Issue #45, 2014

Continuity And Change: Performance Art In Eastern Europe Since The 1960s
Amy Bryzgel

In Eastern Europe, performance art has a rich tradition dating back to the 1960s, yet its history has not yet been written. This article presents a consolidation of my research thus far on the history of performance art practices in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe since 1960, based on original primary source research and in-depth field work in each country in the region, which includes the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and the Baltics); the Satellite countries of Central Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania); Yugoslavia; East Germany, and Albania. Since much of the region was closed off to the West during the Cold War, performance art traditions, namely, action art, body art and happenings, existed in relative isolation. Complete state control over official art (painting and sculpture) meant that performance developed unofficially, within closed circles; it also meant that no critical discourse on the subject was able to develop locally. Furthermore, lack of access by Western scholars meant that these traditions did not enter the discourse on performance art in the West. Despite this gap between scholarship and practice, artists in the region were well connected; some travelled West (Milan Knížák, Tadeusz Kantor, Paul Neagu, to name a few), yet Western artists also travelled East (Gina Pane, Chris Burden), a fact that makes the absence of literature on this history even more surprising.

In the 1960s, performance art became a dominant genre in the West. Motivated by a desire to unite art and life, artists such as Allan Kaprow created happenings that expanded the limits of the painting frame as visual art events taking place in real time and space. Feminist artists, such as Carolee Schneeman, also used body art, but their motivation was to become active agents in the creative process, as opposed to passive bystanders. Because of this focus on ephemeral action, Amelia Jones has characterized performance art as indicative of a shift from modern to postmodern, insofar as it serves to “destabilize the Cartesian subject“, given its interactive nature and the fact that it gives visibility to the artist. Furthermore, in the 1960s, Lucy Lippard and John Chandler noted a shift from a focus on creating objects to the process of creation in minimal, conceptual and performance art in the 1960s.1 Insofar as artists were creating live works of art through the use of their bodies, which were dependent on the presence of and interaction with the audience, Western performance art was often aimed at escaping commodification.2

It was also in the 1960s that artists in communist and socialist East-Central Europe began to engage with performance art, but for reasons that often differed from those in the West, and which also varied throughout the region. For example, in the communist countries of Central Europe, instead of an art market, there existed varying degrees of state control over official art and exhibition spaces. Unlike in the West, rather than a critique of art institutions, the use of performance in the East was often a way of reclaiming one’s body, and the space around it, from the state. Instead of operating as an extension of painting, it often functioned as a free zone in which to experiment, as a new art form that offered seemingly limitless possibilities. Writing about performance art in North America in the 1960s and 1970s, Robyn Brentano recalls that “there was a sense in the air that art would contribute to social change by changing consciousness and by operating outside the institutional confines of the art establishment where it could reach a non-art public“.3 In this sense, performance appealed to artists on both sides of the divide for the new opportunities it afforded. In socialist Yugoslavia, however, where consumerism was encouraged and connections with the West stronger, performance often did engender a critique of artistic institutions. But these voices of dissent emerged not from the space of the gallery or professional art institutions, as they often did in the West, but rather from within the Student Culture Centers established in major cities across the former Yugoslavia (Zagreb, Belgrade, Skopje) by Tito, to contain rebellious student activity following the wave of international protests in 1968.

That said, throughout the socialist East, the “women’s question“ was widely believed to be resolved, rendering feminism unnecessary – an annoying import from the West. Consequently, unlike in the West, examples of feminist performance were rare (even in Yugoslavia), although with some notable exceptions, for example: the work of Sanja Ivekovic’ (Croatia/Yugoslavia) and Jana Želibska (Slovakia/ Czechoslovakia). These artists used performance to wage a war on two fronts: against the patriarchal society in “really existing socialism“ and its veneer of equality. Thus feminist performance art in Eastern Europe developed from within a second social sphere, separate from any civil rights movements as in the West, and counter to received ideas regarding gender formation and identity in the region. These are but a few examples of the ways in which the familiar gesture of performance resonated differently in the distinctive space of the East.

It is not only juxtaposition with Western practices that can shed light on the unique character of performance art in Eastern Europe, but local and regional contextualization as well, given that the forms and meanings of performance art in the region also varied from country to country, and developed at different times, depending on the location. Because of the manner in which state socialism was adopted in each republic and satellite of the former Soviet Union, as well as in non-aligned Yugoslavia and isolated Albania, the methods and extent of state control over individual freedoms of expression were wide-ranging. While artists in Yugoslavia benefited from a liberal approach, those under Ceaușescu’s or Hoxha’s regimes fared differently. In Central Europe, artists in Czechoslovakia endured tighter controls in the 1970s, following the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in 1968, yet in Poland it was following Martial Law, in 1981, that controls became stricter.However, while the 1970s witnessed a surge in performance art in the unofficial sphere in Czechoslovakia, for example, this genre did not become as significant in Latvia until the 1980s. In Estonia and Moldova, it began to blossom following the establishment of the Soros Centres for Contemporary Art in the 1990s. Furthermore, performance artists in different countries of Eastern Europe grappled with different issues, depending on the local context. As a case in point, while there are few examples of feminist performance art in contemporary Latvia, numerous Polish artists deal with gender issues in their work (Natalia L. L., Ewa Partum, Zbigniew Libera, Katarzyna Kozyra, to name a few). The nature of and manner in which these performances took place serve as a barometer for the socio-political situation in different times and places in the socialist sphere.

In this article I examine the socially, politically, ideologically and materially different conditions in which artists from the East were operating, in comparison to the West. I explore what it means does to create performance art in these conditions, and what the function of performance was in this context. I also probe examples from the post-communist period, juxtaposing the work of contemporary artists with their predecessors. In most instances, experimental art practices such as conceptual and performance art were not taught in the art academies across Eastern Europe, and many artists learned of international examples before becoming aware of precedents from within their own native country. Most, if not all, of the contemporary artists in this article have experienced this situation. Consequently contemporary performance art practices draw on a range of sources, yet do not necessarily form a continuation of local traditions.

Because of the division of East and West during the Cold War, and the lack of access to contemporary artists in Eastern Europe, it was Western theorists that codified and defined the genre, their conclusions based primarily on Western performance art practices that were more familiar.4 For example, Roselee Goldberg’s seminal 1979 text, Performance Art: from Futurism to Present traces the origins of performance art to Italian Futurism and Dada. In discussion the history of performance and live out throughout the twentieth century, her text makes no mention of developments in Europe beyond the Iron Curtain. Amelia Jones has written extensively on the significance of performance and body art to the shift to postmodernism, yet she does so using only examples of artists producing work in North America.5 Likewise, Peggy Phelan’s work on the ontology of performance art and its resistance to documentation only focus on artists working in the West. However, the documentation of performance art takes on an entirely different resonance when one considers the specific socio-political conditions under which artists in the East were operating.

In the revised editions of Goldberg’s text (2001, 2011), the author included a one-page discussion on performance art in Eastern Europe, mentioning a limited number of artists: Tomáš Ruller (Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia), Marina Abramovic’ (Serbia/Yugoslavia), Vlasta Delimar (Croatia/Yugoslavia), Katarzyna Kozyra (Poland), Oleg Kulik (Russia), and the New Academy (Russia). Goldberg characterizes performance in the region, rather myopically, as a form of political protest, stating that “performance art had functioned almost exclusively in the East as a form of political opposition in the years of repression“.6 While there were artists that made overt political statements in their work, I would argue that these instances are far more limited than Goldberg asserts. In fact, more often than not, performance and conceptual art offered artists an arena in which to experiment, rather than being a vehicle of dissident political activity.

Furthermore, Goldberg rather reductively characterizes the significance of performance art for artists in the East, believing that it was the art form’s immateriality that appealed to artists working under communism. In her words, “with the constant threat of police surveillance, censorship and arrest, it was not surprising that most protest art related to the body. An artist could perform anywhere, without materials or studio, and the work left no traces“.7 While to some extent it is true that performance art appealed due to the possibility of creating ephemeral artworks, in fact performance art in Eastern Europe (as in the West) left one very significant trace, in the form of photographic, textual, and (in rare cases) video documentation. It is not only these visual documents, but also the verbal accounts provided by artists – in the absence of any critical discourse surrounding performance in the institution – that make it possible to trace the development of performance in the region and assess its meaning and significance to artists at the time. Finally, Goldberg notes the focus on the individual inherent in body art, and contrasts this with the collective impulse present in communism. For example, she interprets Kozyra’s 1996 work Olympia as emphasizing “the autonomy of the artist, a significant achievement in countries that had for more than half-a-century rejected individualism outright“.8 While it is true that communism emphasized the collective at the expense of the individual, this research demonstrates that more often than not, artists opposed state control not with individualism, but with self-organization.

The significance of Goldberg’s original 1979 text is not overstated. In fact, this text played its role in the development of performance in the region. As Goldberg noted in the 2011 edition, Tomáš Ruller used the text in a 1985 court case against him, as evidence to support his claim that his actions were in fact examples of “performance art“ as opposed to dissident activity. Bulgarian art historian and critic Diana Popova acquired a copy of the text in the 1980s, and translated it into Bulgarian, circulating it in the artistic community as samizdat.9 Artists in the region have also noted other texts that contributed to their understanding of the genre, for example, Romanian artist Iosif Király cited Allan Kaprow’s Assemblages, Environments and Happenings (1966)10, and Ruller mentioned Adrian Henri’s 1974 book, Total Art: Environments, Happenings and Performance, which he bought in 1977 when he traveled abroad with his father, in Western Europe.11 In most cases, however, artists who came into contact with these texts had already been experimenting with performance art, and the discovery of such texts and precedents to that type of activity simply gave credence to their work, and provided fuel to develop it further.

My choice of the term “performance art“ is deliberate and necessary, owing to the particular conditions in which various types of live art forms entered the discourse in Eastern Europe. While the term “action art“, employed by several art historians of the region (Morganová, Pintilie, Euringer-Bátorová), is relevant to historical Central European examples, performance is the only term used relatively universally across the region. Many artists in the region have mentioned that when they began working in performance, they did not have a term for their work, and referred to it in various ways, for example, as an action, show, or happening. When the terminology entered the discourse, it did so through significant texts, such as those mentioned above. In places such as Moldova, Estonia and Albania, performance developed much later, and is more widely used than “action“. Where it is relevant and appropriate to do so, I employ the term “action“ as a historical one, to distinguish between artists (such as those in Czechoslovakia, for example) who referred to their work in that manner.

Furthermore my use of the term “East“ is also deliberate, as it outlines a political and temporal concept, making a clear reference to those countries in Europe that experienced some form of state-sponsored socialism stemming from the Soviet sphere of influence during the twentieth century. I rely on this East-West binary, as it reflects the manner in which the artists refer to their work and position within the art world. I examine the countries in the region comparatively, as they all emerge from and are connected to the European tradition of modern art, having becoming distanced from only since the period of the Cold War.

In the first section of the article, I probe the varying theoretical and local sources that informed the work by performance artists in Eastern Europe, from the Western artists with whom they engaged to historical and cultural sources unique to each context. In the next section, I focus on the body, and examine the ways in which artists used their bodies in performance to navigate the varying degrees of state control over artistic production and cultivate their own unique forms of individual integration and self-definition, which includes not only individual identity, but national-cultural and gender identity as well. While many artists in the West used performance to critique the institution of art, from the gallery system, commercialization of the art object, and the institutionalization of art in the museum, in the subsequent section I examine the forms of critique that performance took in the East. In the final section, I examine the manner in which artists utilized performance art as a participatory art form to expand the range of their audience and engage with viewers in ways that would otherwise not have been possible, and also to give voice to the general public. In addressing these issues, I aim to demonstrate not why performance art in the region was important, but also the unique forms it manifested.


I. Introduction: Origins

In Performance Art: from Futurism to Present (1979), Roselee Goldberg outlines the development of performance art in (Western) Europe and North America, pointing to its origins in Futurism and Dada at the beginning of the twentieth century. She then traces a neat trajectory through Surrealist games and automatist drawings to Jackson Pollock’s Action Painting, and ultimately to the Happenings and performances of Allan Kaprow in the 1950s and 1960s. From there she goes on to discuss examples of performance art in places such as the US, UK, Austria, Germany, yet no mention is made of artists working in this genre under the specific socio-political conditions of state-sponsored socialism in Eastern Europe. While Goldberg traces the development of performance art in the latter half of the twentieth century to a reiteration of the historical avant-garde, specifically Dada and Futurism, in most of Eastern Europe, artists did not have such traditions to draw from. The evolution of performance as a genre is unique to each country in the region, as artists drew from various local and international sources.

