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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
This book proposes a new reading of contemporary art between 1958 and 2009 by sketching out a trajectory of ‘precarious’ art practices. Such practices risk being dismissed as ‘almost nothing’ because they look like trash about to be thrown out, because they present objects and events that are so commonplace as to be confused with our ordinary surroundings, or because they are fleeting gestures that vanish into the fabric of everyday life. What is the status of such fragile, nearly invisible, artworks? In what ways do they engage with the precarious modes of existence that have emerged and evolved in the socio-economic context of an increasingly globalised capitalism? Works discussed in this study range from Allan Kaprow’s assemblages and happenings, Fluxus event scores and Hélio Oiticica’s wearable Parangolé capes in the 1960s, to Thomas Hirschhorn’s sprawling environments and participatory projects, Francis Alÿs’s filmed performances and Gabriel Orozco’s objects and photographs in the 1990s. Significant similarities among these different practices will be drawn out, while crucial shifts will be outlined in the evolution of this trajectory from the early 1960s to the turn of the twenty-first century. This book will give students and amateurs of contemporary art and culture new insights into the radical specificities of these practices, by situating them within an original set of historical and critical issues. In particular, this study addresses essential questions such as the art object’s ‘dematerialisation’, relations between art and everyday life, including the three fields of work, labour and action first outlined by Hannah Arendt in 1958.
This chapter hinges on a comparison between George Brecht’s 1961 concept of a ‘borderline’ art ‘at the point of imperceptibility’ and the concerns with invisible forces and energies of an international group of kinetic artists, associated with the Signals Gallery in London between 1964 and 1966. While the evolution of Brecht’s work from 1957 to 1962 was shaped by a search for the concrete and the changeable in which other ‘junk’ artists, such as Allan Kaprow, were engaged at the time, the Signals Gallery artists were more closely linked to a trajectory of abstract and constructive art. Nevertheless, both the Signals Gallery artists and Brecht shared a similar desire to create experimental forms that would reflect a new vision of reality, inflected by both scientific discoveries and Zen Buddhism. In particular, the issue of perception was closely tied to the role of the spectator, whether in Brecht’s participatory ‘arrangements’ and ‘borderline’ event scores or Lygia Clark’s manipulable sculptures and her conception of an ‘art without art’. Brecht’s work is shown to have contributed to Allan Kaprow’s reflections on precarious ‘activities’, while both the artists’ work impacted Lawrence Alloway’s definition of an ‘expanding and disappearing’ artwork in the late 1960s.
Trapped in a context in which capitalism seemed to have colonised all remaining spheres of everyday experience, the ‘Generation X’ of the 1990s appeared to have given up the utopian aspirations of the 1960s. While some embraced the attitude of the ‘slacker’, however, others became involved in ‘alterglobalisation’ protests and debates surrounding a new ‘precariat’. These two figures of the slacker and the loser frame the discussion of precarious practices in this chapter. On the one hand, situating the works of Hirschhorn, Alÿs, Creed and Orozco within contemporary debates concerning failure, futility and apathy points to the ways in which weakness and stupidity were embraced through positive reversals. On the other hand, works by Hirschhorn, Alÿs and Orozco are related to debates surrounding the rising ‘precariat’ of capitalism, new alterglobalised perspectives inspired by Latin America, and a general interest, at the time, in informal labour and architecture, as well as the figures of the nomad and the refugee.
Introduced by the ‘junk’ and beat aesthetics in the late 1950s, the figure of the dropout or slacker served as a counter-cultural model for artists concerned with precariousness, and took on various forms later in that decade. Celebrating leisure and laziness as a challenge to the capitalist work ethic, artists such as Tom Marioni, as well as groups such as Fluxus or ‘funk’ artists on the West Coast, appeared as concerned with their daily experiences as with creating any specific artwork, thus pursuing an ‘art of living’, as Fluxus artist Robert Filliou called it. Other artists in the 1960s questioned the value of work by developing what Allan Kaprow called ‘useless work’ – types of labour that involve effort, but yield no lasting product or outcome. While such ‘good-for-nothing’ figures pursued the Zen ideal of wu-shih or ‘nothing special’ that had inspired both junk practices and ‘borderline’ art in the early 1960s, other artists looked for inspiration to the ‘adversity’ of some of the poorest members of society (in the case of Hélio Oiticica).
This introduction introduces the term ‘precariousness’ by contrasting it with the ‘ephemeral’. Precarious practices that explore the ‘almost nothing’ are situated in the context of studies of ‘nothingness’ and empty exhibitions in contemporary art. Such debates focus on the ‘dematerialisation’ of the art object since the 1960s, which will be addressed from a new perspective following Lawrence Alloway’s 1969 definition of ‘an expanding and disappearing’ work of art. Re-readings of the materiality of contemporary art since the 1960s are related to continental debates concerning ‘precarity’ in the 1990s, and traced back to Hannah Arendt’s 1958 remarks on The Human Condition. Two different philosophical books – Vladimir Jankélévitch’s 1957 Le Je-ne-sais-quoi et le presque rien, and Simon Critchley’s 1997 Very little, almost nothing – point to some of the questions and methods raised by the study of precarious practices.