Amy Bryzgel (University of Aberdeen): Performance and Gender, East and West, Then and Now
In the 1970s, Sanja Ivekovic was one of the few artists from East-Central Europe addressing gender roles and the function of the mass media in creating them. By examining fashion magazines, the make-up industry, and even involving official Yugoslav security officers in her examination of gender (Triangle, 1979), the artist created pioneering work in a country that did not experience the same sexual and feminist revolution as did Western Europe and North America at that time.
Over three decades later, female artists in the former Yugoslavia continue to tackle these issues. Montenegrin artist Milena Jovicevic, for example, probes the consumption of the human body in Free Sugar (2011), a performative/interactive piece that invites audience members to suck on lollipops in the shape of a muscular male torso. Unwittingly, Bosnian artist Borjana Mrdja created a series of self-portraits that recalled Ivekovic’s Diary (1975-76). Whereas the latter collected the cotton balls and make-up removal pads used to remove her make-up, and created a collage with them, placing them next to advertisements for make-up from beauty magazines, Mrdja saved 100 make-up wipes with her self-portrait imprinted on them, in the form of the make-up that she had been wearing that day. Finally, Croatian artist Dina Roncevic took her nation to task in 2007-2010, when she attempted to solve the problem of making a living as an artist by re-training to become an auto-mechanic. Her project documents the difficulties she had in obtaining and maintaining an apprenticeship, when the men that she worked with considered her a ‘dumb broad’ incapable of repairing any cars.
This paper will take as its focus the issue of gender and the manner in which it is probed by performance artists in the countries of the former Yugoslav Republic. By juxtaposing the work of the most recent generation of artists with that of their predecessors, this paper poses the question as to whether the gender-based work of these younger artists can be considered to function akin to a countercultural social movement seeking to remedy the gender inequality currently plaguing these post-socialist states.
Daniel Grun (Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Bratislava): Performative Exhibitions and Artists’ Communities in the 1970s and 1980s in (Czecho)Slovakia
The cultural politics of the normalization period (1970 – 1989) in Czechoslovakia limited the opportunities for exhibition making and influenced the character of artists’ social activities. If we consider the exhibition strategies first practiced in these art spaces in the 1990s, before the fall of Communism, they largely amounted to exhibitions that took place outside of the gallery, running for brief time periods, held in makeshift conditions or with alternative hosts. But as Igor Zabel never fail to emphasise, the Communist system functioned at the micro level of everyday life, as the intimate structure of the system affected the entire society. This also had an affect on exhibition venues and on the artistic communities within the unofficial art scene. Meetings and short-term exhibitions were held in apartments, studios, or suburban areas, and places where state power, supervision, and control had limited reach. Provisional character of exhibition making, which often went beyond the institutional framework, leads us to speculate on the categorization of sites and locations; why they were chosen and how they relate to these activities. In my paper I would like to follow up the essay Espèces d'espaces (Species of Spaces) written by Geoges Perec in 1973 – 1974 and replay his “topography” of or rather associations about domestic and urban spaces and how these are occupied by the joint actions to investigate relations between both. In some cases, which I will comment, exhibition formats overlap with participatory art and performance art. Also because Slovak participatory art was already analyzed in other texts (recently by Claire Bishop in her essay The Social Under Socialism published in book Artificial Hells), I will concentrate more on situational aspects of the exhibition and focus on means of documentation (textual, photographic, and film) found in artist’s archives (Július Koller, Rudolf Sikora, Ľubomír Ďurček, Peter Meluzin). Also I will examine how archival materials were assessed in already existing literature. My aim is to articulate latent political projects—futurological projects, exhibitions in the form of posters, fictive institutions, activities in urban peripheries, and places beyond the control and reach of the state apparatus. Often such strategies were unavoidable, necessary for inner resistance and outer defense (against accusations of illegal activity).