In Central Europe, artists began working in performance in the 1950s and 1960s, around the same time as artists in Western Europe and North America. In 1962, the same year of Allan Kaprow’s Courtyard happening in New York City and Otto Muehl and Hermann Nitsch’s Blood Organ, which took place in a basement in Vienna, Milan Knížák (b. 1940) was hosting his Short-term Exhibitions in Prague, wherein he painted and exhibited his works on the street in front of his building.12 Two years later, in neighboring Poland, Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) staged his first happening, Cricotage, in Warsaw, while colleagues Alex Mlynárcik (b. 1951), Stano Filko (b. 1938) (both artists) and Zita Kostrová (an art historian) in Bratislava created Happsoc, a virtual happening in which the entire city was said to be taking part at the beginning of May.13 The following year, in 1966, Tamás Szentjóby (b. 1944) and Miklós Erdély (1928–1986) organized the first happening in Hungary, entitled The Lunch: in Memoriam Batu Khan. While each instance grew out of the local context and situation, these artists’ international contacts also contributed to local developments. For example, Kantor had traveled to the US in 1965, where he met Kaprow; in 1964, Alex Mlynárcik met Pierre Restany while on a trip to Paris, and continued correspondence with him after his return to Czechoslovakia; Szentjóby participated in Kantor’s Panoramic Sea Happening in Osieki, Poland, in 1967. Thus ideas spread not only from West to East but also across the East (as well as East to West), through a range of informal networks.

One significant point of connection between East and West was Fluxus, an international network of artists founded by George Maciunas14, who was originally from Lithuania. It was because of Maciunas’s connections to the East that Vilnius, in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, hosted a Fluxus concert in 1966. The concert was organized by the musicologist Vytautas Landbergis (who later became a prominent Lithuanian politician), at the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute, and involved a “concert chaos“ [chaos concert]. This was mostly a private event, with teachers and students present and, according to Petra Stegmann, there was “no large audience, no press, no scandal“.15 Indeed, it can be deduced that it did not make a big impression on the artistic scene at the time. When asked about their awareness of the Fluxus event when they were beginning their artistic careers in the 1980s, artists Ceslovas Lukenskas (b. 1959) (member of the Post Ars [Post Art] group) and Džiugas Katinas (b. 1965) (member of Žalias Lapas [Green Leaf]), both commented that they might have been vaguely aware that something of the sort had taken place, but were not clear on the details.16 Rather, Katinas indicated a different source of inspiration for his work in performance in the late-1980s: a recitation of abstract sound poetry by Lithuanian poet Sigitas Geda, which was broadcast on television. Gediminas Urbonas (b. 1966), also a member of Žalias Lapas, recalled a book on Viennese Actionism that was brought into the country by art historian Raminta Jure˙naite˙, whose father was a prominent member of the communist party, and thus able to travel abroad.

In neighboring Estonia, artists became aware of Fluxus through connections in Poland. Composer Toomas Velmet recalls that artists were inspired to create the first happenings in Estonia after they had witnessed Fluxus-type events at the Warsaw Music Festival in 1964. Commenting on the early happenings that took place in Estonia in 1965 and 1966, he stated that “this was not musical experimentation; there was very little music in it, and it was more like a happening. We called these things ’the theatre of the absurd’ or ’instrumental theatre’, in which the musical instruments played their part. The ideology of the performance was affected by that and by the performances of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, which we managed to see in 1964 in Warsaw, during the Warsaw Autumn Festival.“17 That said, he also stated that at that point, they “did not even know what Fluxus was“18, although the artists were aware of their strategies through the works of Cage and Cunningham. The earliest happenings in Estonia were thus created not by visual artists, but by musicians and writers. One of the most infamous happenings took place in 1968, as an official event at the Tallinn Writers’ House, entitled Cremona Round. The piece involved improvised action and noise music. At one point a violin caught on fire, because proper safety procedures were not followed. While no one was punished, Arvo Pärt, one of the organizers, had to write a letter to the Composer’s Union explaining what had happened.

Pavlína Morganová has written about the circuitous manner in which Fluxus materials made their way to Prague – via Leningrad. In 1964– 1965, Fluxus members and brothers Eric and Tony Anderson visited Prague, creating a private performance in Herberta Masaryková’s apartment. Owing to the “private nature“ of this visit, Morganová writes, it “left almost no trace“.19 However, the Andersons later traveled to Leningrad, where they met Czech art critic Jindrich Chalupecký, who brought information about Fluxus back to Prague when he returned to Czechoslovakia. Noting similarities between Milan Knížák’s Aktual Art20 and the aims of Fluxus, he sent information on Knížák’s actions to the US. When Maciunas learned of this activity, he named Knížák the director of Fluxus East.21 In 1966, the first Fluxfest occurred in Prague, which consisted of an exhibition by Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles (invited by Chalupecký), as well as a series of three concerts by Ben Vautier, Jeff Brener and Serge Oldenbourg (invited by Knížák), in which Knížák also took part.

Prague was not the only Central European city to have contact with Fluxus. In 1969, Budapest hosted its first Fluxus concert, which was organized by Tamás Szentjóby. According to Petra Stegmann, both he and Erdély had heard about Fluxus in 1966, when they read about it in Jürgen Becker and Wolf Vostell’s book Happenings. Fluxus, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme (1965).22 The concert took place using Fluxus scores (most likely sent to him by Gábor Altorjay, who had fled Hungary in 196723), and involved Szentjóby performing all of the actions, such as throwing a cake in his own face, and crashing into a piano. He also performed Tomas Schmidt’s Zyklus für Wassereimer (oder Flaschen) [Cycle for Water Bucket (or Bottles)],which involved pouring water from one bottle into another. What distinguished this event from the Fluxfest in Prague was that these performances were Szentjóby’s interpretations of Fluxus, as he had not been in any direct contact with Fluxus artists internationally.24 Likewise, in Bratislava, Milan Adamciak (b. 1946) organized concerts and events in the style of Fluxus and John Cage. For example, his happening Water Music was organized together with Robert Cyprich (1951–1996) in a swimming pool in 1970, and involved music being played in the changing rooms and under water.25

In 1977, Jarosław Kozłowski (b. 1945), one of the founders of the anti-authoritarian artistic network SIEC [NET], wrote to Maciunas proposing an exhibition together. His response was that the artists create the event themselves, since the nature of Fluxus is that no professional experience is required to enact the performances.26 The event lasted for four days, and consisted of Maciunas’s FLUXVERSION I, FLUXVERSION II, Flux Sports, a Flux Clinic, and a presentation of Flux Films and Slides, on the last day.

In Ceaușescu’s Romania, the situation was much different than in Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Poland. Although when Ceaușescu came to power in 1965, he distanced himself from the Soviet Union and appeared open to the West, his rule became increasingly repressive throughout the 1970s, reaching its culmination in his paranoid delirium in the 1980s. Ileana Pintilie has argued for the use of the term “underground art“ to label experimental artistic activity in Romania during the period of Ceaușescu’s rule, because of its lack of visibility, in terms of both viewers and the art historical discourse. In her words, this “suggests that these performances were unknown in the public space, which is defined not only by the audience and a number of participants who are spectators, but also by the presentation of art in literature, especially in art history and in art criticism. In contrast to other Eastern countries, an artist in 1970s Romania could not develop a street performance or a happening, or communicate with the general public“.27 This is evident in the examples of performance art from Romania in the 1970s. As early as 1968, Paul Neagu created a public performance on the busy streets of Bucharest, exhibiting his mixed-media boxes with which passersby could interact. By the 1970s, this type of public display was already impossible, and artists such as Ion Grigorescu (b. 1945) and Geta Brătescu (b. 1926) took refuge in their studios, creating performances “for the camera“. These staged and filmed or photographed actions can be considered performances, insofar as one considers the camera lens the audience. As Ileana Pintilie has written, in reference to one of Grigorescu’s performances, Masculin/Feminin (1976), “if this film was not necessarily conceived for public presentation – which seems obvious – then the artist must have ascribed such a role to the video camera, to the lens which should record the image and which becomes a ’partner’ of his explorations, a sort of ’accomplice’ of his most intimate thoughts and states of excitement, mental and physical“.28 The same could be said for the actions staged in her studio by Geta Brătescu from around the same time, one of which was filmed by Grigorescu. Confined to the interior world of their studios, these artists often focused on the banality of everyday life and things surrounding them, such as the artist’s hands (Brătescu) or his body (Grigorescu). Grigorescu also retreated to the free space of the countryside to stage solo performances, once again for the camera.

Performance came even later to neighboring Bulgaria. Evidence of performative activities dates to the 1980s, with the Cuckovden Group and DE (Dynamic Aesthetization) Group, which gathered around the figure of Orlin Dvorianov (b. 1951). The Cuckovden Group staged carnival-like actions, happenings and performances as early as 1985. The City Group, which came together in 1986–1987 following the initiative of art critic Filip Zidarov, aimed to develop an alternative to the “stylistic stagnation in Bulgarian art during the 1980s“.29 The artists associated with this group staged an inaugural eponymous exhibition in 1988, and the following year orchestrated a large-scale public happening entitled The Tower of Babylon in Gabrovo. In January 1990, their action Chameleon took place in front of the Palace of Culture in Sofia, and was described as a “political happening“, as the figure of the chameleon was constructed using communist party membership cards for the skin.

In socialist Yugoslavia, the conditions for creating experimental art were different than in communist Central and Eastern Europe. While it is widely acknowledged that artists in Yugoslavia benefited from greater tolerance toward experiment and more freedom of expression than their neighbors to the East30, it should be remembered that this freedom existed under certain conditions and was largely contained. The main condition, much like in Poland, was that artists refrain from criticizing the government or its leadership. Experimental activity in Yugoslavia was thus initially confined to a number of Student Culture Centers that were created across the country by Tito following the 1968 student protests that took place in Belgrade, Paris, and across the globe, to provide an anodyne space in which rebellion could be controlled, which would prevent it from coming into contact with the public sphere. Tito understood that youth were prone to rebellion, and since it couldn’t be stopped, it could at least be delimited. Miško Šuvakovic’ has also noted a further strategy of “neutralization of effects of the cultural and social transgression“31, by dissuading artists from exhibiting their experimental activity in their home environment, but rather to do so in other regions of the Yugoslav Republic. Therefore, the status quo in each region would be maintained, and transgressive activity would be displaced.

The Student Culture Center (SKC) in Belgrade was crucial to the development of experimental art, with the 1970s being the heyday of its activity. Seminal performances by Marina Abramovic’ (b. 1946), Raša Todosijevic’ (b. 1945), Zoran Popovic’, Era Milivojevic’ (b. 1944), Nesa Paripovic’ (b. 1942) and Gergelj Urkom (b. 1940) took place here, as well as the April Meetings, during which artists from abroad, such as Joseph Beuys and Gina Pane, came to present their work. Todosijevic’ described SKC as a marginal, closed space32, where artists were given free reign to experiment. When asked how their work passed by censorship and other restrictions, he stated that they weren’t taken seriously, since they were only students.33 Nevertheless, commenting retrospectively, the artist felt that they were working in a significant moment, and Todosijevic’ recalls that while working together, they felt certain they were “going to create a new kind of art“.34

A performative element can be seen as developing even earlier in Croatia, with the activities of the Gorgona Group (1959–1966), which often staged happenings and actions, sometimes on Mount Sljeme, as well as in the work of Tomislav Gotovac (1937–2010). Gotovac provides an interesting link between the artistic scenes in Zagreb and Belgrade, as he spent the years 1967–1975 in Belgrade while studying film directing in the Academy of Performing Arts there.35 In 1962, he created his first action, on Mount Sljeme, Showing Elle, a photographic action in which the artist partially undressed and showed pages of Elle magazine to the camera. While the artist showed one object – a female underwear model appearing on one of the pages – he also becomes the object himself, by having himself photographed, also with his clothing removed. While the artist had originally intended to be completed naked, he refrained from removing all of his clothes, as there were women present at the event. Still, the message is still conveyed effectively – with the artist bareback he is equally naked as the underwear model in the photos that he displays to the camera.

In the former USSR and its republics, where Stalinism and its control over the arts had a much further reach, both geographically and temporally, the experimental practices that began to develop after the Thaw, in the 1960s, were mostly confined to painting and sculpture. In the 1970s, examples of performance practices began to appear, most notably in Russia and the Baltic states. In 1976, the Moscow-based group Collective Actions staged its first action. Entitled Appearance, it involved around 30 participants traveling to Izmailovsk Field in Moscow, upon invitation by the organizers. Following their arrival, the participants were given certificates confirming their presence at the action. Octavian Eșanu has characterized the work of Collective Actions, from 1976–1989, as a form of artistic experiment – an effort to find “unique ways to investigate the nature of art“.36 Their work followed a common formula, involving a journey to the countryside, an action taking place there, and followed by discussion involving all present. Their work hinged on the concept of “empty action“, a state in which the participants were held by the anticipation of the action facilitated by the process of traveling to the event and waiting for it to take place. Eșanu described this as akin to “a meditation practice, where the subject is focused for a long period of time on a certain object, idea or psychological state“.37 In other words, for these actions, it was the process of traveling to them and participating that takes precedence over the action itself, above any singular meaning and significance. This focus on process as opposed to object production resembles the impetus surrounding the development of Western performance art.

