Abstract The principal aims of the SocialEast Forum on the Art and Visual Culture of Eastern Europe are to encourage comparative research into the art history of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe and to examine how a revised understanding of the achievements and circumstances of East European art impacts on global interpretations of art history. The texts in this special issue reflect the interdisciplinary approach taken, with contributions from art historians, philosophers and curators. Subjects covered range from the experimental theatre of post‐Revolutionary Russia to revisionist interpretations of Soviet monumental sculpture, new perspectives on the competing histories of conceptual art in Eastern Europe and reflections on the memory of Communism in contemporary art. The legacy of East European art is addressed in terms of its heterogeneity, disobedience to accepted canons, and the quality of much of the art produced operating subversively within the system or within alternative cultural settings.
Abstract On the one hand the ideology could serve (more or less) as a common platform for any comparative art studies in Central‐Eastern Europe, a common point of departure, a sort of framework of art historical narrative there between 1945 and 1989. On the other hand, however, such an instrument is useless if we would like to go deeper and draw a sort of map of Central‐Eastern Europe. Aiming at the above‐mentioned tasks, it is argued, we should take into consideration particular political practices, rather than the ideological discourse, or at least that what Luis Althusser called Ideological State Apparatuses, understood as different processes in different countries, producing different meanings of comparable art in comparable historical moments in the region, rather than classical concept of ideology. To show how the problem works in analytical praxis three case studies have been chosen: Clara Mosch Gallery in the GDR, Foksal Gallery in Poland, and the Balatonboglár Gallery in Hungary.
Abstract The author’s intention in this article is to question the relations of ‘modernism’ and ‘Communism’ in specific cultural texts, ie, artworks and artistic paradigms. In Cold War Western literature we usually find authors who write about the difference and distance between modernism in the West and Communism in the East of Europe, in other words, about the East–West divide in the world. Today it seems as if these differences and distances vaporise and – in memory or in erased cultural traces – we recognise behind them different modes of modernism. Modernism and Communism are no longer seen as relatively different (’for modernism’ and ‘against modern’), but as relatively different answers to similarly contradictory stimuli.
Abstract Machines as they have been conceptualised in the works of Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze are based on applications mainly in two fields: war and theatre. This article follows the second line from the ancient deus ex machina right down to Tretyakov’s and Eisenstein’s orgiastic experiments in the early Soviet Union. Here the machine was given its threefold diversification as biomechanics according to Meyerhold’s theatre experiments, as the constructivism of the technical apparatuses and things on stage, and as the social machine of the Theatre of Attractions. The machine material of Soviet theatre encompassed the bodies of the actors, the construction and the audience. The montage of physical movements in biomechanics, the montage of technical apparatuses in the constructivist stage settings and the montage of the audience as a social machine sought not only a composition of organic, technical and social machines, but also the ‘becoming‐orgiastic’ of the organs, the flows of the technical constructions and the insurrection of the social machines.
Abstract The sculptor Vera Mukhina created Peasant Woman in 1927 for the exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of the October revolution. The artist explained that with her heavy‐limbed figure she wanted to create a Russian Pomona. Responses to and treatment of this sculpture demonstrate the ambivalent role of art in the Soviet Union in general and Peasant Woman in particular, however. On the one hand it was read as support for the official political line, on the other hand its formal construction is evidence of a self‐confident modernist artistic spirit. In fact, Mukhina never adhered to official art policies, which brought her difficulties in the following decades. Hence, rather than being an early manifestation of Socialist Realism, the sculpture joins European neo‐classical tendencies of the early twentieth century and is a late echo of Mukhina’s experience in Paris, 1912–1914. In the article the sculpture’s various interpretations are critically discussed and the artwork is placed within Modernism.
Abstract At the last Congress of the GDR’s Artists’ Association in 1988, the term ‘Socialist Realism’ was officially replaced by the phrase ‘Art in Socialism’. The Congress’s participants thus tried not only to do justice to the variety of art, but also to bid farewell to Socialist Realism as an aesthetic concept. But how were these two goals to be accomplished, without changes in the GDR’s institutions and power structures? A solution was possible, because the generation of leftist artists, recruited after 1945 to hold office in the new system and build a new socialist art, had been educated or otherwise active in the 1920s. They wanted to re‐appropriate the left’s modernist traditions, assuming thereby a position opposed to official cultural policy, which required strict accommodation to the Soviet model. This conflict concerning the proper attitude to modern art became the central discourse for the development of art in the GDR.