Beata Hock (University of Leipzig): Communities of Practice: Performing Women in the Second Public Sphere
Research projects that emerged after the political changes of 1989 and narrated the recent cultural history of East-Central Europe have, with very few exceptions, focused on events and actors within the unofficial or semi-official artistic scene. Another trend that informed art history in the region in the 1990s was feminist criticism. These two trends, however, did not seem to converge in recent Hungarian art historiographies: studies of the counter-culture present a strongly male-dominated scene in which women did not seem to participate. The absence of women artists is especially conspicuous within the domain of happenings, actions and performances although performative genres were a preferred form of expression both within the Hungarian »neo-avant-garde« and international women’s art at the time. My talk will interrogate if Hungarian women artists indeed took little interest in the Performing Arts, or whether they were part of the scene but their participation remained largely undocumented? Proposing that we are facing the second scenario, i will go on to ask why is it, then, that we have had no art historical record or awareness of the existence and activities of these women? In searching for explanations, my inquiry will go beyond the discipline of art history to include other circumstances impacting on both creative practice and knowledge production. Finally, i will present some selected performances authored by Hungarian women artists in the late-1970s and early-1980s.
Roddy Hunter (Middlesex University, London): Beyond ‘East’ and ‘West’ through The Eternal Network and towards an Art-of-Peace Biennale
This paper will investigate how networked art practices construct spheres of activity to navigate geo-political frontiers of mind and territory relating in this case to conditions named ‘East’ and ‘West’. It will take Robert Filliou’s ‘The Eternal Network’ (1968) as a starting point to discuss other relevant models of practice possibly including Jaroslaw Kozlowski and Andrzej Kostolowski’s ‘NET Manifesto’ (1972); the ‘Artpool Periodical Space’ projects: ‘Telepathic Music’ (1979), ‘WORLD ART POST’ (1982) and ‘HUNGARY CAN BE YOURS / International Hungary’ (1984); Black Market International (1985-present); and Collectif Inter / Le Lieu’s ‘Les Territoires Nomades / The Nomad Territories’ (1994 – 1996). Analyses of such models will address ideas of collaboration, exchange and dialogue across space and time; the notion of spontaneous and ‘permanent creation’ (Filliou 1996); the seeming ‘immateriality’ (Krysa 2006) of ‘avant-garde’ networked art practices; and the ‘postmedium condition’ (Cook & Graham 2010) as reflected in a system of communication. Networked art practices will be identified as both aesthetically and politically attractive to artists across ‘East’ and ‘West’ given their decentralised potential to bypass the institutionalised space of a coherent, fixed ’public sphere’ into which social and artistic agents otherwise visibly enter and interact on terms required by authority. The network in this sense will in these terms be posited as being a ‘counter-public’. The apparently paradoxical relationship between aesthetics and politics itself will be critiqued and expanded beyond its modernist ‘cold war’ rhetorical model. To do so, the paper will broaden notions of ‘East’ and ‘West’ through outlining Filliou’s plans for an ‘Art-of-Peace Biennale’ emerging from his and Joseph Beuys’ meeting with the Dalai Lama in Bonn, West Germany, 1982 (Thompson, 2011). The only edition of the‘Art-of-Peace Biennale’ took place in Hamburg, 1985 and the prospect of curating any future edition will be evaluated in the context of the increasing dependence of networked art practices upon the internet, which potentially supplants the ‘globalism’ of communication sought by the postavantgarde during the ‘cold war’ with the military-industrial complex of ‘globalisation’ of its neoliberal successor era. The findings of the paper will contribute toward my broader research into the possibility of curating The Art-of-Peace Biennale After The Net.
Klara Kemp-Welch (Courtauld Institute of Art, London): Antipolitics in Action: Experimental Art and Theory in 1970s Central Europe
A new kind of radicalism emerged in 1970s Central Europe: one whose main asset has been characterised as ‘its very wariness of radicalism’. When striking shipyard workers met with a government committee to put forward their demands in Gdańsk in August 1980, they insisted: ‘We’ll have nothing to do with politics. Politics is your business, not ours!’. A wariness of radicalism and a refusal to deal in ‘politics’ also characterised a majority of experimental artistic activity in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in this period. Arguably, the refusal to admit politics, proved rhetorical, in both cases.