Latvia’s first happening took place in 1972, when artist and fashion designer Andris Grïnbergs (b. 1946) married his partner, Inta Jaunzeme, in an action entitled The Wedding of Jesus Christ. The action took place in the Latvian countryside, and a dozen artists, poets and musicians in Grïnbergs’s social circle participated.38 Grïnbergs was a member of Latvia’s small group of hippies, and the .as well as indigenous pagan culture, such as the traditional Midsummer celebrations, which also take place in the countryside and involve a celebration of and commingling with nature. Grïnbergs, who was often under police surveillance for his atypical style of dress, described these happenings as pure escapism, rather than any attempt at artistic experiment or development in the visual arts.39 Just as in many areas of the former Soviet sphere of influence, it was the possibility of free expression combined with the safe haven of the countryside (away from police surveillance) that created small pockets of freedom throughout the East.

In the Soviet Republics of Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and as well as isolated Albania, however, actions, body art and performance came much later onto the scene. In Moldova, a space for experimental art really only opened up after the country broke free from the Soviet Union and established its independence. This space was created by the Soros Center for Contemporary Art, which was founded in the country’s capital in 1993, just a similar centers were set up across Eastern Europe in that decade. The SCCA Chișinău established a creative camp, CarbonART, which provided a forum in which young artists learned new techniques and were given the freedom to experiment with conceptual, performance and land art. Artists such as Pavel Brăila (b. 1971), Mark Verlan (b. 1963), Lilia Dragneva (b. 1975) and Lucia Macari (b. 1974) all began their performative work through contact with the SCCA and CarbonART. As Dragneva stated in her text for East Art Map, “the fall of the Berlin Wall, which chronologically coincided with Moldova becoming a sovereign Republic (independence came in 1991), didn’t in itself bring about structural changes in the sphere of art. Purposeful efforts were needed in order to synchronize creative quests with the mainstream searching of contemporary art“.40 Those “purposeful efforts“ were made by the SCCA.

Like in Moldova, in Albania, performance art practices did not appear until the 1990s. Prior to the end of Enver Hoxha’s rule in 1985, and the end of communist rule in 1992, there was little experiment in art other than subtle attempts to break from the strict canon of socialist realism, for example, through the use of non-representational color and abstraction in painting. These attempts, however, were quickly quashed, when the author of one such painting, Edison Gjergo, was imprisoned for his Chagall-like painting The Epic of Morning Stars (1972), and the painting was confined to storage.41 Consequently it wasn’t until the 1990s that artists began to branch out from painting and use action and the body in their work. One of the first performances to take place in Albania was by an artist duo, Flutura (b. 1970) and Besnik Haxhillari (b. 1960), who go by the artistic name The Gullivers. In 1998, one year after they immigrated to Berlin, they returned to Tirana to perform The Place Where Gullivers Sleep in the National Gallery of Tirana. The two mounted their bed on the wall, and slept in the gallery, merging the private space of the artists’ private life with the public space of the museum.

In the closed socialist state of the German Democratic Republic, experimental art was also slow to develop under tight restrictions. Although German-born Joseph Beuys was a pivotal figure in contemporary performance art, little was known of his work just a few hundred miles East of his hometown. Despite efforts to disparage Beuys and diminish the role of Fluxus and performance art in contemporary art practices, information regarding his work penetrated the Berlin Wall in various ways. In publicly denigrating his work, art critics and artists such as Hermann Raul and Willi Sitte brought attention to it and thus interest. Conversely, art historians who did not agree with these negative estimations, for example Klaus Werner and Eugen Blume, actively promoted his work through publications and public lectures.42 In fact, Claudia Mesch has outlined three separate strands of performance strategies in East Germany, one of which emerged from those artists who followed the example of Beuys, such as Erhard Monden (b. 1947), who planned a number of collaborative performances with Beuys, following his visit to East Germany in 1981, which never took place with the actual participation of the artist.43 The other two strands are occupied by the Clara Mosch group44 from Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), who had their first exhibition in 1977; and the third strand is represented by the Autoperforationsartisten, or Self-Perforation Artists, from Dresden.45 The actions of both groups have their origins in the annual parties or carnivals organized by art institutions.46 The Clara Mosch artists met as students in Leipzig, and moved to Karl-Marx-Stadt to work in the more liberal atmosphere created there by art collector Georg Brühl. It was there that they organized exhibitions and plein air activities (which were in fact documented by their Stasi mole, Ralf-Rainer Wasse), such as week-long outings in which they would work collaboratively in the landscape. The Autoperforationsartisten staged their first performance in 1986, Die Spitze des Fleischbergs [The Tip of the Meat Mountain] in the context of a student carnival, and in 1987 they presented Herz Horn Haut Schrein [Heart Horn Skin Shrine] in Dresden as part of their diploma work, the final piece necessary for completing their studies in stage design.

This admittedly very loose sketch of the origins and beginnings of performance art in the former communist countries of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe demonstrates both continuity with the Western model as well as divergence. While on the one hand, in the 1960s artists on both sides of the East-West divide were experimenting with and creating time-based works of art that privileged process over object production, such as actions, happenings and body art, artists in the East utilized a range of approaches to manufacture their own unique forms and manifestations of the genre. The reasons for these diverse practices are myriad, and not only dependent on the socio-political situation. While in some cases artists forced to work in the studio or countryside made the best of the situation by working with those limitations rather than halting their development in reaction to them (for example in Romania or Czechoslovakia during the normalization period), in other instances artists drew from and developed local avant-garde traditions, for example in Poland and Yugoslavia. While Fluxus was instrumental in spreading concepts and ideas regarding developments in contemporary art, it was not the only source for artists in Eastern Europe, nor were other developments in the West. In fact, the research demonstrates that performance art practices in the East developed concurrently with those in the West, as opposed deriving from them.


II. Performance and the Body

In the socialist spaces of Eastern Europe, the body had a unique resonance. Since public (and to a certain extent private) space was regulated by the state, this meant that the individual was constantly subject to the power and discipline that derives from living within the panopticon.47 Surveillance took varying forms, and existed to varying degrees across the East. In East Germany, either the Stasi infiltrated artist groups (Clara Mosch), or artists feared that they had (Autoperforationsartisten), but never really knew. In places such as Romania, or normalization-era Czechoslovakia, there was a similar degree of monitoring of public space. While in the 1960s in Czechoslovakia Milan Knížák was able to enact public exhibitions and performances on the streets, in the 1970s, artists retreated to the private spaces of apartments, basements and the countryside. Sanja Ivekovic’’s (b. 1949) 1979 performance Triangle demonstrated the extent to which even the semi-private space of her balcony was monitored during an official visit of Tito to Zagreb. Sitting on her balcony, drinking whisky and pretending to masturbate, the security officers stationed atop a high-rise hotel across the street noticed her and summoned their colleagues on the street below to knock on her door and ask her to leave the balcony (along with her things). Throughout the communist period, the body found itself in the crosshairs of state surveillance.

In utilizing the body as artistic material, examples of body art, action art and performance from the region illuminate the manner in which the body is always already located within a system – be it political, artistic, or otherwise. The nature of these different systems becomes most evident when juxtaposing examples not only from the East and the West, but from across Eastern Europe. In addition to a geographic distinction, there is also a temporal one, when one considers the changes that occurred from the communist to the post-communist period. For example, Piotr Piotrowski has characterized the post-communist period as agoraphilic, manifesting a “drive to enter the public space, the desire to participate in that space, to shape public life, to perform critical and design functions for the sake of and within social space“.48 Conversely, during the communist period this participation and design took place within a second public sphere, with a limited audience and viewership. That is not to say that this work did not have a social or political impact. In fact, in Antipolitics in Central European Art (2013), Klara Kemp-Welch has demonstrated how artists in Central Europe, whose work was not necessarily political, participated in the changes taking place across the region throughout the second half of the twentieth century.49

The use of the body as material also had a simple, practical element to it, given that it was readily available, and many artists were attracted to body art for the freedom it gave them to create and experiment. Dan Perjovschi (b. 1961) commented on the significance of performance and body art in Romania in the 1980s and 1990s in Romania, stating that first of all it was “cheap“, which made it useful in a time of material deficit. Insofar as artistic production was regulated by the state, resources were often scarce, and usually only allocated to official commissions. For example, the artist recalled the difficulty he had in getting a large quantity of white paper to create his performative installation, Red Apples (1988), when he covered the entire living room of his apartment in paper as a surprise for his wife, Lia Perjovschi (b. 1961) – an environment in which they lived for several days. But the artist also noted that after the revolution in Romania, the body was also considered “radical“, because of the fact that people had died on the streets; the body was not just visceral, but real.

While Goldberg argued that artists in Eastern Europe utilized body art because it left little trace of the unofficial and experimental artistic activity that it engendered, most of their performances were documented, and those documents had the potential to implicate not only the artists, but also the bystanders involved. In Tomáš Pospiszyl’s essay on the photographs of Czech Action Art from the 1970s, “Look Who’s Watching: Photographic Documentation of Happenings and Performances in Czechoslovakia“, he discusses the fact that most of the performances from that period (in contrast to the 1960s) took place in private, with a small audience of close friends. Because of this, the documentation of performances took on a greater significance, especially because it enabled the performances to be seen by other audiences – either contemporaneously, through circulation of the photographs, or by a future, “delayed“50 audience, which may or may not have included the state apparatus. As Pospiszyl has written, the audience that is captured in the photographs “knows very well that they are taking part in an art action. They also know that the photographs will be seen by a large secondary audience and maybe by the police, who can decode them as a disturbance of the peace. They take that risk. Their presence and willingness to be photographed means that they become part of the event“.51 The documentation of these performances is thus a crucial element to the longevity of the work of art. It also demonstrates the risky nature of experimental activity in the region, for both artist and viewer.

Zdenka Badovinac chose the body as the focus of her landmark exhibition, Body and the East: from the 1960s to the Present (Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1998), precisely because of its unique resonance in the context of Eastern Europe. Pointing out the fact that the body is social construct, it is inherently intersubjective, and can function as “another representational economy“.52 This statement echoes those made by Amelia Jones around that same time, that body art “insistently pose[s] the subject as intersubjective (contingent on the other) rather than complete within itself (the Cartesian subject who is centered and fully self-knowing in his cognition)“.53 Thus, interpreting these bodies in their context can provide illumination with regard to the socio-political factors surrounding them. In other words, by examining the various uses and expressions of the body in different locations across Eastern Europe, we gain a better understand not only of the particular significance of the body in each environment, but also of the nuances of the differing manners in which state-sponsored socialism was adopted in each, as well as the distinctive significance of the body and performance in the East, in comparison with in the West. Although Jones doesn’t write about artists from Eastern Europe in her work, her analysis of performance art can be instructive when looking at artists from the region, as she herself emphasized the necessity of contextual analysis. According to her, the “social, political and cultural context is crucial to this analysis of what body art . . . can tell us about our current experiences of subjectivity“.54 In this section, I examine 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 unique forms of individual integration and self-definition, including gender, national-cultural, among others.


The Present Body


Amelia Jones cites a significant shift that took place in art history and art criticism with the appearance of Hans Namuth’s photographs of Jackson Pollock at work, which illustrated an article published in 1951 in Art News by Robert Goodnough, “Pollock Paints a Picture“. In her estimation, Pollock’s action painting, which was revealed in these photographs, and which she terms the “Pollockian performative“, effectively reveal the artist to the viewer. His action, and thus the action of body artists, “unveils the hidden body that secured the authority of modernism“.55 In doing so, it reveals the act of interpretation as “interested“, as opposed to the Kantian “disinterested“ approach, “whereby the interpreter presumably determined the inherent meaning and value of the work of art through objective criteria“.56 In revealing the body of the author, body art makes clear the social space in which the artist is located and from which s/he creates. In fact, Jones argues that body art confirms the disrupting of the unified, closed, and independent Cartesian subject. In her words, “body art confirms what phenomenology and psychoanalysis have taught us: that the subject ’means’ always in relationship to others and the locus of identity is always elsewhere“.57 Consequently, it is through body art that the artist makes him or herself present, whether it is in the social space of the public or private sphere.

In many instances, it was difficult for the body, in the context of performance art, to be truly “present“ in the East, insofar as its audience for experimental art was limited. Ivana Bago and Antonia Majaca have characterized the audience for this work as a “delayed“ one, insofar as the reception for these works of art was primarily to be found among future viewers, not among the general public present at the time of the work’s creation. With regard to artists working in Croatia in the 1970s, Bago wrote that they “found themselves in an empty space . . . where the products of their work were neither destined for the market nor desired by socialist society, and could only be stored for a delayed audience, for future use“.58 In fact, this echoes statements by artists as to why they documented their work at the time of creation, given that in most cases they would not be able to exhibit it contemporaneously, either in the East or in the West. For example, Romanian artist Iosif Király (b. 1957) stated that he photographed his actions for a “future audience“59, thinking that maybe it would be seen, and maybe it wouldn’t. Similarly, Dan Perjovschi commented that he documented his work and the work of his colleagues in order to have a “witness“ to it, stating that in many instances, he “never thought it would be seen“.60 When asked why he documented an early work of performance art that he was involved in in Latvia, painter Raimonds Lïcïtis (b. 1948) commented that the artists “decided that it was an important moment, and it needed to be captured and preserved in that way“.61 Given the lack of possibility for many of these works of art to be publicly exhibited, the documentation thereof served the purpose of capturing, preserving and eventually presenting that work to an audience that could not be physically present with the artist.