Abstract In its insistence upon the irreducibility of the human body in an increasingly depersonalised and depersonalising public sphere, performance art has always been a politically charged genre. Nowhere was this more true than in Communist Czechoslovakia, where strict censorship severely limited the range of activities that could be carried out in public. Czech performance art falls into two distinct phases, separated both temporally and in their strategies by the Prague Spring. The shift from acts of ludic rebellion during the 1960s to intimate, often violent body rituals during the 1970s is closely related to the events of 1968 and their aftermath, particularly the public self‐immolation of student activist Jan Palach. Palach’s highly performative suicide may be seen as a model for 1970s Czech art‐actions, which likewise posited the body as the last frontier of self‐determination in a repressive society. Works by Milan Knížák, Jan Mlčoch, and Petr Štembera are discussed.
Abstract The article explores what happens when artists attempt to control art in order to ‘solve’ conflicting definitions of art in the post‐Socialist condition with the use of two case studies. In the case of Little Warsaw, a Hungarian artist duo, representatives of the ex‐unofficial and underground artists were eager to take over the disappearing state control and claim authoritarian power to define the boundaries of art and police fellow artists. In the second case radical Russian artists, such as Oleg Kulik and Alexander Brener, Western artists and curators declared themselves the guardians of standards and norms in their desire to keep the status quo of Cold War art discourse alive and maintain their dominant position within it. The author refers back to the heritage of censorship employed by artists towards fellow artists and to the hidden history of gate‐keeping in modern art.
Abstract In the work of the Czech Milan Knížák and the Slovak Július Koller the author identifies how the artists applied the lessons of failed revolution in 1968 to developing new methods of artistic exchange and communication within the bounds of normalisation. The artists used strategies that focused on an ‘anti‐’ approach to modern artistic norms, but the artists were not revolting against Art. Instead, their activities became a means to create new pathways of information‐sharing about art and life within a repressive Socialist cultural and social system. Both artists disassembled the existing order of things into a potentially productive disorder of actions, texts and ideas. The needs of the Czechoslovak artists dovetailed with the trends of contemporary art, inasmuch as a drive for information exchange and communication led them to produce work that is classifiable in hindsight as conceptual.
Abstract The heritage of Communist Poland (known as the PRL) has become a major issue in contemporary Polish cultural and political life. The attitudes to the PRL are split between memory and oblivion and informed by personal and collective remembrance, as well as current politics. They illustrate Husserlian first and second memory as well as tertiary memory, mediated through diverse media emerging in post‐communist realities. The PRL context appears in the works of artists born in the early 1970s, who lived through the final disintegration of the communist system and were the first to face the challenges of regained freedom. In works by Monika Sosnowska, Wilhelm Sasnal and Marcin Maciejowski the PRL is seen as the residue of failed utopias, allegorical stories and subconscious visions. The artists perceive the PRL as a lieu de mémoire, which becomes a platform for communication in a divided society, while the arts can contribute to the overcoming of the PRL traumatic experience.
Abstract After the political transition of 1989–1991, what to do with the public monuments made in the spirit of Socialism became an important issue in post‐Socialist countries. Destroying ‘art’ seemed a barbarous response to the problem. One solution was to take them away to statue parks, as occurred, for example, in Hungary and Lithuania. The Hungarian Statue Park represents an intellectualising attitude to the sculptures put into a newly created context, which deprives the statues of their threatening effects and leaves them as no more than the mementos of a former era. The philosophy of the park is to create a distance from the up‐to‐date political environment, that is, from party political issues. In contrast to this use of art, the Budapest House of Terror evokes hate and stirs up emotions. What the House of Terror does is try to keep this outrage and hate hot, while the Statue Park lets it remain cold. But in each, the Socialist past remains unmastered. Neither of them triggers active memory work and helps to master the past in Hungary.
The journal is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.