In an essay entitled ‘An Anatomy of Reticence’, written for the benefit of a Western audience, Václav Havel explained why a ‘distinctive central European scepticism’ was ‘inescapably a part of the spiritual, cultural and intellectual phenomenon that is central Europe as it has been formed and is being formed by certain specific historical experiences’. Paradoxically, he proposed, ‘the phenomenon of dissidence grows out of an essentially different conception of politics than that prevailing in the world today. That is, the dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power’. Dissidence, he wrote, is ‘tactical because it does not let itself be guided by tactical considerations. It is political because it does not play politics. It is concrete, real, effective – not in spite of its madness but because of it’.
This paper examines the ramifications of the reticence Havel described for the historiography of 1970s Central European experimental artistic practice, as its myths collide with those of the ‘global’ contemporary art historical canon-in-formation. Painting bread black, sleeping in trees, building portable trenches, inflating condoms in abandoned strongholds, riding escalators backwards, preparing tennis courts for extra-terrestrial visitation... were these anti-political activities or forms of existentialist compensation? I propose a re-examination of theories of antipolitics as a way out of the methodological minefield faced by socially-oriented artists and art historians today.
Andrej Mircev (Art Academy, Osijek): The Naked Body and the Proletarian Public Sphere
Focusing on two performances Lying Naked on the Asphalt, Kissing the Asphalt (1981) and 100 Whistling (1979) by the Croatian artist Tomislav Gotovac, the paper problematizes the, at first glance, provocative and transgressive potential of the naked body in public space. As the artist himself pointed out: "the naked body in the public space, in my town, is a blasphemy, an insult to the petit-bourgeois" and as such it can be considered a serious threat not only in terms of the violation of public order and decency, but also with regard to its political implication. Exposing the naked body in public space is a direct/confrontational gesture and a symbolic deed for freedom of behaviour within an authoritarian regime, which, at that time was already falling apart. The aforementioned performances challenge and subvert prescribed representations of the male body in socialist art, culture and public life and culminate in an attempt to erode the binary division between private and public. The underlying thesis we will try to develop with this paper is that the outlines of a counter public sphere are to be sought in a volatile, liminal territory, which resists clear cut definitions and is marked by an affective corporeality. On the other hand, the examples of the two performances will serve as a springboard and backdrop to confront two conflicting models of the public sphere: the bourgeoisie one and its counterpart, the proletarian public sphere, as it is conceptualized in the book The Public Sphere and Experience (Oskar Negt, Alexander Kluge, 1972). Regarding Tomislav Gotovac as a paradigmatic embodiment of such a subaltern counterpublic, it might further be argued that its geography is linked to a destabilizing performative strategy that sets in motion a new configuration of the sensible and displays all the normative aspects of public sphere. Yet, from a contemporary perspective and having in mind a radical exhaustion of the public space through appropriative processes of neo-liberalism, mass media and the ideological-economic transitions from socialism to capitalism, the question arises whether the naked body of Tomislav Gotovac signifies also a vanishing proletarian sphere, which will be omitted from history? Is that body already caught in a spectacularized code of the cinematic spectacle and therefore rather enforcing the public sphere of the petit-bourgeois? In other words, how to think of a public sphere, reflecting and being open to all of its ambivalence?
Ileana Pintilie (West University, Timisoara): Questioning the East. Artistic Practices and Social Context on the Edge
Talking about Eastern Europe both before and after 1989 proves to be a difficult task for the brave few who dare to undergo this experiment. This is not a homogeneous cultural space, the differences being justified by a dissimilar past as well as by a complex present, which cannot be reduced, in my opinion, to only a few cases and situations. This is probably why emphasizing some aspects, pointing out some random specificity can only secure the view of a puzzle, the Ersatz of a thorough outlook.
If Yugoslavia represented the model of „capitalist” socialism – and became, to a large extent, an exception in the Eastern Bloc – Romania was, at a certain moment at least, one of the most isolated European countries. Despite this growing withdrawal, despite the disaster and ruin of cultural institutions, the artists, as individuals or in small groups, opposed the communist regime by constantly attempting to elude and undermine the system with their specific means. Even if there was a huge disparity between the unlimited imposition of the so-called „cultural” authorities, which were, in fact, „cells” of propaganda, of the official ideology and of Ceauşescu’s personal dictatorship, these tiny „islands” appear almost miraculous in hindsight.