Thus in examining works of performance in which the body features as a presence or material, it is important to consider the significance of the documentation of the action or event in this particular context of Eastern Europe. Peggy Phelan has argued for the ontology of performance art, stating that “performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented or otherwise participates in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance“.62 Given that Phelan was writing primarily about Western performance art, one might concede her point. However, it is my contention that the specific socio-political circumstances in Eastern Europe require a different view with regard to documentation. Philip Auslander has provided such a view, in his argument against liveness as a requisite of performance art. In defense of this idea, he maintains that live performance is not resistant to mediatization. In fact, in his view, “the word ’live’ is not used to define intrinsic, ontological properties of performance that set it apart from mediatized forms, but rather is a historically contingent term“.63 For example, he argues that the idea of “live“ only came about following the advent of the radio, with which the distinction between recorded sound and live sound might not be immediately apparent to the listener. In his words, “the concept of the live was brought into being not just when it became possible to think in those terms . . . but only when it became urgent to do so“.64 For Auslander, the very act of documenting an action or work of live art is what makes it a performance.65

Indeed, Pavlína Morganová has commented on the significance of both the photographic and textual documentation of action art in relation to the work of Czech artist Jirí Kovanda (b. 1953), who began working in performance in Prague in the 1970s. She described the consistent manner in which Kovanda dedicated one sheet of paper to record each action, titling and dating it, and sometimes including a short description, photograph, or series of photographs. In her words, “today these sheets of paper, which he once carried around in well-worn folders to show those interested, are viewed as artifacts. Indeed, they possess a certain aesthetic quality since Kovanda conceived of them as a kind of collage . . . Yet they were only records and documents, proof that the action took place and the methods used“.66 She further noted the fact that in the post-communist period, when artists became aware of the commodity value of these documents, artists “changed their perception“67 of this documentation, coming to regard it more as a work of art than a mere record of events. Just as the documentation of performance art in the West became commodified, through the circulation, exhibition and selling of these visual records, artists in Eastern Europe faced a similar situation upon entering the art market in the 1990s.

One can witness the significance of the photographic camera when examining the body and action art produced by artists across Eastern Europe from the 1960s until the system change at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. In Hungary, the work of Tibor Hajas (1946–1980) stands as a compelling example of the symbiotic relationship between performance and photography. The artist, who was in fact a poet, created dramatic performances with his body both in front of an audience and in private, but almost always with a camera present. His 1978 performance Dark Flash, which took place in Warsaw, is understood to be the first performance in the history of Hungarian performance art (outside of the tradition of happenings already discussed).68 The piece involved the artist hanging from the ceiling with his hands bound and his eyes blindfolded, while he used a flash to attempt to take photographs in the dark room. As with many of the artist’s performances, the piece pushed his physical body to the limits, and the artist in fact lost consciousness and had to be revived by the viewers present.69 The artist explored similar motifs in an earlier work, which László Beke has termed a “pre-performance“, at an opening for the exhibition Exposition, wherein the artist sat blindfolded, holding a camera, listening to instructions given by his assistants and attempting to take a photograph of another camera that was on auto-exposure, which was hanging from a rope.70

While the photo camera and flash featured prominently in his performances, in some instances he replaced the camera flash with an explosion of magnesium. Maja Fowkes ascribes his interest in photography to its role as a mediator between that which we see and that which actually exists in the world. In her words, it is a “metaphor for the relation between existing reality and its appearance“.71 Beke has stated that he used flash in darkened rooms because of the physiological effects on the viewer’s eyes, insofar as it would produce a momentary visual imprint of his work, and thus his body, on the retina. In Beke’s words, Hajas “required the audience participants to take home the image, burnt into their eyes“.72 Edit András has stated that for Hajas, it wasn’t just the possibilities of performance that offered the artist freedom, but also the photograph. According to her, “the only sites of freedom that remain for Hajas are his own body and the medium of the photograph“.73 Because of the fact that the artist was not able to live out his reality in an unrestricted manner, in communist Hungary (he was arrested in 1965 and imprisoned for one year, following his participation in a street demonstration), photography offered the possibility of constructing a different reality. According to András, he believed that “the photograph was a medium of freedom and the inverse of reality, instead of being a mere documentation of it“.74 It should be noted that Hajas was a poet and writer, and yet was also, according to Beke, the “founder“ of Hungarian performance art, thus indicating another unique source for the art form in the region – literature. When viewing the photographic documentation of Hajas’s work, there can be no doubt that his focus is on the body as an active subject, a material to be manipulated and pushed to its physical limits. The corporeality of his work notwithstanding, it is his work with the photograph that underscores the significance of the performative action for the artist.

Another artist who worked consistently with his body throughout his decades-long career was Croatian (Yugoslav) artist Tomislav Gotovac. While the artist’s concentration on performance developed from his interest in film, his performative work goes beyond mere documented action and showcases the mundane aspects of everyday life. For example, he marked the years from 1976–1981 as a long-durational performance, entitled Letting all Hairs on Head Grow, which ended with a public performance at the Vjesnk Bookstore in Zagreb, Hair-Cutting and Shaving in Public III (1981). In 1960, two years prior to his first performance, Showing Elle, the artist created a series of five photographs in which he dressed up and pretended to be an actor in a French film (Heads, 1960). Although not created as a performance, but rather as staged photographs75, these early pieces bear an uncanny resemblance to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977–1980), although they predate them by nearly twenty years. For his use of the body as his prime material, Ješa Denegri has argued that the artist uses his body as a readymade, “treating his own body, that is, as both the subject and object of the artistic event“.76 Indeed, throughout his oeuvre, it is the artist’s body that is present both in his work, and among his viewers, as many of his actions took place in the public space of downtown Zagreb.

In Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, the public performances of the 1960s, that had taken place on the street and implicated casual passersby as viewers or audience members, typical of Milan Knížák, were gradually pushed underground or outside the city. Following the failed Prague Spring and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968, the era of “normalization“ began; a time during which politicians aimed to bring Czechoslovakia back in accord with the Soviet party line. While this did not put an end to artistic experiment, it did displace it. The body art “troika“, for example, which consisted of artists Karel Miler (b. 1940), Jan Mlcoch (b. 1953) and Petr Štembera (b. 1945), produced a number of actions during this period in places such as the basement of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. At the time, Štembera was working there as a night guard, and used the position to his advantage by organizing clandestine performances and events there in the evenings, for a trusted group of friends.

These artists produced body art for a relatively short period of time, and much of this work focuses on the relation of the body to the surrounding world, as well as its physical limits. For example, in Either and Or (1972), Karel Miler is photographed in two positions: laying on the road, then laying on the curb next to it. In this way he delimits the road’s existence in relation to, and dependent on his body. Several of his actions feature a similar theme, for example Identification (1973), a photographic performance in which Miler tries to capture, on film, the precise moment when gravity takes effect, and he falls to the ground from a pile of concrete slabs on which he had been squatting. In Perpendicular (1973), the artist leaned his body back in order to make himself perpendicular with the hill on which he was standing. The fact that many of these actions take place out-of-doors and in the countryside is significant. When not working in the concealed spaces of the Decorative Arts Museum’s basement, the countryside represented a unique arena of freedom for artists in the Czech lands. Many of the actions that they created during this time seem to form a hybrid with Land Art, such as those discussed by Miler above. In this sense, they can be said to resemble British Land Art, with its focus on the individual in the landscape, as opposed to American Land Art, which concentrated on the vastness of the American terrain.

The artistic atmosphere in 1970s in Bucharest was not dissimilar to that in Prague at the same time. Ion Grigorescu was a painter who also created performances for the photo and video camera. Much like the work of the Czech artists mentioned above, his experiments took place either in his studio or in the countryside, and were shared only with a small group of friends. Echoing Denegri’s assessment of Gotovac, Ileana Pintilie has also noted that Grigorescu treats the body “as a ready-made77 (italics hers), considering it a material or tool like any other available for the artist to examine, manipulate and record. The artist has examined his body doing boxing and yoga (Box-Yoga, photographic performance, 1980), in relation to a chair (Chairs, 1977), and through a fish-eye lens in the context of his home (Our Home, 1976). He is also, like Gotovac, interested in the everyday regardless of how “mundane, repetitive and ordinary“78, writes Pintilie, capturing himself cutting bread in The Kitchen (1975), sleeping (The Sleep, 2007) and washing himself in a number of different ways: in Bathing (1975) he captured himself in his apartment, from the waist up, washing himself with water in a basin; in Washing Gestures (1978), we see a full-body view of Grigorescu in front of a blank background, demonstrating the different gestures he uses to wash his body, presumably in the shower; Washing with Light (1979) shows similar gestures, but this time the motion is captured as streaks of light using a long shutter opening on the camera; finally, in The Ritual Bath (1979), the artist, seated, performs the process of bathing, but using blue paint instead of water and soap, so that the viewer sees the trace of his motions on the body.

Writing about his experiments with body art in 2004, the artist stated: “My works evolved on a formal, visual path, in search of faire vrai, an attempt to get out of the picture surface. Writing scenarios, doing theatre in the mirror, voyeurism, illusion, excitement, manipulating optical apparatus, allowing optical apparatuses to produce art, allowing work to replace the works. This leads to conceptualism. The body gradually disappeared to make room for writing and criticism.“79 The focus on the body derived from his interest in reality and authenticity, thus he utilized the most visceral and real material available. Furthermore, he commented that he “became convinced that life itself is a performance“80, which also explains his focus on everyday life.

Grigorescu’s use of the body to get at the ’real’ echoes the strategy used by the Slovenian art group OHO, who employed the concept of reism in their work, by focusing on the object and its literal representation. Their most iconic and exemplary work of this approach is Mount Triglav (1969), a performative live sculpture created by three of the group’s members, David Nez (b. 1949), Milenko Matanovic’ (b. 1947) and Drago Dellabernadina, in Zvezda Park in the center of Ljubljana. Standing next to each other and draped in a black cloth, the artists became a living instantiation of Mount Triglav, a national symbol of Slovenia and the nation’s highest mountain peak. They also literalized the mountain, whose name means “three heads“ in Slovenian. The artists maintained that the words used to express different concepts were just as real as the objects themselves, and were worthy of being articulated. In their artistic manifesto, they stated that “the objects are real. We approach reality of an object by accepting it as it is . . . The word registers or pronounces such voice of an object. Speech articulates that voice signified by words. This is where speech meets music, which is the voice of the object captured as sound“.81 Thus the name and the physical land mass have equal weight as objects to the artists, which is expressed in their action, through the physical presence of their bodies both in the public space, and in the photographic documentation.


The Exposed Body

While declaring the presence and substance of the human body was significant in the communist landscape, one of the most declamatory statements the artist can make is to expose his body to the public. As Badovinac has mentioned, the exposure of the naked body is limited in both Eastern and Western environments. However, according to her, in the West this is usually due to morals and public decency, whereas in the East, the appearance of the nude in public could take on more political dimensions.82 In the Soviet Union, for example, there was a prohibition against nudity in art in general, and constant surveillance of public spaces meant that the exposure of one’s body, male or female, could have serious consequences. Still, the exposure of one’s naked body in the public sphere represents the ultimate form of freedom of expression. Tomislav Gotovac had his first taste of this freedom in 1971, in Belgrade, when he ran though a busy street, completely unclothed, as part of a scene in the film Plastic Jesus. Though the action lasted just a few seconds, as Gotovac ran from the safety of one car to another, parked further down the street, it is considered to be the first instance of streaking in Eastern Europe. Streaking became a phenomenon in US popular culture in the 1970s, most likely in response to the sexual revolution and hippie movement. For Gotovac, however, working in a country that did not undergo a sexual revolution, baring one’s skin in the public sphere equated to the avant-garde tactic of “shocking the bourgeoisie“. The fact that he counted on his actions to shock can be seen in the manner in which he constructed them. Ten years after his run in Belgrade, the artist created his first public performance involving streaking, entitled Lying Naked on the Asphalt, Kissing the Asphalt (Zagreb, I Love You!), where he did all of the things mentioned in the title, screaming the titular statement as he walked along Ilica Street, one of Zagreb’s main thoroughfares. The performance, much like most of his that involved public nudity or other indiscretions, ended with his arrest by the police. In fact, the artist embarks on these actions knowing full well that they will be interrupted by these so-called “guardians of morality“.83 As Ješa Denegri has written about these actions, Gotovac literally bares himself “to bare all those who in their own everyday lives resist and are afraid of the risks of any kind of change. Exposing his own naked body in a public place is for Gotovac a direct gesture, and a symbolic deed of freedom of behavior; he allows himself a large measure of freedom... calling on other people... to fight for their right to their personal freedom, irrespective in which area of human existence this freedom of action needs to be won.“84 While individuals in Yugoslavia experienced a greater degree of personal freedom than in neighboring socialist countries, as in any country there were limits to that freedom, as witnessed with Ivekovic’’s performance Triangle, mentioned above. Lazar Stojanovic’, the director of Plastic Jesus, was sentenced to a year and a half in prison because of the film (which was in fact his graduation project from film school), because he used film footage in a way that seemed to equate fascism and socialism (Gotovac, however, was not arrested for his part in the film).85 That said, Gotovac continued his public actions using both his naked and clothed body throughout his career, which lasted well into the post-socialist period.86 The continuity of this leitmotif supports Denegri’s suggestion that Gotovac used it as an expression of freedom, regardless of the particular human rights issues being faced at any particular time.


