Tibor Hajas
Performance; Hungary.

Bercsényi Residence Hall, May 18, 1980
Assistants: János Vető, István Csömöri
Photo documentation: György Makky, János Szerencsés, Tibor Zátonyi

Tibor Hajas, Vigil, 1980, 6:56 min., video by János Vető © 2016.

THE SCENE: The performance area takes up about half of the cavernous space: barren, ascetic. The sizable audience has to fit into the other half of the room. Stone flooring. The scenery: a tall white wall-surface, fronted – stage left – by a wooden platform. On the platform, a two-month old German Shepherd puppy sleeps, tied to a leash. In the foreground, still some distance from the front row of the audience, two loudspeakers are mounted on additional wooden platforms on the far sides of the stage. White lines: electric cords leading to the speakers. Performer and assistants wearing white surgical robes.

THE ACTION: The performer empties a bucket of water over the floor. (Enamel bucket, white.) The lights in the room dim; a 200 Watt light bulb lights up, connected to a 15-meter white cable held in the performer’s right hand. In his left hand, a cane. An assistant ties a black scarf over the performer’s eyes. The performer staggers across the water and, in the middle of the puddle, smashes the lightbulb on the floor. The light bulb explodes. Darkness. Then, on the other side of the puddle, a bluish quartz lamp flares up, illuminating the wall and the sleeping puppy. The performer staggers away from the audience as they watch: the wall stops him. There he discards both scarf and cane. Turning to face the audience, more or less centre stage, he lies face down on the floor, spreading his arms, prostrate. Slowly crawling, he approaches the edge of the water. Once there, he lies still for about a minute, then gets onto his hands and knees and crawls even closer to the water. In the brightening glow of the quartz lamp, he leans forward and tries to get a glimpse of his own reflection in the surface of the water, now charged with electricity. About a minute goes by. Afterwards – still crawling on his knees – he heads over to the dog and tries to wake it up. He pets the dog, whispers to it, fondles it, slaps it, calls it affectionate names. The puppy stumbles to its feet. The performer leaves the dog and, still on his knees, crawls, to centre stage. There he lies down on the floor once more, except now on his back. After waiting for about a minute, both assistants kneel next to him to administer rapid tranquilisation by a shot into his lower arm. The dog begins to whine.

The performer – now unconscious – is lying alone in front of the wall. Suddenly the lights in the room come on; the Horus-like shadow of the dog vanishes in the brightness. The dog is let loose in the hall. The speakers are activated; the performer’s voice is heard from a tape recording. During his speech, his two assistants wipe the now neutralised water from the floor with his limp body. They drag him around, giving him a rest now and then. The voice stops; the body lies inert in the light. The audience is sent out from the hall and the performer is brought back to consciousness.

THE TEXT: “It is not easy to start talking to myself, not easy to split in two if I can only count on myself. To let it escape, to evacuate consciousness to a place safer than where it currently resides. To risk forgoing any support and extenuating circumstance at least for a short time, for the duration of the experiment. To relinquish my clothes, my diversions, the walls, the objects and habits that currently bind me. To fade into a mere voice, into the veracity of the imagination, to lose everything that ties me to this place. For there will come a time when I will not be able to speak, only be heard. When I hear this voice – though I do not know what to call what I will be hearing; can I address it – will you hear it? – this voice must assure me that all is well; there is someone vigilant to keep watch over you, to look out for you, and represent you even when you will be incapable to do that yourself. There is something to warn you: do not let yourself be deceived… Master. Do not let yourself be deceived.

This is the voice to revert to, this consciousness. This is the lighthouse, the navigation light, the course; this is the standard to which to conform every time the need arises. I am awake, I keep vigil over you, in this you can trust; I have no other alternative. This voice is sheer vigil, nothing else. Would it not keep vigil, it could not exist. My waking life is consumed by repeating, may you hear it or not, over and over again: Master – do not let yourself be deceived. Do not let yourself be deceived, Master.

I may seem blind to you, groping in the dark. Staggering into my own future, which is you, I cannot see. I cannot understand anything and can be of no help. But I am not here to help you as you assume I should. I am not staggering; I am not groping. I am not moving. I belong to you no more than to anything else. Perhaps in the room where all of this is being said, there is no one and nothing besides my voice – I do not care; in fact, the idea appeals to me. The way I relish the notion of a television accidentally left on in an empty apartment; someone guards the house, someone is awake. While only the TV is on. Do not let yourself be deceived, Master. Do not let yourself be deceived.

I am awake; I keep vigil over you, your passing minutes, and your city. But you disturb me as little in all this as would the flow of a river or the presence of a beast. In such a night, nothing disturbs me; I am alone. And I do not want to awaken anyone or anything; anyone alive would scare me to death… the dream would lose its guide. For only the sleeping cannot see the asleep; to them everything is equally substantial, vivid and compellingly mutable, as dreams. Do not let yourself be deceived, Master.

I cannot conform to you, I cannot be at your mercy. I have become the road sign, whether you meant it or not; I can only be lived up to, only reverted to. But not mandatorily; we are independent of each other. Do not let yourself be deceived, Master.

Master, do not let yourself be deceived. I am repeating this sentence; I cannot and do not want to do anything else for you. I am the cold and steady gaze over you, the only kind with which to look at man without pain. I will not be upset, I should not get upset from what upsets you – this risk should not be taken… I am invulnerable. My complete awareness of my own fragility is what turns me invulnerable. So much so that I can fall silent; I, too, dare to fall asleep. I dare to dim amidst the lights flaring up, alone – and I can endure that the world remains… unscathed, immaculate, unclaimed… but even so, you should not let yourself be deceived…

…I shall not let myself be deceived… Master.

From Hungarian by Dániel Sipos and János Gát

Tibor Hajas, Vigil, 1980, 6:56 min., video by János Vető © 2016.

Tibor Hajas (born Tibor Frankl)
Poet, writer, performance artist

János Vetö
Visual artist, photographer, video artist, musician, songwriter, singer and composer


Tibor Hajas (born Tibor Frankl) was a central figure of the Hungarian and East European performance art scene in the 1970s. His major works include sixteen photo-tableaus of radical body actions (e.g. Flesh Paintings, Image Whipping, Tumo) acted only for the camera (from 1974 with János Vető), one film Self-Fashion Show (1976), novels, texts, graphics, photographs and three videos (with Udo Kier). Hajas realised eleven performances. At only 34 years, he died in a car accident in 1980.

János Vetö collaborated with Tibor Hajas between 1976 and 1980. In 1998 he founded I.M.A. (International Music Association) with Ivan E. Vincze in Copenhagen.

Suggested Citation

Hajas, Tibor. 2020. “Vigil.” Sandra Frimmel, Tomáš Glanc, Sabine Hänsgen, Katalin Krasznahorkai, Nastasia Louveau, Dorota Sajewska, Sylvia Sasse (eds.). 2020. Doing Performance Art History. Open Apparatus Book I. DOI:


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