Where do works of performance art begin and end? How do they or the traces they left behind live on in the context of exhibitions? What do performances in socialist Eastern Europe reveal about artistic expression, political critique or nonconformist social behaviour? The exhibition Left Performance Histories features action art in Eastern Europe from the 1970s on in a way that also reflects on its continued relevance in the present. The show includes works of over 25 artists, some well-known to those familiar with the alternative culture of the former Eastern Bloc, others possibly a new discovery even to the insider.
Rather than a comprehensive retrospective, the exhibition zooms in on a handful of selected topics that have been often left out of critical debates. Where the unofficial art of socialist Eastern Europe is conventionally framed as a reservoir of subversive gestures against an oppressive social, cultural and political environment, the present selection prefers instead to approach performance art as a site of jouissance where conventional self-presentation or socially approved forms of gendered identity, sexuality and standards of beauty may be bypassed. The exhibition also revisits the question of politicized artistic attitudes to suggest that the socialist state apparatus was not only challenged by anti-communist positions but also by critical voices insisting on democratic socialist principles or remonstrating the bitter ideological competition of the Cold War.
Through a diversity of curatorial approaches (including documentary display, discursive events and reperformance), the exhibition also interrogates how performance art can be presented in the context of later exhibitions. It considers the relics, documentation and memory of events as part of these works expanded materiality to propose a possible understanding of performance pieces as unfixed and continuously generated archives that need to be configured anew every time these works appear in public. With this approach, the exhibition explores how the histories of performance art are generated, controlled and understood over time. Left Performance Histories poses questions of what constitutes the artwork and who are the archivists.
Exhibition with: Vlasta Delimar, Orshi Drozdik, Tomislav Gotovac, Ion Grigorescu, Jürgen Hohmuth (chic, charmant & dauerhaft / ccd), Sanja Iveković, El Kazovszkij, Judit Kele, Tamás Király, Katalin Ladik, László Lakner, Zbigniew Libera, Marijan Molnar, Sven Marquardt, Ewa Partum, Zygmunt Piotrowski, Christine Schlegel, Hans-Joachim Schulze & Peter Oehlmann (Gruppe 37,2), Irmgard Senf (Exterra XX), Mladen Stilinović, Sven Stilinović, Gabriele Stötzer, Tamás Szentjóby, Bálint Szombathy, Raša Todosijević, Branka Stipančić, Želimir Žilnik