Orfeo Group’s commune
The members of Orfeo built a semi-detached house in Pilisborosjenő (15 kilometers from Budapest) between 1972 and 1974, when they wanted to improve the conditions under which they worked. The first house became the home of the actors of the Orfeo Studio. The Orfeo Group constructed a commune, while also holding theatrical and musical performances and creating artwork and photos. The creation of a collection on their work is the result of ordinary activities and an alternative, opposition-cultural lifestyle, which was, in turn, embodied in a house and objects. The inner spaces, the furniture in the house, and the uses of the furniture themselves are artistic works. The houses were spaces of the alternative theatre work and alternative lifestyle of Orfeo, which was condemned by the state authorities as violating the norms and morals of social coexistence.
Pilisborosjenő, Hungary 2097
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Name of collection
Orfeo Group’s commune
Provenance and cultural activities
The house (the residential building of the Orfeo theatre studio) constitutes a special collection: its present-day look, from the building material to the inner spaces, and its furniture can be regarded as the material expression of the shared life and work of the group, which began in the 1970s. In 2017, two former Orfeo members, Tamás Fodor actor and puppet-making artist Ilona Németh, lived in the house (which they themselves had made), using mostly original furniture and objects which had been made or acquired in the period in which the Orfeo Studio and its successor, Studio K, had been active (Studio K was launched in 1974).
The members of Orfeo pursued theatre, music, and art, but they also engaged in an alternative lifestyle experiment. The desire for community life with genuine content and the need for deep shared work led to the process of building the house and pursuing theatrical work in Pilisborosjenő after the company had been banned from all community centres in the country. The house and indeed the collection itself are the products of a unique cultural activity, an artistic community, and a commune. We can conceive the house as a space with many different layers of meaning. The collection is the outcome of spontaneous processes and, at the same time, the sum of intentionally collected objects, because in certain cases the members deliberately tried to preserve items.
The building of the commune was founded on a firm concept and ideology. The commune as a way of life was at the centre of debates in Western Europe and in the Eastern bloc. Ágnes Heller and Mihály Vajda wrote an article entitled “Family form and communism,” which was published in the periodical Kortárs in 1970. They examined Marx’s ideas about human relationships in communist society. According to the authors, Marx said that the end of private property and the end of the state had to be connected to the disintegration of the traditional, monogamous family. It would only be possible to maintain communism if the family form disappeared. In this context, the commune did not mean an escape from society, but rather an example for society to follow.
For István Malgot, who played a crucial role in shaping the commune in the early period, the construction work was an expression of more radical ideological intentions. Malgot believed in resisting alienation, which allegedly sprang from consumer capitalism, by creating radical, Maoist-based, ascetically organized communities. Malgot was a member of the Budapest Maoist group, and he was arrested in January 1968. The group rejected Kádárist Hungary, which they considered a petit bourgeois consumer society. Nonetheless, for the majority of Orfeo members who took part in the construction work, the experience of authentic community based on solidarity and free choice became more important.
The first commune was built in Szentendre in 1970, but it soon turned out to be too small. The main turning point was the purchase of a site in Pilisborosjenő. The houses were ready in 1972 and 1974, respectively. This became home for the members of the group and the site of their common work. Péter Fábry, one of the members, said in an interview that there was a practical reason for the commune: they did not have to travel a lot. Furthermore, they also expected that the conditions for common work would be improved. Initially, there were 30–35 builders. In the end, 16 members remained, but other supporters helped.
This work was physically very hard and tiring for the members. In both of the houses, they shaped big common spaces and small private rooms. In a documentary entitled Orfeo group, the former members said that the construction work demanded strong and cohesive teamwork. Dedication was necessary not only for the construction of the house, but also for its maintenance. They organized shopping and cooking together.
The concept on which Orfeo was based was focused primarily on shared work, which they compared with patterns of cohabitation on Western communes, where the aim, in their eyes, was to attain free love. This was not a central point in the case of Orfeo. Sexuality did not play the main role in their concept, since communist ideology stressed the equality between men and women. Partners changed often in the group, and members recalled intense sexual relationships as a natural part of young people’s lives. Péter Fábry also emphasized that the basis of Orfeo was common theatre work, but they believed in free love, and the community was based on freedom in interpersonal relationships.
In one interview, Tamás Fodor, the founder of Orfeo Studio and Studio K, explained that their shared life originated from a shared creative work practice. He first encountered this form of creation in France. The concept of “création collectif” was very popular in Western Europe. According to one actor, Szabolcs Szőke, there was a very strong connection between the construction of the house and the theatrical work. They were both shared efforts, and the aim was to create something through teamwork. These two things were not separated from each other, and after a time, this lifestyle became too hard and burdensome for some people.The experimentation with different lifestyles meant giving up the safety of normalcy, of the conventional lifestyle. Some people left the commune, and some independent-minded artists could not accept the decisions made by the group. The commune experiment remained, in many ways, a failure. The reasons for this include the fact that the commune lifestyle created hierarchical relationships among older men and younger, mostly female student latecomers, despite better intentions. This unequal relationships, which were part and parcel of the experiences of sexual vulnerability endured by some of the members of the group, forced many members to dissociate themselves from the commune. Although numerous conflicts emerged as a consequence of the shared living spaces and the commune lifestyle, the commune had a big advantage for creative artistic work: even if the groups were banned from community houses, they were able to pursue work in Pilisborosjenő in their rehearsal room. In spite of the difficulties, the members remembered this period as a crucial experience in their lives.
