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This book represents the first attempt to write a comprehensive account of performance art in Eastern Europe - the former communist, socialist and Soviet countries of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe - since the 1960s. It demonstrates performance art, which encompasses a range of genres, among them body art, happenings, actions and performance. In exploring the manifestations and meanings of performance art, the book highlights the diversity of artistic practice, moments and ways in which performance emerged, and its relationship to each country's sociopolitical climate. The book discusses 21 countries and over 250 artists, exploring the manner in which performance art developed concurrently with the genre in the West. It examines how artists used their bodies in performance to navigate the degrees of state control over artistic production and cultivate personalised forms of individual integration and self-expression of body, gender, politics, identity, and institutional critique. A comparative analysis of examples of performance art addressing gender-related issues from across the socialist and post-socialist East is then presented. The themes addressed provide local cultural and historical references in works concerning beauty, women's sexuality and traditional notions of gender. Artists' efforts to cope with the communist environment, the period of transition and the complexities of life in the post-communist era are highlighted. Artists during the communist period adopted performance art as a free-form, open-ended means of expression to give voice to concepts, relationships and actions that otherwise would not have been possible in the official realm of art.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book represents the first attempt to write a comprehensive account of performance art in Eastern Europe since the 1960s. Eastern Europe consists of the former communist, socialist and Soviet countries of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Performance art encompasses a range of genres, among them body art, happenings, actions and performance. It developed in Eastern Europe in parallel and in dialogue with practices in Western Europe and North America, despite its exclusion from the canon of that history. The book explores the various manifestations and meanings of performance art across Eastern Europe. In doing so, it highlights the diversity of artistic practice, including the different moments and ways in which performance emerged, along with its relationship to each country's sociopolitical climate.
In Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, Roselee Goldberg outlines the development of performance in Western Europe and North America, pointing to its origins in Futurism and Dada in the early years of the twentieth century. This chapter discusses the origins and beginnings of performance art in the former communist countries of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe demonstrating both continuity with, as well as divergence from, the Western model. In the former USSR and its republics, the experimental practices that began to develop after the Thaw in the mid-to-late 1960s were initially confined to painting and sculpture. This is because Stalinism and its control over the arts had a much farther reach here than in other parts of Eastern Europe, both geographically and temporally. Performance art in Poland was perhaps most thoroughly codified by the artistic pair and couple Zofia Kulik and Przemyslaw Kwiek.
Roselee Goldberg argues that artists in Eastern Europe utilised body art because it left little trace of the unofficial and experimental creative activity that it engendered. This chapter examines the manner in which artists from the East used their bodies in performance to navigate the varying degrees of state control over artistic production and cultivate their own forms of individual integration and self-expression. The artist's body can undergo its most significant transformation by being pushed to its physical limits, sometimes to the point of significant harm or near-destruction. Branislav Jakovljevic has written about the performances that took place at the Student Culture Centre in the context of the protests in Belgrade, among other places across the world, in 1968. The Autoperforatsions artisten had consistently staged visceral, destructive and absurdist performances and actions throughout the 1980s in Dresden.
The issue of gender, not to mention feminism, in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe remains complicated and fraught. Prior to 1989, the 'woman question' was largely considered to have been resolved throughout the region on an official level, with gender equality a stated priority of socialist governments. Performance art was a preferred genre among feminist artists in North America during the 1960s and 1970s, a time of political activism, when such work was embraced as a platform by both male and female artists. This chapter provides a comparative analysis of examples of performance art addressing gender-related issues from across the socialist and post-socialist East without sacrificing the specificity of each local context. It focuses on themes addressed by the artists of various generations, providing local cultural and historical references in the discussion of works addressing gender, beauty, women's sexuality and the challenging of traditional notions of gender.
Roselee Goldberg reductively characterizes performance art from the former communist countries in Eastern Europe prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall as almost 'exclusively' political. This chapter traces artists' efforts to cope with the communist environment, the period of transition and the complexities of life in the post-communist era that ensued. In Normalisation-era Czechoslovakia, artists utilised the medium of performance to express their views on events transpiring in the sociopolitical sphere. After the lifting of cultural restrictions on 22 July 1983, a number of public performances took place that decade that directly responded to the sociopolitical situation. The transition period of the late 1980s and early 1990s was also observed by artists through performance. Zoran Naskovski, one of the key artists of Serbia's independent art scene of the 1990s, marked the end of that decade with two related works: Apollo 9 (1999) and Death in Dallas (2000).
The 1960s and 1970s in the West were a time of great civic protest and challenging of the status quo. In Eastern Europe, there was generally no art market to speak of. In the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, the main patron of the arts was the state. Some form of a market economy did exist in Yugoslavia, but still none comparable to that experienced by artists in Western Europe and North America. One can observe numerous examples of Yugoslav artists engaging in institutional critique in performance art of the 1960s and 1970s. In the post-communist era, the need for institutional critique has perhaps become more vital as artists work to navigate both the Western art market and the local art infrastructure. Institutional critique is just one method by which artists in Central and Eastern Europe have been closely tied to developments in the West.
Artists working in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe during the communist period adopted performance art as a free-form, open-ended means of expression. Performance art gave voice to concepts, relationships and actions that otherwise would not have been possible in the official realm of art or in the public sphere. In the post-communist period, artists continued to embrace the experimental nature of performance. Performance art created under the communist and post-communist systems manifests other points of continuity as well. Just as East European artists working under communism faced potentially severe repercussions for actions deemed politically or otherwise subversive, so, too, have their post-communist successors, as the controversy surrounding Pussy Riot, among other examples, attests. The fact that performance art continues to be relevant in the region attests to its lingering efficacy in both the world of art and the public sphere.