Photo-Performance, Performance Photography in Real Existing Socialisms

Photo-Performance, Performance Photography in Real Existing Socialisms

With the proposed special issue the contributors are posing the still urgent inquiry of what kind of methodology does a scholar of Eastern, Central and South East European performance history require to work on photo-performance and performance photography in times of ideological warfare? And, to put it more provocatively, if a different methodology is needed at all?

Photo-Performance, Performance Photography in Real Existing Socialisms

Special Issue Proposed for: Studies in Theatre and Performance
 
Special Issue Editor:
Katalin Cseh-Varga
LMU Munich / University of Vienna
 

Amelia Jones belonged to the first to address the issue of how much body art, in her wording, is reliant on documentation and the indirect transmission of information between a recipient and the performance event taking place.[1] In 1997 she wrote “[…] I insist that it is precisely the relationship of these bodies/subjects to documentation […] that most profoundly points to the dislocation of the fantasy of the fixed, normative, centered modernist subject and thus most dramatically provides a radical challenge to the masculinism, racism, colonialism, classism, and heterosexism built into this fantasy.”[2] And it is true no matter from which side of the former Iron Curtain one is researching the origins of event- and body-based art, the investigator is confronted with documentary material, such as photographs, and has to find a suitable approach how to proceed with the academic detective’s job. And indeed it is not an easy undertaking to approach private archives of avant-gardist artists who were active in times of real existing socialism although in most of the cases these are the key to systematically decipher the fruitful relationship between photography and process-based art.

As Sven Spieker has pointed out in his The Big Archive “[i]n the countries of the former eastern bloc, the media of technical reproduction and archivization […] were declared state monopolies […]”[3] – everybody’s medium was turned into an “[…] archivized object of near-ubiquitous […] visual surveillance.”[4] The strict rules of photographic restriction of e.g. the GDR[5] didn’t apply completely to, let´s say, Hungarian socialist order. This is one reason why contrasted to the use of text in propaganda and state documents, the camera became “the medial common denominator of the epoch”[6] – cheap and easy to handle with a lot of productive potential to a whole generation of neo-avant-gardists throughout the Eastern Bloc.

Photography as a creative tool found successful input in Eastern Europe’s non-conformist art around the 1970s. It was amongst others conceptual art “[…] which liberated photography and made it possible to accept it as equivalent to other artistic media.”[7] Photography was integrated into artistic creation as well as communication, but was also researched analytically in order to extend the possibilities of conventional art production.[8] In the arts already in the early 1960s photography was turned into a self-reflexive, critical medium that escaped rationalization or institutionalization completely. Directness and physicality were not only true for a radical “Western” photo-scene (to which e.g. Susan Sontag initially belonged to) but also to certain artists using photography behind the Iron Curtain. “Radical juxtaposition” and/or the “collage principle” were methods lent from happenings or avant-garde theater movements[9] and applied to the originally visual medium.
In this special issue we will focus on the central questions of why photography became a main mediator of performance art during real existing socialism and how it merged to a notion of photo-performance in post-totalitarian times? Compared to Jones’ case studies the topics we will be dealing with weren’t having the social, political, economic and cultural background of late capitalism and therefore were reacting to (or ignoring!) a different ideology and it’s failures. The background might have been different but in the essay we wouldn´t like to emphasize a complete isolation between the Blocs. With the proposed special issue the contributors are posing the still urgent inquiry of what kind of methodology does a scholar of Eastern, Central and South East European performance history require to work on photo-performance and performance photography in times of ideological warfare? And, to put it more provocatively, if a different methodology is needed at all?
 
This special issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance will be structured on the basis of an open call for papers. The editor welcomes abstracts that are addressing, but are not limited to, the following research subjects:

  • Performance-photography/photo-performance as “easy” forms of inter-/transnational communication, knowledge transmission within and beyond the Iron Curtain

  • Inspirations coming from conceptual art, adapted to photography and event-based art

  • Photo as “pure” form of documentation and a source of alternative historiography

  • Performance-photography/photo-performance as subversion, provocation, ignorance, internationalism and as an anti-bureaucratic visual language contrasting a failed ideology

  • Performance-photography/photo-performance as autonomous games, playful, ludic actions, as inspirations for visual manipulation

  • Photography as happening, action and performance

  • Photography as evidence against clandestine activity

  • Personal collaborations between performers and photographers

  • Performance-photography/photo-performance with and without audience – The privacy and publicness of photo-performance

 
Future contributors are encouraged to send their 200 word-abstracts accompanied by a brief biographical note to Katalin.Cseh@lmu.de by August 15, 2016.
 
After a thorough review process, a maximum of 10 papers will be selected and included into the final special issue proposal. The final paper submission deadline will be March 2017.
 
In case you are having questions don´t hesitate to contact Katalin via email!

 


[1] Cf. Jones, Amelia. “”Presence” in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation.” Art Journal. Vol. 56, No. 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century. Winter 1997. pp. 11-18, here p. 11f.

[2] Ibid. p. 12.

[3] Spieker, Sven. The Big Archive. Art From Bureaucracy. Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2008. p. 11.   

[4] Ibid. p. 12.

[5] West Brett, Donna. Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany After 1945. Routledge, 2016. p. 100ff.

[6] Szilágyi, Sándor. Neoavantgárd tendenciák a magyar fotóművészetben 1965-1984. Budapest: Új Mandátum Kiadó, 2007. p. 335.

[7] Križić Roban, Sandra. “Experiments, research, and shifting the borders of photography art since the 1960s.” Život Umjetnosti. December 2011. pp. 12-19, here p. 14.

[8] Cf. ibid. p. 15-16 and 19.

[9] Cf. Nudelman, Franny. „Against Photography: Susan Sontag’s Vietnam.” Photography and Culture. 2014: 1, pp. 7-20, here p. 9.