Description of content
The Orfeo group’s commune is a unique building. In contrast with the edifices used on many Western European communes, the building was newly constructed, not rebuilt out of a loft house or farmhouse. Tamás Fodor requested and got a permission for the building operations, in part because he had a registered workplace and the authorities, therefore, could keep an eye on him. But the permission which was issued was valid for a one-storey house. In order to get around this, an architecturally innovative solution was adopted. From the street, the building that was built appears only to have one storey, but in fact, because the designs take advantage of the slope of the Pilis Mountains, the building has three floors, as one notices when one walks into the backyard.
If one divides the house and the things inside into thematic sections like a collection, first one can speak about the building materials, for example, the concrete bricks, which are very unusual. These bricks were made entirely by the members of the group, and they are visible today because the house has not been covered with a layer of plaster. Allegedly, the inhabitants of the village considered the house a prison because of its grey colour. Also, the Orfeo group used the cheapest materials they could find.
All of the work involved in the construction of the house was done by the members of the group, and they had to learn a lot of new skills. There were members who had some experience in skilled manual labour. The men and women did the same tasks, without any difference on the basis of gender. They did almost everything by hand. The tools and machines that they used in their work later became part of the set of the play Vintage (1973).
The spaces in the house constitute another group. The three floors were necessary, considering the large number of residents. Given the group’s lifestyle, big common spaces were built, along with small bedrooms. It was considered important to create common rooms. There were a library, a studio, and a rehearsal room. Members could chat with one another and listen to music together. Totally different spaces were created compared with a regular house.
On the first floor, one finds the room which was referred to simply as “the common,” with handmade desks, benches, chairs, and the books of the “common” library on the shelves, as well as a phonographic record player, which produced the conditions regarded as ideal for shared reflection, conversation, and intellectual camaraderie. Next to the “common” was the shared kitchen. The bedrooms were on the second floor. These rooms were initially (for a short period of time) six square meters, but they were later enlarged to twelve square meters. The number of the residents changed. According to Fodor, in the most intense period, twelve people lived in the house. In the mansard, they created the rehearsal room in 1974 when, the Studio was banned from every community centre.
Finally, one must mention the furniture, which Orfeo acquired in various ways. Csaba Oszkay, one of the actors, made some of the furnishings, since he was also a trained carpenter. Members of the group used the building materials and made benches from wood and painted them. A few of them brought furniture from their home. They also collected objects for their performances. Painted folk hutches were gathered as part of a collecting trip in rural areas, and the wheel of a farm wagon stood in the yard for some time and was made part of a lamp. These items are in use today.At present, puppet-making artist Ilona Németh works in two studios in the house, and the spectacle of the puppets dominates these spaces. These puppets do not come from the period of Orfeo, but rather were made after Studio K had been launched. They were made by including items from performances which were held in 2017.
- furniture: 10-99
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- all closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Huhák, Heléna
Interjú Komjáthy Annával. 2009. január 22. Készítette James Mark.
Interjú Szőke Szabolccsal. 2009. január 27., 30. Készítette James Mark.
Interjú Fábry Péterrel. 2009. január 23. Készítette James Mark.
Sándor L., István. "Szabadságszigetek. Beszélgetés Fodor Tamással: Etoile – az Orfeo Stúdió első előadása." Ellenfény, November 14, 2011. http://www.ellenfeny.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3367:szabadsagszigetek&catid=9:fuggetlenek&Itemid=61.
Hegedüs, Béla. "Annyi a jelenem, amennyi a múltam. Beszélgetés Székely B. Miklóssal." Ellenfény, no. 1 (1998). http://www.ellenfeny.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1883:annyi-a-jelenem-amennyi-a-multam&catid=124:1998/1.&Itemid=133
Heller Ágnes and Vajda, Mihály. "Családforma és kommunizmus." Kortárs no. 10 (1970)
Szarvas, Márton. "Az Orfeo művészcsoport működése 1969-72. Alapszakos szakdolgozat." Moholy-Nagy Művészeti Egyetem, 2013.
Szarvas, Márton. "Orfeo’s Maoist Utopia. The Emergence of the Cultural Critique of Existing Socialism." Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, CEU, 2016.
Ring, Orsolya. "Alternatív művészeti mozgalmak az 1970-es években: az Orfeo-ügy." ArchívNET, no. 2 (2008). http://www.archivnet.hu/politika/alternativ_muveszeti_mozgalmak_az_1970es_evekben_az_orfeougy.html?oldal=4.
Fodor, Tamás, interview by Huhák, Heléna, December 09, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection