…then, against the background of darkness, in the silence, a sound, a rhythmic sound approaches… Before my eyes, but on the other side of the border and the no-man’s-land, tiny rectangles of yellow-orange light appear, gliding horizontally, elevated a bit. I am in shock…pain and joy…incomparable happiness…what I see - these rectangles passing by - are the lit up windows of the Budapest express. It slows down; the border village, the railway station, is not far. I can make out, clearly, the silhouettes of a few travellers in the illuminated rectangles. They are - according to the papers that were left in my room in Budapest - my compatriots. The train moves in a land from which, in fact, I am already cut off, separated forever, but this land, no more than a quarter of an hour ago, was still mine. The land of my mother tongue - my poor mother, she will be inconsolable. My friends, places, rivers…Sándor, Poldi, Somlyó, Felső-Balog, Tisza…But already this frozen ground at the edge of no man’s land seems to me sweet and open. I am free…free! Vertiginously… A few steps, but it is already thousand light years from any place where official time is imposed. Intact of body. Not blown up on a mine, not riddled with bullets. The thirty kilometers of the Russian zone should come as a pleasant nocturnal stroll. To go on foot all the way to Paris…To see the ocean…To get to know…To paint as I see fit. No one will ever ask me to paint a giant portrait of that mustached idol again, nor stutter the self-punishing theories of his acolyte Zdanov. The ground (where I remain for a few more minutes) between two states but belonging to none is not the symbol but the reality of my existence. I left one block so as not to belong to any other. Not an exile, nor emigré, nor integrated. Transnational.
The ladder that the peasant is returning to his shed is not a symbol but the actual instrument of my passage from the level of my mother tongue to the level of the élangues. (1) I will paint in these, the languages of Lascaux, the Maya, Wan Hi-Tche, Van Gogh, Cézanne. Those of gesture, of fundamental rhythm. Those of my oldest desires.
And I will find you, whom I left in desolation at the feet of little people rendered in red porphyry, locked in an untiring embrace - for how many centuries already now? - leaning against a corner of San Marco. I left you to return to the East, to a land that I imagined to be free and young, to build Socialism…Socialism? A dead end. Suffocation, asphyxiation. How to get out?...By playing…playing with one's life. Leap-frogging. Perfect. Eight attempts in vain…Finally, the ninth is successful! Irony Curtain!
Laughter, a ladder to scale the universe.

And now, here in the cornfield - already opening on to endless new borders to breach-no passport, no visa, no luggage, no money, no identity, truly free, starting my new life…Vita Nuova. (Translation Janos Gat)