The Limits of the Body

The artist’s body can undergo its most significant transformation by being pushed to its physical limits, damaged or destroyed. Examples of extreme body art action can be seen throughout the history of performance art in the East and in the West. For example, in Shoot (1974), American artist Chris Burden had himself shot in the arm by a friend, in an attempt to experience first-hand the violence witnessed on a daily basis in the Vietnam War that was being televised throughout the world. In treating the body as raw material, it follows that one possibility is to subject that material to a test, to see how much it can withstand. Zdenka Badovinac has already decried claims that the restrictive atmosphere in Eastern Europe led to a “greater aggression of Eastern European artists toward their bodies“ in performance art, by citing examples, such the one above. She does assert, however, that the significant difference between works of art created in these two distinct geo-political spaces, is something “invisible and unsignified“87 – in other words, the meaning changes in connection with the context. According to Badovinac, “similar gestures are read differently in different spaces“.88

The artists associated with the Student Culture Center in Belgrade often engaged in activity that stretched their bodies to their physical limits in their performance. Marina Abramovic’ is perhaps best known for this type of work, but she is certainly not the only artist from Belgrade representative of this trend. In her first performance, Rhythm 10, which actually took place in Edinburgh in 1973, in the context of the Edinburgh Festival, she involved herself in a game of self-harm, by stabbing a knife in between her fingers, spread out on the floor. Each time she stabbed herself, she switched knives, until she used all twenty. As she had recorded the performance, she then played the tape back, attempting to copy her previous gestures, including the ones that brought her harm. In other performances, such as Rhythm 5 (1974) the artist lost consciousness due to smoke inhalation, and in Rhythm 2 (1974), the artist had seizures and then lost control of her body due to medication that she took to induce these physical states. In that same year, Raša Todosijevic’, another artist associated with the Student Culture Centre, performed Drinking Water – Inversions, Imitations, and Contrasts, during which he drank 26 glasses of water, in an attempt to synchronize his swallowing with the breathing of a fish that he had removed from water. Because of the large quantity of water he drank in such a short time, he vomited periodically throughout the 35-minute performance.

Branislav Jakovljevic’ has written about the performances that took place at the Student Culture Centre in the context of the protests that took place in Belgrade, among other places across the world, in 1968. In his view, the protests were a true challenge to the system, in that the student bodies that appeared in the streets were disorderly and destructive, and they refused to be homogenized in the way that one witnesses in the socialist spectacles such as mass rallies, Youth Day Relay Races, or Youth Work Actions.89 He describes such mass actions as the epitome of allegory, insofar as the people present are not represented as individuals, but rather emblematic of the unity of the socialist state under the prevailing ideology. Jakovljevic’ draws a parallel between the 1968 student protests and the performances that took place in SKC several years later. In his words, “the works of the Belgrade performance artists from the early ’70s are the sole legitimate continuation of the aesthetic intervention of June 2 and 3, 1968 [the dates of the student protests – AB]“.90 For him, whereas the bodies of the spectacle were allegorical, the SKC bodies were examples of de-allegorization, insofar as they turn towards “the instantaneous, the perishable, the ephemeral“91, citing works by Abramovic’ and Todosijevic’ as examples. He contrasts Todosijevic’’s “ascetic body“ in Drinking Water with the “athletic bodies that exercise in the stadium“, noting that in it was the protests that “made visible the bodies that were vulnerable and wounded; emaciated, unregimented bodies that don’t march and don’t exercise in union“.92 Like Todosijevic’, Abramovic’ deliberately made herself vulnerable, not only in front of her viewers, as in Rhythm 2, but also among them, as in Rhythm 0 (1974), when she empowered her audience by giving its members 72 objects to use on her as they wished, including objects that caused pleasure, and those that caused pain.

Czech body artists Petr Štembera and Jan Mlcoch created works of art that focused on the body and its limits of endurance. For example, in Grafting (1975), Štembera undertook a grueling attempt to graft a tree to his arm, uniting his body with nature, which resulted in him getting blood poisoning. That same year, he performed Sleeping in a Tree, wherein he slept in the branches of a tree after going without sleep for three nights. In Morganová’s view, in these works Štembera used his body as “a means for exploring and testing an undetermined situation“.93 Jan Mlcoch’s 20 Minutes also took place that year, a performance in which he sat against the wall, while a long rod with a knife at the end was pointed at his stomach. Setting an alarm clock for twenty minutes, he asked an assistant to move the rod closer to him, thus pressing the knife into his stomach, if he lost concentration at any point. Because of a malfunction with the clock, the performance lasted for 44 minutes. Like Štembera, Mlcoch creates situations that would present danger or harm to him, and willfully accepts the challenge. Jindrich Chalupecký has interpreted this as being about control. In his words, “they want to handle these extreme situations, not succumb to them“.94 The artists present the body as their strongest material to weather any challenge, whether real or contrived.

While in the communist period the body was utilized by artists as a symbol of freedom, and a tool of self-expression, it remains relevant and valid material for artists in the post-socialist period as well. Although limits on artistic freedom may be different after the system change, the body is still seen by many to represent the ultimate expressive element, one of the most visceral ways of connecting with one’s viewers or having an impact on them.

For example, Serbian artist Zoran Todorovic’ (b. 1965) does not see the physical limits of the body’s exterior as an obstacle. Rather, he moves beyond the layer of the skin to access the body’s interior, commandeering it in his work. In Agalma (2003–2005), the artist had fat removed from his stomach, which he used to make soap. During the exhibition of the piece, visitors were able to wash their hands with the soap; they also had the possibility of being bathed by the curators, in a private bathroom (in a rented hotel room). The piece is a token of affection for the viewers, as the title refers to the Greek word for a gift offered to the gods. In fact, it is a gesture of intimacy, as the viewer is invited to become a participant and benefit from the artist’s pain by washing his hands with the soap. Artist and viewer could not be any closer following the latter’s consumption of the work.

In Assimilation (1997–2006), Todorovic’ made aspic from human tissue that had been discarded after different cosmetic surgeries, for example rhinoplasty or liposuction, and served it to viewers at the opening of his exhibition. Those attendees were aware of the contents of the food being offered them; some tasted it, and others did not. Here, the recycling of these pieces of human flesh raises questions about contemporary notions of beauty; by giving viewers the opportunity to feast on that which is discarded in order to beautify, the artist asks them to consume for nourishment that which is seen as waste and excess by another. In the context of the opening in the gallery, it also gave rise to question about one of the most extreme forms of body mutilation, cannibalism, as some attendees asked whether it was legal, or even healthy, to eat human flesh.

The very visceral and recent public performances of Russian artist Petr Pavlensky (b. 1984) provide continuity with the past in the use of the body as a manifestation of freedom. However, Pavlensky’s performances are overtly political, not to mention public, and in the post-Soviet space of contemporary Russia this volatile mix has resulted in the artist’s detention and arrest. The artist has created a number of performances whose intention is to function as direct political protest and commentary. For example, in 2012, he appeared in front of Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, with his mouth sewn shut, holding a banner that equated the actions of punk feminist performance group Pussy Riot95, for which two members were eventually sentenced to prison, with those of Jesus Christ. The piece recalls the now iconic image of David Wojnarowicz in a film still from the movie Silence = Death, a documentary featuring artists’ reactions to the AIDS crisis in New York City, an action also associated with a political message. Pavlensky’s 2013 performance, Carcass, involved the artist laying naked, wrapped in barbed wire, in front of the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg, in protest of violations of human rights and liberties by the current Russian government. That same year, in Fixation, he nailed his scrotum to a cobblestone in Red Square, symbolizing the apathy and indifference of contemporary Russian society, which prevents people from acting and protesting against the very government that violates their individual liberties.


The Body within the System

Michel Feher has described the body as an “actualizer of power relations“96 in contemporary society. At the same time, he says, it “resists power“. Consequently, for him, the body encompasses the tension “between mechanisms of power and techniques of resistance“.97 Nowhere is this truer than in the socialist spaces of Eastern Europe, where the body, in both public and private space, was constantly policed. While compliance and conformity was a survival strategy, one possible escape was to completely disengage, in order to avoid the repercussions that came with activism. A third way has been discussed by Klara Kemp-Welch as antipolitics, wherein artists pursue their authentic selves but do not engage in politics directly. Amelia Jones notes the fact that it was Jackson Pollock’s “active body“ that was promoted around the world as a symbol of freedom (artistic and otherwise) during the Cold War.98 Furthermore, she described the development of performance art that involved the body, both of the artist and viewer, as a wake-up call by artists for passive audiences in the consumer age. In her words, artists created these works to “solicit rage, compassion and other emotions which would presumably break down the apathy and passivity promoted by corporate bureaucracy“.99 What the East lacked in corporate bureaucracy, it made up for in governmental bureaucracy, and one could argue that artists in Eastern Europe also utilized body art as a counter to passivity and apathy. Being actively engaged within the cultural sphere offered a sense of empowerment that was perhaps unavailable in other spheres. As Morganová has noted, artistic experiment was a method of endurance. In her words, “during the dark years of normalization, it was a world that they created for themselves to survive“.100

Performance art offered unique opportunities of resistance in a time of great political control. It enabled the artist to not only express opposition or dissent, but actually embody it. A case in point is Ion Grigorescu’s video performance Dialogue with Ceaușescu (1978), where the artist, playing the role of himself, as interviewer, and also the role of Nicolae Ceaușescu (by wearing a mask), proceeds to interview the man who had effectively closed down public dialogue in communist Romania. The artist’s comments about the piece indicate the freedom it afforded him: “I tried to . . . imagine how he would answer tough questions that in real life nobody would have dared to ask him.“101 He also commented on the risk involved, and stated that when his colleague, Geta Brătescu, saw the masks that he used for the performance in his studio, she rebuked him, stating that she didn’t even want to know what he was doing with them.102 This performance, in embarking on such subject matter, posed a risk not only to the artist, but to those in his social circle who could have been implicated by default, should the material have been discovered.

In Czechoslovakia, during the normalization period, artists also utilized the artistic space to give voice to concerns over what was taking place in the social and political sphere. In Bianco (1977), Jan Mlcoch lay on the floor for a half hour, spitting into his own face. He then sat at a table and worked on signing his name to a piece of paper for one half hour, but at the end of the thirty minutes, his signature was still not complete. The piece was a reference to Charter 77, a text published in that same year calling on the Czech government to address human rights violations in the country following the Prague Spring. The decision to sign the document was in no way clear cut; while on the one hand the signatories did so to remain true to their ethical beliefs, on the other they faced persecution and loss of employment, not only for themselves but also for their families. Mlcoch’s hesitance to sign represents the resistance on the part of many individuals.

In Hungary, Tamás Szentjóby was known for making highly politicized works that were critical of the regime. Eventually, his activity in experimental art and contact with dissidents led him to be imprisoned, following which went into exile in Switzerland in 1975.103 In 1972, he created a public performance in front of the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown Budapest. Entitled Sit Out – Be Forbidden!, he re-enacted the gagging of Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale at his trial for inciting violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, following his outbursts in the courtroom. In the Hungarian context, the significance of a man sitting with his mouth bound with a leather belt is an obvious reference to censorship encountered not only by artists, but all individuals. Under the Kádár regime, following the 1956 Revolution, Hungarian artists operated under the policy outlined by cultural director György Aczél, known as the “three T’s“ – Tiltás, Tûrés, Támogatás [Prohibited, Tolerated, Supported].104 While many ambiguous acts or works of art could easily fall within the “tolerated“ category, Szentjóby’s overtly political action veered into the category of the prohibited, and the police appeared shortly after his 20-minute performance ended.105

State control and surveillance over everyday life persists in contemporary Belarus, which has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. The public sphere is still tightly surveilled, making any public action or demonstration nearly impossible, for artists as well as activists, as it will be subject to immediate police interruption and arrest. This context makes any public artist action or performance that much more remarkable. In Patriot from 2007, Belarusian artist Marina Naprushkina (b. 1981) entered a bookshop and purchased a framed portrait of President Lukashenko. She proceeded to carry it through the streets of Minsk under her arm, on the subway, through the largest squares and main streets of the city; the entire action was filmed on video. When she arrived home, she put the portrait on the wall and stood by it while the national anthem was played. The artist managed to do this without attracting suspicion, by walking very quickly and never looking back. While she didn’t do anything to disparage the president or his portrait, the ambiguity of the act meant that she could potentially have been found in violation of article 368, part 2 of the Criminal Code – insult to the President of the Republic of Belarus. The piece was so ambiguous that some people asked her, as she passed, whether she was for or against Lukashenko. Another person asked if he could take a picture, and queried the purpose of the action. She responded by asking him why he wanted to take a picture.106 This interchange demonstrates the high level of suspicion and fear surrounding people in a country that is strictly policed.