I am therefore in favour of the theory according to which there was a parallel culture, which was at times underground, at times open, „in full sight”, but the explanation for its survival is that its members and supporters changed quite frequently. With few – actually notable – exceptions, there was a dynamic of belonging to a parallel culture, where members were „alternated” for short periods of time, occasionally by accident, some of them taking part in the official art, too, for various reasons, which varied from cynicism, compromise, or challenge.
Performance art in the 1970s was, in Romania, a quite rare artistic practice, restricted to studio experiments or street performances (which were, though, very isolated), with no genuine public. This situation was completely different from the former Yugoslavian example, where the Students’ Cultural Centre in Belgrade enabled young performers to get in touch with a specialized audience. Nevertheless, the 1980s come with the statement of a younger generation in this parallel culture, which was more motivated and more determined to have access to the public space, eager to seek and obtain recognition from the „new” media (performance, body art, installation, experimental film, video productions). As a matter of fact, this is the very generation that sabotaged the officially closed system, which was growing more and more restrictive and oppressive, by joining international artistic networks, being especially keen on mail art.
As I pointed out before, the underground movement in the 1970s was timid and limited to an individual strategy, which was mainly creation-oriented, in quite difficult studio conditions (take for example, Ion Grigorescu’s films). This strategy was independent of institutions, even if the artists often had the support of art critics, who had become curators of international exhibitions. The role played by some of these critics was important, since they proved to be influential people, who could promote the artists both in the „official” contemporary art press and abroad, where many of them were more popular than at home. In the 1970s, the cultural exchanges with western countries was still possible and information about the trends in the art of the day was fully available.
In contrast, the 1980s came with attempts to create institutional structures, the young artists’ movement being organized in an officialized group, developed under the surveillance of the communist union of artists. Such a group, called „Studio 35,” was in search of official legitimacy, trying, with all possible means, to impose the above-mentioned new media and a sort of bad painting, which took the form of a desperate struggle against the system, in an attempt to acquire at least one „inch” of freedom of expression.
In a centralized country like Romania, the capital was normally supposed to bring together most of the artists and was expected to have the most dynamic evolution. However, already by the end of the 1970s and especially in the 1980s, the other cities, in the province, became, strategically, locations in which alternative artistic events and the expression of a parallel culture could occur without the fear of immediate restrictive reactions and repression.
After 1989, the parallel culture continued for a while, being, though, much more visible than before, becoming popular with the general public, even the street public. It is for this particular reason that, in Romania, parallel art moves from the background into the foreground. Performance art is the most conspicuous art form, which starts to play an important part, being politically and socially engaged, expressing, to a certain extent, society’s fears or convictions.
This tendency to transform the artistic creation, the opening towards the regional stage, first, and towards the international milieu later, managed to reshape and strengthen the regional and international networks which were already functional. At the moment of this genuine opening towards the public space, eastern art regains the similar features it had lost during its decades of isolation. The space of the East is now fully recovered and becomes well known with the help of a series of important international exhibitions. The debut and recognition of several eastern artists is the result of an enthusiastic cultural reclamation, and some of these artists continue their international career now that it is all up to their own skill to be present on the free art market. To conclude, I will offer two concrete „cases”: the aura of suffering and mystery, intensely supported by an impressive artistic creation under the harsh conditions of Stalinist communism, propelled Ion Grigorescu into the limelight of the international stage, while the critical spirit, flexibility and irony characteristic of Dan Perjovschi’s art transformed him into a resourceful performer – globe trotter.
Piotr Piotrowski (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan): How to approach to the Second Public Sphere in Eastern Europe before 1989
At the beginning of the paper I would like to rise two introductory questions: 1. Whether it was or not something as a general, common background on which we can see art in Eastern Europe? 2. Could it be or not a concept of the “second sphere” effective in East European studies, and if “yes” to what extant? In the second, main part of the paper I would like to suggest a different methodological perspective: instead of analyzing East European art in terms of dividing it between First/ Second/ or Third public sphere we can ask on the performative function of performance (and any other) art in the region, i.e. to rise a question: what kind of social behavior, ways of thinking, political and social prospects did it perform? The platform on which that problem I would like to discuss will be the question of gender in the visual/ performance art.
