Eastern Sugar

Facets of European history through sugar industry in Central Europe





Eastern Sugar is an international, interdisciplinary, contemporary visual art project initiated by Ilona Németh with strong focus on artistic research. The project reflects the recent facets of European history through the case of sugar industry in Central Europe. By the means of artistic research, curatorial cooperation, creation of new artworks, five international group exhibitions, participative installations, public and educational programs, and a comprehensive interdisciplinary publication the project investigates the “clearing” process of the Central-European sugar production. Thus, sugar can be understood as a metaphor for the notion of Europe and world under constant transformation.

Eastern Sugar strives to bring the attention to the history of sugar industry in Central Europe and to place it on the global map of the story of sugar. While doing so, it considers colonial impact of the past as well as the present. 30 years after 1989, the project intends to reflect on what impact had these changes on the Central European countries and Europe as such – especially considering the economic conditions, the aftermath of the so-called wild privatization of the early 1990s, the sudden shift to capitalism, globalization and adapting to the rules of the free market, as well as rules and regulations coming with the accession to the European Union.

Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović
Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović

Taking the sugar industry in Slovakia as a starting point, a case study or a metaphor, the Eastern Sugar invites to expand the discussion and critical reflection of the impact of socialist and neoliberal economics in the countries of CE and beyond. Impulse for this undertaking is the already started research and exhibition of Ilona Németh at Kunsthalle Bratislava in 2018 that calls to be broadened on an international scale.

Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović
Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović

Eastern Sugar Publication of Ilona Németh

Eastern Sugar was the name given to Juhocukor, the former largest Slovak sugar factory in Dunajská Streda, after a foreign trading company entered the Central European sugar industry in the 1990s following the fall of communism. In the first decade of the new Millennium, the company collected its investments through the European Union´s compensation scheme and permanently shut down its factories.

Publication Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar. Photo: Martin Deko, Slovak National Gallery

The book Eastern Sugar examines the fate of this company as a microcosm of mechanisms of the post-communist transition throughout Central Europe, from the opportunism of financial speculators to the widespread corruption of privatization. And, at the same time, it raises the question whether a neo-liberal market policy was really the only viable strategy to escape from state socialism.

Publication Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar. Photo: Martin Deko, Slovak National Gallery

This publication is part of the Eastern Sugar extensive international project of contemporary art with a strong educational mission implemented by the Slovak National Gallery in cooperation with international partners.

International Exhibitions of the Eastern Sugar project

The project Eastern Sugar runs from 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2021, and includes activities implemented in six European countries in collaboration with five foreign partners. At its very beginning, there was an exhibition with the same name in the Kunsthalle Bratislava in 2018.

Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović
Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović

Exhibitions timeline

12. 11. 2020 – 11. 1. 2021
Sucre de l’est / Sugar of the East
La Box Gallery / ENSA, Bourges, FR
Curator: Ferenc Gróf

15. 1. – 18. 4. 2021
Listening to Voices
Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA, Prague, CZ
Curators: Mira Keratová, Caroline Krzyszton

23.4. – 18.7. 2021
Eastern Sugar Oberbayern: Ilona Németh – Manufacture and Archive; Crossing Borders
Schafhof – European Center for Art Upper Bavaria, Freising, DE
Curators: Nina Vrbanová, Eike Berg

20. 8. – 31. 10. 2021
Potential Agrarianisms. Will there still be sugar after the rebellion?
Kunsthalle Bratislava, Bratislava, SK
Curators: Maja and Reuben Fowkes

8.10. – 29. 01. 2022
Eastern Sugar Graz
< rotor > Center for Contemporary Art, Graz, AT
Curators: Margarethe Makovec and Anton Lederer

Cover picture: Eastern Sugar project photo by Olja Triaška Stefanović

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Florian Bauer

Director Social Finance, Sustainability and Innovation
Since 2023, Florian Bauer has been responsible for social finance, sustainability and social innovation at ERSTE Foundation. Prior to this role, Florian worked in the NGO & Social Entrepreneurship sector for more than 13 years. He led the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), an international multilateral NGO that works to accelerate market-based deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient systems in developing countries, and was Managing Director & COO of the Impact Hub Vienna. From 2020-2023, Florian established strategic alliances with key partners and helped to create innovative semantic technology solutions at Semantic Web Company (SWC), a leading IT company in semantic AI solutions.