In post-communist Eastern Europe, different concerns with the state, government and politics emerged. Many artists, and individuals, found themselves in the precarious position of being on the border between East and West, insofar as the West had opened up to this region of the world, yet the disparity between the local infrastructure and economy underscored the lingering divide between East and West that had supposedly been erased with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Two contemporary artists from Moldova address the concerns of the “Eastern“ artist directly, through performances that utilize disguise and costume, in particular using the plastic woven plaid bags that can be found across Eastern Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, often referred to disparagingly as “refugee bags“. Ghenadie Popescu has created a suit out of the bags, and in 2006 he made his first performance in the suit, when he walked around Chișinău’s Central Market, looking at different items – including the very bags that his suit was made of, which were for sale there. He says that the suit signifies the “time of transition“107 to capitalism, which, in his view, has lasted too long. These bags started appearing in the country in the 1990s; prior to that, throughout the Eastern bloc, shopping bags of any kind, even the plastic ones that are now customary in grocery stores, were nearly impossible to come by. The new market economy brought with it new products, many of which were cheap and flimsy, including these bags. But the bags were often all that people could afford; even the artist commented, with regard to his use of the bags: “I am from Eastern Europe. I am poor. This is all that I can afford.“108

Tatiana Fiodorova (b. 1976) also makes use of these iconic bags in her performances, referencing both her own personal experiences as a citizen of Eastern Europe, as well as the situation for locals in general. In 2009, Fiodorova applied for a visa to travel to the UK, and was rejected, with no reason given. In response to this, the following year, she did a performance where she painted her body black – representing herself as a slave, or person without rights, in the context of Europe and the European Union. Entitled I Go, the piece involved the artist walking around Chișinău with her face and arms painted black, carrying a plastic plaid shopping bag, representative of individuals from less affluent geographies. But this shopping bag was a blue plaid one, to which she affixed a circle of gold stars, making it resemble the EU flag. In her performance she visited the Brancusi Exhibition Hall, a café, and even an event entitled FLOW (Festival for Conversation for Culture and Science), where she met the mayor of Chișinău and had her photo taken with him. She recreated the performance in several other cities, without the black paint. These performances featured the “EU shopping bag“, photographed in various locations across Europe: Bucharest, Prague, Krakow, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam.

In her video performance European Clothing (2010), the artist examined the world of clothing and fashion as an identifier, by traveling through Chișinău to the Central Market, where she tries to buy “European“ clothing so that she can fit in in “Western“ society. Underneath her clothing, however, she wears old Soviet unisex underwear. While she may be able to change her outward appearance to become “Western“, she will always have her Eastern origins beneath the surface. A similar sentiment can be seen in the performance Star (2012), where the artist models clothing from the “Red Star“ clothing factory, where her mother used to work, during the Soviet era. She then attempts to make an EU flag using material from the factory, fabricating a European Union flag with materials made in the Soviet Union.

Fiodorova is committed to art that carries a message and addresses issues in contemporary society, demonstrating that the impulse to challenge the status quo and tackle injustices is just as strong in the post-Soviet period. Her performance The World is Dirty, the Artist Must be Dirty (2012) re-enacts Marina Abramovic’’s 1975 performance, Art Must be Beautiful, Artist Must be Beautiful. Dressed in black, and seated in a small space covered with her plaid bags, the artist sits down, takes a jar out of her shopping bag, and proceeds to cover her exposed skin with black paint, chanting the words “the world is dirty, the artist must be dirty“, just as Abramovic’ repeated similar lines as she brushed her hair. Fiodorova associates her position as a citizen of a post-Soviet republic of the former Soviet Union as having inferior status in the rest of Europe, an attitude that is reflected in the mass media and official rhetoric in the West, which often spreads fear and hate regarding a suspected mass influx of Eastern Europeans coming to the West to work, take advantage of the benefits systems, and overstay their visas. But the performance is not just about the position of a “dirty“ outsider, it is also about art, because the artist feels that art should not simply be about creating beautiful images. Rather, it should deal with conceptual issues and current problems.

The concerns with the discrepancies and distance between East and West captivated Romanian artist Teodor Graur (b. 1953) in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution in Romania and the end of communism. In a 1993 performance at the Zone Festival in Timișoara, Graur emphasized the disconnect between East and West by using a short-wave radio to attempt to make contact with the West, which had supposedly just opened up to countries such as Romania. Speaking in English, the artist asks if anyone can hear him, but there is no response. The tension between East and West was played out quite vividly in a car race orchestrated by the artist, together with the Euroartists Group, at the AnnArt Festival in Sfîntu Gheorghe, Romania, in 1994. In the action, a Volkswagen Polo races with a Romanian Dacia. Eventually, the cars come into contact with each other head on, and proceed to duel. In the end, the German driver is declared the winner – the German car is better and more powerful – and he is even awarded the “prize“ of a young Romanian girl who was a passenger in the Dacia. The fact that more than twenty years separates this early work of Graur and that of Fiodorova and Popescu indicates that the concerns of the “Eastern European“ citizen are still pertinent and present, even one generation after the system change and the opening up between East and West.

At the time of writing, the status of the European Union remains a contentious subject across Europe. Discussion regarding economic disparities, inequitable distribution of resources, and questions as to whether current members will secede, is ongoing. In Eastern Europe, however, there exist different topics of discussion surrounding the Union, most notably the question of accession, and what potential benefits or risks there are to joining the Union. While many from the former communist countries of Eastern Europe were eager to join the EU prior to the financial crisis of 2008, seeing it as a guarantee of safety and economic security, nowadays that argument is harder to maintain. In the post-communist period, a number of artists have utilized body art to create vivid statements about the relation of the EU to their individual destinies.

Slovenian artist Ive Tabar (b. 1966) is perhaps one of the most vocal artists on the subject of the EU and his country’s relation to it. Tabar, who is in fact a medical professional, with no formal artistic training, created a series of four performances in the period immediately before and after Slovenia’s accession to the EU in 2004. The first piece, Europa I, from 1999, dealt with Slovenia’s obsession with entry into the EU. The artist imbibed a blue liquid with gold stars in it, then placed tubes in his nose and pumped his stomach out. The piece plays on the Slovenian phrase “to have something/someone in your stomach“, which is used when you can’t stand that thing or person, and indicates that you have to simply pump it out. The next piece in the series, Europa II (2001), was Tabar’s protest against EU membership, which he found less pleasant than drilling a hole in his shin bone, which he did in the gallery.109 Whereas in English, the saying is “I’d rather have a hole in my head than... (do something)“, in Slovenian, the phrase is “it’s better to drill a hole in one’s knee than...“ With his performance, Tabar literalizes the expression to convey his sentiments regarding EU accession.

On the eve of Slovenia’s entrance into the EU, Tabar’s performance (Europa III, 2003) involved him removing his middle fingernail, which had been painted with the Slovenian coat of arms, affixing it to a plastic salamander – a species indigenous to Slovenia; and then “conquering“ it (and thus Slovenia) by sticking an EU flag into the salamander, demonstrating the fact that the country would now be taken over by the Union.110 Finally, in 2007, three years after Slovenia became a full EU member, the artist created a performance that expressed disappointment with the unfulfilled expectations that that membership was supposed to have brought. In Europa IV, he again drank a blue liquid, then cut a hole into his stomach, stuck a catheter into it, and transferred the blue liquid into a container with gold fish in it. Reading this performance literally, the EU “pisses on“ the promises it made to Slovenia.

Tabar began creating these performances after coming into contact with Jurij Krpan, director of the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, a venue known for hosting extreme body art performances by artists such as Tabar, Orlan, Art Orienté Objet, Ron Athey, among others. Tabar began working with Krpan because he wanted to use his medical knowledge combined his body to express himself.111 In doing so, he carries on the tradition of utilizing the body as the fundamental tool with which one can use to vividly convey the most intimate thoughts and feelings.

Tanja Ostojic’ (b. 1972) took a different, yet equally personal approach to the issue of EU membership and immigration. The reality of life as an artist of Serbian origin, following the NATO sanctions of the 1990s, hit hard as Ostojic’ gained notoriety for her work, and started receiving invitations to participate in international exhibitions that come with such recognition. Frustrated by the complicated procedures that she had to go through to obtain a visa to travel abroad, she decided to take an alternative approach, one that would simultaneously benefit her – if it was successful – by giving her the status of a Westerner with free right of movement through the EU – yet also implicate the bureaucratic structures and mechanisms that prevent people from having access to these “affluent geographies“. The project was entitled Looking for a Husband with an EU Passport (2000– 2005), and started with an Internet campaign, where the artist advertised herself, putting her naked body on display for the viewer, and asked for prospective suitors to contact her at the email address, The artist received a number of responses, and finally settled on a mate, a German man, Klemens Golf, who was also an artist. Ostojic’ chose him as the most suitable candidate because of the fact that he was well aware of the pragmatic element of the project, and understood the conditions of the arrangement, thus he didn’t have any romantic notions that the marriage would be anything but one of convenience.112 The artist emphasized that they did everything according to the law – it was, in fact, a legal marriage. But it was one that enabled her to get a marriage visa to come and live in Germany. By thwarting the system, the artist demonstrates its weaknesses and unsuitability on a human level.

This was not her first experience massaging the law. In fact, a work that coincided with the beginning of Looking for a Husband with an EU Passport involved the artist deliberately breaking the law, by crossing the border between Slovenia and Austria on foot, through the forests and mountains. Illegal Border Crossing (2000) was born out of necessity, as the artist had an exhibition to get to, and the visa process simply took too long.

The projects by Tabar and Ostojic’ represent the extreme lengths that artists will go to to convey an important message. While Tabar uses his medical knowledge about the body to push it to its physical limits, using his own flesh as a carrier of meaning regarding the important issues of the day, Ostojic’ completely obliterates the line between art and life, creating projects into which her entire life is subsumed. In doing so, both artists create very poignant messages that bring attention to relevant issues faced by their compatriots.


The Body and Self-Definition

As previously mentioned, Jones’s notion of performance as intersubjective has particular resonance with regard to body and performance art in Eastern Europe. While the communist state promoted uniformity, it was during and after the end of communist rule that individual nations began to reassert their individual national cultural identities. For example, in the Baltic States, the discussion of national-cultural identity was the foundation for the argument of the right to self-determination and independence, which eventually led to the gradual dissolution of the Soviet Union. In Yugoslavia, the government promoted a uniform, collective Yugoslav identity over individual ethnicities, which reappeared following the death of Tito in 1980 and the gradual disintegration of the nation.

According to Jones, it is through body art that we can investigate the manner in which individual identity takes shape. In her words, “body art asks us to interrogate not only the politics of visuality but also the very structures through which the subject takes place... “113 She also reminds us of the contingency of that identity, that the self “cannot be known outside of its cultural representations“.114 Piotr Piotrowski has characterized action and body art in Eastern Europe as a vehicle through which artists arrived at self-knowledge115, and in many instances this was done through an interrogation of the subject in light of local history and culture.

Borjana Mrdja (b. 1982) is an artist who became markedly aware of her own identity at a very early age. She grew up in Kozarac, a city in Bosnia with high Bosniak population and a Serb minority. When the war started, as she recalls, “I was called a ’Serb’ in abusive way, and as a child I didn’t realize what it meant. At that time I thought that we are all the same as Yugoslavians. The city was directly hit by war activities, and my family and me had to leave suddenly. So at a very early age I began to realize and question those historic, national and religious differences. And these are the roots of my interest in identity issues...“116 Several years after the war, in 2010, she recognized that a scar she had on her hand, from being burned by an iron in 1985, had transformed into a shape resembling the current borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and captured this in a photograph where she outlined the borderin pen, titling the piece Border. She said that the photograph demonstrates the “burden of the border“, an entity that is usually invisible and conceptual, which in this instance is actually imprinted on her own body. The scar echoes the burden of the invisible border that each of us bears in the form of our own personal, individual identity, which is mapped onto our social, cultural, national and ethnic identities, in addition to the meanings of those identities that are imposed upon us from outside. In 2011, Mrdja shared this experience related to border inscriptions on the body with her audience, at the MS Dockville Festival in Hamburg. However, in this performative piece, entitled Border MS Dockville, the border unites, instead of dividing. Mrdja designed a stamp with the outline of the border of the location of Dockville, and stamped the hand of each visitor to the festival, all of whom – for the duration of their time at the festival – shared the same borders both in terms of the space that they were occupying and by the border inscribed on their bodies. In doing so, she demonstrates the temporal nature of borders, which are relative and subject to change.

While Mrdja’s scar was accidental, Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi deliberately marked his skin with an indicator of his national identity, in a performance entitled Romania (Zone Festival, Timișoara, 1993), during which he had the word Romania tattooed on his arm, literally branding himself with his national identity. Ten years later, he had the tattoo removed in a performance entitled Erasing Romania. But the ink, he said, can never be truly removed; by treating it with lasers the ink is simply redistributed through his arm.117 The symbolism is not lost on the artist: although he declared himself “healed“ of Romania, he can never escape his origins.