Angelika Richter (Curator and Art Historian, Berlin): Art and Body. Women Artists from the GDR in Performance and Action
There was an abundance of illegal happenings and actions within the unofficial art scene of the GDR (the former East Germany) as early as the late 1970s. Against the background of the official art doctrine of figurative, realistic and ideologically aligned “socialist realism”, inter-medial works that deliberately induced intersections between visual art and literature, music, dance-like movements and film opened up new aesthetic and political dimensions. The dilemma of action and performance art in the GDR was that in the time of state socialism it was barely visible or allowed to exist. Attempts to enter into the public sphere with a process-based artistic practice were strictly prevented from the cultural political side right up until the late 1980s. Only during the GDR’s last year of existence did the association of artists develop a new way of dealing with transgressive forms of performance, installation and environment art. Thus, the first event that exhibited performance art as an equal alongside painting and sculpture was authorised in 1989.
The reception during the last 20 years ensured that the chapter of action and performance art by male artists in the GDR was largely passed on. But what significance did women artists have for artistic transgression and the development of more process-based art forms? How can this chapter of East German art history be reconstructed from today’s perspectives?
The lecture will investigate into the artistic practice of women artists such as Gabriele Stötzer, Christine Schlegel, Cornelia Schleime, Else Gabriel and Yana Milev, and will touch on the conceptions of performance, on (gendered) authorship and different forms of cooperation within the second public sphere.
Sylvia Sasse (University of Zurich): „Affirmative“ Practices in Eastern European Performance Art
In Eastern European performance art we can differentiate between two performance types: performances conceived to facilitate an escape from official art production by engaging in activity characterised by eventful, processual, transient, and unrepeatable elements; and performances that explicitly referred to cultural performances by repeating, satirising, and exposing the way they function. These performances were themselves an instrument for analysing cultural agency in that they examined the functionality and meaning of the performative within socialist societies.
The talk focuses, for one, on the artistic exploration of totalitarian or real-socialist practices, rituals, and gestures, but also on artistic ways of action developed in the course of underground activity.
Due to a lack of acceptance of the genre on the part of the state, artists developed, from the very beginning, numerous tactics aimed at allowing activity and actions to take place without these events attracting attention or being recognisable as artistic actions. Such specific practices, which may also be labelled ‘secretive action’, ‘mimicry art’, or ‘subversive affirmation’, were characteristic of Eastern European performance art up to 1990. Artists for instance developed suitable underground practices that involved, in addition to searching for a suitable location to hold performances, the preparation and selection of participants and the acquisition of materials. These underground practices became an integral part of the artistic process and even became the subject of artistic research. The Russian artists’ group Collective Actions, for example, carried their actions out in the forest along the outskirts of Moscow and only invited friends, whose loyalty was unquestionable, to attend. Both the location and the invitation practices became signature features of their actions. There were other artists also working in public space, but their actions were almost invisible there, for they imitated the cultural practices of socialist leisure and festival culture. This was the case, for one, with Russian artist Anatoli Zhigalov and his parodies of voluntary work efforts on Saturdays, the Subbotniks, but also with Orange Alternative (Pomarańczowa Alternatywa), who imitated electoral processes in Poland. Many of these artistic actions went beyond experimenting with artistic devices and practices under impossible production conditions to represent analyses of societal practices. They explored the rituals, gestures, and techniques employed by dictatorial societies – and also themes of collectivity, individuality, independence, self-determination, work, freedom, ideological and artistic speech acts and writing styles. In this way, the artists developed the practice of reenactment and reconstruction as an instrument for analysis, making it possible for them to explore the real and discursive processes of dictatorial societies.
Misko Suvakovic (Faculty of Music, Belgrade): ASSYMETRIES OF THE SECOND PUBLIC SPHERE. Case studies: SFR Yugoslavia
Immediately after the World War II, Socialist Yugoslavia was characterized by political, military, economic, and cultural attachment to the Soviet Block (1945-1948) and, afterwards, the independent building of the self-governing Socialism in a complex multiethnic federal state (1950-1980). After the break of alliance with the USSR, Socialist Yugoslavia found itself between the Eastern and the Western political and military blocks, and at the same time, it established relations with the postcolonial Third World establishing and taking part in the Non-Aligned Movement.