Bulgarian artist Rassim (Krastev) (b. 1972) continually redefines himself through the contours of his physical body, carving it out as a sculpture. One his earliest projects was Corrections, a long-durational performance in which the artist spent two years developing his body, working out according to a program devised by a professional body builder, and consuming special foods and proteins to bulk up his muscles. According to the artist, body-building was prohibited during the communist period, as it was associated with Western capitalist culture.118 In fact, there was only one specialist in this type of training in Bulgaria, whom the artist used as a consultant on the project. The aim of the project, according to the artist, was to create a new, modern sculpture. When the piece was exhibited in Bulgaria, curator Maria Vassileva wrote about Rassim as the “new Michelangelo“119; whereas Michelangelo created sculpture from marble, Rassim sculpts his body. For the artist, Corrections was a live sculpture, which took two years to create.

The artist said that the project developed out of the situation in his life at the time. In 1991, he entered the army, as part of his mandatory military service. It was difficult for him, and he was looking for a way to escape, however he came to the realization that there is no escape from real life. After his military service, he entered the art academy and tried to think about a way to connect his life with his art. And from there he developed the idea of creating a live sculpture with his own body. At the time, this type of radical body art was marginal in Bulgaria; it wasn’t really accepted by academics, and there were no real sources for the artist to draw from, so he says that he was mainly working intuitively. The project was actually financed by a foreign investor – FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon in Montpellier, France. Luchezar Boyadzijev has noted the fact that Rassim’s “transformation“ had in fact been paid for by the West.120 Whereas Bulgaria itself was going through a period of transformation, Rassim’s was the only one that was really successful, and it had been financed by Western sources.

Four years later, Rassim underwent another physical change, in Corrections II (2002), when the artist had himself circumcised, the procedure documented accordingly. The artist commented that this piece was about religion, which was a contentious issue both in the aftermath of 9/11 and in Bulgaria during the communist period. In the 1980s, the communist government changed the names of Bulgarian people of Turkish origin, effectively Christianizing them. The artist took a different approach, by physically altering his body. As the artist has commented, despite these alterations, he remained the same person.121 Likewise, the changing of one’s name does not effectively change the person at all. As Diana Popova has argued, in changing his body, Rassim has literally become like the ’Other’122; in being circumcised, he identifies with this Other, and yet still remains himself.

While Mrdja noted the “burden of the border“, Serbian artist Vladimir Nikolic’ (b. 1974) feels this pressure as a geographic and political one. As a Serbian artist, Nikolic’ describes himself as bearing a “geopolitical burden“123, and feels that he cannot present his work in an international context as a “free man“, unencumbered by his ethnicity, since foreign curators and art historians expect his work to reflect his origins, specifically the post-conflict situation of Serbia. As a way of dealing with these concerns, in 2004, he brought a Montenegrin dirge singer to the grave of Marcel Duchamp to sing, as part of an artistic performance entitled Death Anniversary. In the artist’s experience, curators only expect art about war from a Serbian artist, yet this is precisely the opposite of what Duchamp had intended with the readymade – to take an object out of its context and provide it with a new meaning, divorced of its source. In the performance, the dirge singer is positioned between Nikolic’ and Duchamp, preventing the former from gaining access to the legacy of the latter, and entering the international art context freely.

It is interesting to note that while these artists use performance art to map out and explore their national cultural and artistic identities, they do so using an ephemeral and fleeting gesture, demonstrating the fact that identity can never be fixed, and is constantly redefined and renegotiated in relation to context. Nevertheless, these passing sentiments are given more permanence by way of simply being present.


The Gendered Body

Performance art was a preferred genre among feminist artists in North America who were working at a time when performance was rapidly gaining currency among both male and female artists, in the 1960s and 1970s, providing a platform that enabled agency in the artwork – especially in an era of political activism. Performance enabled women to become active subjects, as opposed to passive objects of the artwork.124 In revealing the artist in the act of creation, no longer cloaked by the canvas of the painting, the work is no longer susceptible to the purported objective criticism of modernist formalism, which examines the work of art independent of any external social or political factors, including the fact that the artist is a gendered subject. Instead, she argues, “when the body in performance is female, obviously queer, non-white, exaggeratedly (hyper)- masculine, or otherwise enacted against the grain of the normative subject (the straight, white, upper-middle-class, male subject coincident with the category ’artist’ in Western culture) the hidden logic of exclusionism underlying modernist art history and criticism is exposed“.125 Through the presence of the body in performance, other subjectivities gain visibility and agency.

The notion of feminism in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe prior to 1989 is complicated by the fact that, during that time, the women’s question, or an official level, was considered largely to have been “resolved“.126 While the feminist movement erupted in North America in the 1960s, and a feminist art movement began on its heels in the 1970s, women across the East, benefiting from equal job opportunities and equal pay, did not revolt. Even though in the domestic sphere, the situation was quite different, with traditional gender roles being maintained, in the social sphere, “feminism“ was considered unnecessary, an annoying import from the West. The drive to rectify iniquities in the private sphere was further hampered by socio-political circumstances in the East. As Martina Pachmanová has explained, in places where the state exercised control over much of everyday life, the common “enemy“ for all was the totalitarian regime, “which women and men in the counterculture fought against“.127 Of course not everyone, however, agreed that feminism was unnecessary. For example, in the 1970s, artists such as Jana Želibská (Slovakia/Czechoslovakia), Natalia L. L. (Poland), and Sanja Ivekovic’ (Croatia/Yugoslavia) created pioneering works that addressed issues of gender and femininity.

In the post-socialist period, the veneer of egalitarianism that the regimes claimed to offer quickly crumbled, leaving behind the patriarchal society that had always been present beneath. That said, no new wave of feminism emerged to combat the new forces of conservative right-wing governments, nor the reinvigorated voice of the Church. Bojana Pejic’ has suggested that in the former Yugoslavia, for example, the aversion to feminism in the post-socialist period relates to a desire to forget the shared past of Yugoslavia following the bitter wars of the 1990s.128 In other countries, the Church replaced the state as the authoritarian voice, and continued to uphold traditional gender roles. Furthermore, across Central Europe, women saw femininity as a new right to exercise, following the homogenization of gender and stifling of femininity in favor of the image of the proletarian mother of the newfound socialist state.

In socialist Yugoslavia, which succeeded in combining consumer culture with ideology, the situation was ripe for critique of the culture of the spectacle, the reification of the female body and the male gaze. Sanja Ivekovic’, for example, scrutinized these mechanisms at work in the mass media, exposing the manner in which femininity and notions of beauty are constructed. In her 1976 video performance, Make-Up, Make-Down, the application of make-up is fetishized, by being shown as a sensual act. The camera focuses on the female subject’s cleavage and hands (her face is not visible), which slowly manipulate and caress various objects containing make-up: tubes of lipstick and mascara, a bottle of lotion, etc. She followed this piece with the performance Un Jour Violente (1976), where she applied make-up and dressed according to an advertisement in Marie Claire, which told women how live glamorous lives through their style. In the course of the performance, in three different spaces, she applied three different “looks“ provided by the magazine: tender, violent and secret, attempting to become or align with the representation of woman.

Nearly three decades later, in 2009, Borjana Mrdja continued this interrogation of the image and the construction of beauty. In the video performance Almost Perfect Work, the artist applied lipstick using a specially constructed glove, the tips of which contained tubes of lipstick. In this piece, the artist’s face became the work surface, and the sounds of a construction site, heard in the background, confirm the activity as such. Here, Mrdja has turned Ivekovic’’s sensual act of manipulating phallic tubes of makeup into an awkward one, as the glove is difficult to use gracefully as a lipstick applicator. Instead of cleavage and gentle movement, the viewer sees the hard work and toil that it takes to beautify oneself. In some ways, this performance is Mrdja’s jour violente, suggesting that this struggle against the image is ongoing. Furthermore, the reconstitution of these gestures demonstrated the continued relevance of their examination. It important to note that when Mrdja first made the piece, she had been unaware of the precedents in Ivekovic’’s work.129 Furthermore, Mrdja, whose interest in individual subjectivity and national-cultural identity has already been discussed, does not view these works as feminist per se. Rather, she maintains that her work is focused on the issue of identity, be it gender, national, or otherwise.

Russian artist Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (1969–2013) first became Marilyn Monroe in the 1980s, taking inspiration from the film Some Like it Hot, which he recalled seeing in movie theaters at that time, and which features not only Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Cane Kowalski – the lead singer in an all-female band – but also Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag. In 1986, the artist was discharged from the army and committed to a psychiatric hospital after he dressed up as Marilyn Monroe using hair from dolls to fashion a wig and altering curtains for a dress. In 1989 Mamyshev-Monroe appeared at the opening of an exhibition entitled Women in Art in Leningrad dressed as Marilyn, which caused a scandal on television and in the mass media, resulting in death threats to the artist. The artist’s use of disguises has been called a “therapy of possible multiple-personality disorder“130 by Olesya Turkina, and Mamyshev-Monroe’s use of costume and disguise helps him orient himself on an axis that is defiantly between not only gender binaries, but also between East and West. In his words, through the use of costume and alternate identities he is able to express his desire “to embody mankind in all its variety, experience all these destinies myself, take on myself all these countless sins, neutralise these countless good deeds, eliminate sexual, national, social and other differences and remain myself in this singular variety“.131

In 2010, Mamyshev was violently attacked in Russia in an act of gay bashing. He documented his injury and his recovery on his Facebook page, in a photographic performance entitled Taming Beauty, in which he became Marilyn Monroe once again, using his public personality as a spokesperson for gay rights. Using a combination of staged photographs and text captions, the artist created a story about how after the bump on his forehead turned into a black eye, “my Great Sacred Muse Marilyn Monroe appeared... and so I became Marilyn Monroe without the makeup“132, effectively comparing himself to a similarly tragic figure, and channeling her energy to survive the gruesome attack.133

Bulgarian artist Boryana Rossa (b. 1972) has also challenged the notion of rigid gender roles and sexual identity in her very visceral piece from 2004, The Last Valve, when, in a private performance in her apartment, she sewed shut her vulva with surgical thread. In doing so, she denies access to her body through the phallus by sealing it closed. She also challenges patriarchal attitudes toward gender by playing on the phrase “stitched up cunt“, referring to a woman who is frigid and doesn’t always automatically make herself available to the male for sex, by literalizing this position. More importantly, her action suggests a future world that is free of gender distinctions, envisioning a society that will “accept more flexible notions of sex and gender, to embrace diversity and not to curse it“.134 Her gender ambiguity resembles Mamyshev’s, insofar as the artist deliberately maintained his male gender, biologically, despite having the outward appearance of a female.


III. Performance and the Institution

One of the challenges posed by feminism to the institution of art confronted the perpetuation of the normative subject as artist (as noted by Jones above). The rise of feminism in North America occurred in concert with the civil rights movements, which demanded a voice and representation for all minorities and underrepresented groups. The 1960s and 1970s in the West was a time of great civic protest and challenging of the status quo. The institution of art was not immune to these challenges, and as numerous other received ideas were questioned by activists in the social sphere, artists began to contest the long-held assumed truths about art itself, and the institutions that developed and promoted art. As Alexander Alberro has written, it was at this time that artists began to “expose the institution of art as a deeply problematic field, making apparent the intersections where political, economic and ideological interests directly intervened and interfered in the production of public culture“.135 Performance art, then, was one vehicle (together with Conceptual Art) that artists used to critique the institution of art, challenge the commercialization of the art object, and contest the gallery system that bestows a value upon it. In foregrounding the process of creation and the experience of the artwork, artists circumvented the stale atmosphere of the museum, creating a live work of art that could not stagnate by being hung on the wall. Furthermore, given the fact that performance was a non-traditional art form with significantly less history of institutionalization, compared to, for example, painting and sculpture, it offered the possibility for artists to question the nature of art, along with the role of the artist, and expand the definition of both.

While artists in the West used institutional critique to expose the hidden mechanisms at work in relation to art, in Eastern Europe, where all artistic production was subject to state control, these mechanisms were not hidden, but overtly acknowledged and deliberately stated. Artists were well aware of the fact that the work they produced needed to conform to certain standards and represent the dominant ideology, although the degree to which these mandates were enforced varied greatly from state to state. For this reason, the institutional critique that one associates with Western art from the 1960s and 1970s takes on different forms in the East. In some instances the critique is leveled against the state, whereas in others a challenge is posed to the control of the art market and creation of the artistic canon by the West.

Yugoslavia was perhaps the most liberal area of the Eastern bloc, and artists quite frequently and easily travelled abroad. For that reason, one can find examples of artists, such as Dalibor Martinis (b. 1947), whose performances address the institution of art from a critical point of view. In his 1976 performance Art Guard, the artist played the role of a security guard in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, simultaneously proclaiming the value of certain works of art by guarding them, yet also preventing the public’s access to the paintings by sitting directly in front of the selected works. By positioning himself in this manner, he raises questions about the art gallery system that bestows value on a work of art, and the effect that has on the work’s visibility in the public sphere. Similarly, in Work for Pumps Gallery (Pumps Gallery, Vancouver, 1978), the artist addressed the concept of the white cube, the neutral space of the gallery that is supposed to provide the appropriate background for the work of art. Instead of creating a painting for exhibition, he used the act of painting to cover the walls of the gallery, painting them white, in preparation for a new exhibition. The artist commented that this piece not only challenged the notion of the neutrality of the white cube, but also provided a situation for reciprocity and artistic collaboration. In Martinis’s words, this piece expressed “the possibility for the work of one artist to be at the service of that of others. After my exhibition, the white painted gallery was used for the exhibition of the works of other artists“.136 Instead of competition among artists, which the institution instills, his piece promotes cooperation.