During the 1960s it came to the establishment of a real network of timely and interactive international connections of Yugoslav cultural space, as well as individual national republican cultures, with international artistic practices and institutions. A series of neo-constructivist exhibitions entitled New Tendencies (Gallery of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, 1961-1973) emerged. In Ljubljana the international exhibition International Biennale of Graphic Art was initiated in 1955. Music Biennale was established in Zagreb in 1961. The Biennale became the center of new, i.e. vanguard music researches. BITEF (Belgrade International Theater Festival, Belgrade) was established in 1967, and along with the Theatre Festival in Avignon it became a prominent European center of neo-vanguard and, later, postmodern theatre. Alternative film festival GEF was established in Zagreb in 1962. Belgrade Film Festival, FEST, was initiated in 1971, and soon it became an international world festival. With the establishment of the Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade in 1971 numerous international festivals and meetings happend: April Meetings – Festival of Extended Media (1971-1977 and 1992), Performance Meeting (1978), Days of Italian Culture (1979), Video Meetings (1979, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1987).
Yugoslav cultural politics was, probably, contradictory on purpose. On one hand, it was addressed to the Western art, cultural, and political public as a sign of realized liberalized Socialist social politics. Official Yugoslav politics was shown as a platform which appreciated liberal modernity of the West, which realized autonomies of art in relation to the politics and which was realized in international cultural cooperation. On the other hand, Yugoslav cultural politics was addressed to domestic political structures and the “working people” as a liberalized and still by the party and institutionally supervised and didactically led politics of the democratic centralism in achieving Yugoslav self-governing Socialist modernization and emancipation. On the third hand, messages the Yugoslav cultural politics sent were also addressed to the East-European political centers of power, USSR and Warsaw Pact. The messages were ambivalent, they indicated that Yugoslav political course was in any case oriented towards the development of revolutionary Socialism and, at the same time, that Yugoslav cultural space in its “plurality” was something completely different from Eastern Europe and Soviet rigid course of institutional supervision, control, and punishment. Yugoslav neo-vanguards were not, therefore, in the East-European sense dissident social, cultural, and artistic practices, but practices on the margins and in interspaces of cultural institutions and their interests.
Jasmina Tumbas (University of Buffalo): Decision as Art: Performance in the Balkans
My lecture will elucidate how artists from former Yugoslavia, especially those associated with the New Artistic Practices in the republics of Croatia and Serbia during the 1970s, and Slovenia in the 1980s, addressed questions self-sovereignty, violence, and feminism through experimental art forms to ensue an opening up of artistic, political and social discourses. The unique context of Yugoslavia, where the ideology of self-managed socialism held sway while internationalism was practiced diplomatically and culturally, caused tensions and contradictions for maintaining the separation between the first and second public sphere typical for the rest of socialist Eastern Europe. Hence, the case of Yugoslavia offers an exceptional instance of socialist and capitalist ideologies colliding and cooperating. As the title of my talk indicates, my analysis will center on the question of sovereignty through the theme of “decision as art,” a phrase first introduced by the Yugoslavian artist Raša Todosijević in his action Decision as Art (1973). East European art is usually analyzed with regards to state repression, and my talk is no exception. However, I also question the notion of authoritarian domination in the context of the artists’ aesthetic determinations, especially the use and development of performance art as a mode of opposition. In my contribution to the discussion about the first and second public sphere, I will foreground how such opposition was especially apparent in performance works that addressed questions of gender and sexuality, embodying, exposing, and critiquing patriarchal constructions of being and living. Works by artists such as Todosijević, Sanja Iveković, and Vlasta Delimar will feature predominantly in illustrating how a history of performance and body art emerged that paralleled the West, but with different political stakes. By tracing a trajectory to contemporary discourses around the Balkans, my analysis will highlight those political stakes and explicate how Yugoslavia’s position within what Marina Gržinić has called a “non-existent Second World between the First and the Third Worlds” further complicates the political dimension and relevance of these artists’ decisions as art.