Twenty years later, Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov (b. 1957) created a similar performance, with a different effect. A Life (Black and White) (1998–) consists of instructions by Solakov, which can be followed by anyone, however the artist maintains the rights to the concept and images of the piece. Two painters, who need not be professionals, paint and re-paint the walls of the gallery, one with white paint, the other with black. Each participant paints over the other’s work. However, among the stipulations is that the room must be half black and half white at all times, requiring communication and coordination between the two painters. In this performance, the act of painting itself becomes mechanized and institutionalized, as the painters have a set amount of breaks that they can take, including a 30-minute lunch break. That said, the process of creation is foregrounded, at the expense of the final aesthetic product. Furthermore, it emphasizes the social element of art, as the creation of the artwork requires communication, awareness of the other, and cooperation.

The transition of Eastern Europe to the free market was neither straightforward nor simple, and many countries struggled with the resultant mass inflation and the rebuilding of infrastructure that comes with such changes. The transition for artists was no less complicated, and many artists nowadays are faced with the challenge of surviving in their trade without the state support that many artists once received under socialism. In the post-communist period, work that addresses the status of the Eastern European artist in the art market indicates new concerns over making a living as an artist following the transition. For example, Croatian artist Siniša Labrovic’’s (b. 1965) performance, Perpetuum Mobile (2009), suggests that artists nowadays must be self-sustaining. During the piece, the artist first attempts to urinate into his mouth. When he ultimately fails, he uses his hand to cup the urine and drink it. The performance was created in response to a request for him to perform for free; the artist was told that the festival that he was invited to had very little money, so while he was invited to present his work, he would not be remunerated.137 Since he had to work without pay, he devised a performance that he could use to feed and sustain himself.

Mladen Miljanovic’ (b. 1981), from Banja Luka, Serbia, considers part his role as an artist to be at the service of the viewer. While still a student, he created the performance I Serve Art (2006), wherein he isolated himself inside the military base in Banja Luka, which, during his third year of studies, became the Academy of Arts. Before becoming an artist, Miljanovic’ had been a soldier, and served his one year of mandatory duty in the army just after high school. Since the artist found himself once again in that same space where he had once trained soldiers, he decided to decontaminate the space by occupying it. In his words, he “mapped the space with [his] body“138, beginning his service to his viewers in a manner similar to the way in which a soldier does – through intense, dedicated training. The artist saw this moment as a significant one historically; the fact that the art academy was moved into this former military base indicated a shift in society, from a militarized position to one focusing on education.139 While the artist had previously been trained to serve his country, and also trained others to do so, now he would train himself to serve his fellow citizens in a different way – through his art.

He developed this idea of service in some later pieces, such as Taxi to the Museum (2010), when the artist literally provided a service to his viewers, by offering a taxi service that would take them to and from the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna (MUMOK), where he had a solo exhibition at the time. For this 7-day performance, the artist was available by cell phone to pick up and drop off any passenger who wanted to visit the museum. The artist mentioned that he wanted to “fill the space“ in between the moment when a person leaves his home to embark on a trip to the museum and when he actually enters it. If that space can be filled with art or an artistic experience, then that further bridges the gap between art and life, and between art and the everyday world. With this performance, Miljanovic’ transformed the everyday experience of transporting oneself to the work of art into a work of art itself, while also providing a useful service to his viewers.

Allez! Arrestby the Autoperforationsartisten, in East Germany, also represented the examination of the role of the artist, as well as the art market, in much different socio-political circumstances. The piece was an 11-day long interactive performance staged in the progressive Leipzig Gallery Eigen + Art. During that time the artists lived in the gallery, slept and worked there, and invited the public to come visit them in the gallery for a few hours during the day, from 6–8PM, when they would exchange artwork for food. The piece was based on Joseph Beuys’s concept of social sculpture. Information about Beuys’s work was not widely circulated in official circuits, however artists were aware of his work through unofficial channels. Officially, the political aspects of his work were often glossed over. For example, several months prior to Allez! Arrest there was an exhibition of Beuys’s drawings in the GDR, however the social aspects of his work and performance weren’t mentioned. In response to that exhibition (and its omissions), the artists decided to present the other side of Beuys’s work through their own performance. The artists were unsure whether the idea of this piece would be well-received, and whether or not they would eat, but in fact, the visitors to the gallery were quite generous, and kept them alive with a daily supply of munitions. In this piece, artistic creation became an act of exchange and collaboration between artist and viewer, and the artwork itself is what sustained the artists, perhaps in a more satisfying way than Labrovic’’s solution.

Throughout his work, Lithuanian artist Artu-ras Raila (b. 1962) has been rethinking the role of the art institution and of art in society, and attempting to expand the conventional modes of production, display and viewership. In 1997, in a work entitled Once You Pop You Can’t Stop, which was part of Dimension 0, an international festival of performance art, Raila commissioned a group of bikers from the motorcycle club Crazy in the Dark to drive into and through the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in the center of Vilnius. In this way he literally opened the doors of the museum to different groups from outside the institution. At one point the artist suggested that the Unified Lithuanian National Worker’s Movement (VNLDS), a Neo-Nazi group and an unofficial political party (insofar as it was not recognized by the Ministry of Justice) move its headquarters from Šiauliai to the CAC, however this did not come to pass. Nevertheless, Raila was insistent on introducing the art world to this group of people, and vice versa. He invited the members to Vilnius for the opening of the exhibition Cool Places, where he had created a performance on the roof of the CAC, complete with drummers and go-go dancers. The members of VNLDS were impressed, especially since the exhibition had changed their preconceived notions about art. Whereas previously they had thought that art was just “monuments“ and “stupid abstract paintings“140, they were pleased to see that the unconventional installations and performances presented in the context of the exhibition could be included in the rubric of art. Finally, in Roll Over Museum (2004), an exhibition that was done with the participation of four automobile tuning enthusiasts, Raila further broadened the category of art by introducing the work of these four men into the museum space. The exhibition consists of the enthusiasts’ four cars, respectively, a photograph of each with his vehicle, and video documentation of the mechanics speaking about their cars and they work they have done on them.

The end of the Cold War ostensibly marked the end of the division between East and West in the art world. The art market and international stage was subsequently open for artists from Eastern Europe, at least in theory, as restrictions on movement and exchange were eliminated. That said, what Piotrowski has referred to as the “vertical, hierarchical discourse“ of art history continued. Meaning, the West was still widely acknowledged to be the center of the art world, and all art was judged in relation to it. In Piotrowski’s view, the East tolerated this situation, because it gave them “the illusion of belonging to the ’Western family’ instead of the culture of the Eastern Bloc“.141 Despite the fact that Piotrowski has called on art history to challenge this hierarchical system, the status of the artist in relation to the West is one that continues to concern artists from the region.

In 1992 Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic’ (b. 1947) exhibited a declamatory banner stating that“An Artist who Cannot Speak English is no Artist“. One decade later, Serbian artist Vladimir Nikolic’, together with Vera Vecanski, created a video performance entitled How to Become a Great Artist (2001). In the video, a young woman appears sheepishly before the camera, complaining that she would like to become a great artist, but simply doesn’t know how. The voice of one such “great artist“ speaks to her, telling her various things that she needs to do – one of which, is to know how to speak English. He sits beside her, paintbrush in hand, and asks her to repeat the phrases “I am a great artist. You are a great artist. He is not a great artist“. Furthermore, the video instructs that an artist must be focused and concentrated, and “keep pace with high art“. The two – master and apprentice – engage in a dance that shows them moving to the pace of the art world.

Keeping pace with the art world was challenging for artists in some areas of Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, for example, an experimental contemporary art scene did not appear until the end of the 1980s, which is somewhat late in comparison with the rest of the East. A project by art historian and curator Vera Mlechevska and writer Dimiter Shopov addresses this issue in Bulgarian art history, along with the national complex regarding the lack of an avant-garde tradition. Whereas most post-communist and post-socialist countries are eager to showcase those artists who continued the traditions of the avant-garde, Bulgaria carries the stigma of not having such traditions, and historians often try to make up for this fact by suggesting that there may have been artists working in this manner, but it simply wasn’t documented. Mlechevska and Shopov, however, confront this situation in an ironic manner, by presenting and discussing the work of “Gavazov“, a fictional character of their invention that they present as Bulgaria’s notable avant-garde artist. In their lecture performances, which they have been doing since 2011, they present Gavazov as the artist who has done everything and pioneered everything one could imagine. For example, they cite him as the father of conceptualism, installation art, and experimental film. The authors exaggerate his achievements to mock this situation where artists or nations try to stake a claim in being the first to do or create something. All of Gavazov’s work exists in description form only, because, to show them, visually, would be to destroy the myth.142 Without the physical evidence of his work, the myth can be perpetuated and even aggrandized, as the imagination runs wild with Gavazov’s innovative accomplishments. Additionally, the artists challenge the Amerocentric and Eurocentric art world by claiming that Gavazov had influenced “African Minimalism“, juxtaposing his work with a non-Western (albeit fictional) art form. While most Eastern European artists try demonstrate their success or influence in Western Europe or North America, Gavazov found his success in Africa.

One of the best modes of critique utilized by artists throughout Eastern Europe both during communism and after was self-organization. During the socialist period, artists created and presented work to a select group of colleagues as a matter of survival, in an alternative to official state-sponsored venues and mechanisms. Some artists even found alternatives to presenting their work in state-sponsored exhibition venues by creating their own venues. Such was the case with the Group of Six Artists143 from Zagreb, who organized exhibition-actions around Croatia in the 1970s, for example, in public places, such as on the street and on beaches. They did this because they sought not only greater communication and direct contact with their viewers, but also a wider audience than they would encounter in a museum or gallery setting.144 During the exhibition-actions, the artists would be present to show and discuss their work with those who expressed interest. Similarly, in Sarajevo in the 1980s, the Zvono Group utilized alternative venues because there simply were no places for them to show their experimental work. The artists used shop windows as temporary exhibition spaces, and in the performance Sport and Art (1986), they crashed a soccer field during the intermission of a game by running onto the field. They painted on the field, and then ran around the field with their paintings – a mobile exhibition. Some artists took self-organization to another level, by creating their own institutions. Such was the case with Podroom, an artist-run gallery space led by Dalibor Martinis and Sanja Ivekovic’ in Zagreb. Finally, the Polish artists Zofia Kulik (b. 1947) and Paweł Kwiek (b. 1951), working together in the 1970s at KwieKulik, endeavored to gain official recognition, and with it a budget, for their Studio of Activities, Documentation and Propagation (Pracownia Działań’, Dokumentacji, i Upowszechniania – PDDiU), by having it recognized as an official institution by the Ministry of Culture, administered by the Institute of Culture or the City Bureau of Art Exhibitions. The artists established the studio, along with methods for documenting ephemeral art, however the official support for the project was stalled indefinitely, through bureaucratic red tape.145

The institution that is perhaps most emblematic of hierarchical Western hegemony within the art world is the Venice Biennale. Following the regime change, many countries had difficulty organizing competitions to send artists, or even selecting them or financing their exhibitions, so often countries in Eastern Europe remained unrepresented. In 1997, Kosovan-born artist Sislej Xhafa (b. 1970) created the Clandestine Albanian Pavilion, a performance in which he appeared at the biennale dressed in an Albanian soccer uniform, with an Albanian flag in his backpack and a soccer ball at his feet, which he kicked around by himself and with other visitors to the biennale. Xhafa is not the only artist from the region to address the lack of representation at the exhibition. In 2000, Nedko Solakov handed out cards printed with the colors of the Bulgarian flag and a statement, issued in Bulgarian, Italian and English, stating that “after nearly 30 year of absence from the officially participating countries at the Venice Biennale, The Republic of Bulgaria is proud to announce that it is prepared to properly participate in the next Venice Biennale in the year 2001“. The cards were handed out on the streets of Sofia.146 These artists use the ephemeral mode of performance art to compensate for the lack of a fixed and stable presence in one of the pavilions in Venice.

The flexibility of performance art enabled artists to use the genre in a range of ways that would call into question not only the work of art and the role of the artist, but also the institutions that supported them. This held equally true for artists working during the communist and post-communist periods. The question of survival was as relevant to artists in late-socialist Germany (Autoperforationsartisten, Allez! Arrest) as it is to an artist working in contemporary Croatia (Labrovic’, Perpetuum Mobile). In expanding the notion of art and the institution, many artists found new and unusual ways to interact with and involve the public in their work, by chauffeuring them to the museum (Miljanovic’) or bringing their exhibitions into the public space (the Group of Six Artists). In the next section, I probe further the particularities of the relationship with the viewer explored by performance artists in Eastern Europe, past and present.


IV. Performance and the Viewer

In his 1966 text, Assemblages, Environments and Happenings, American artist Allan Kaprow, the founder of the Happening, stated his intention to keep the line between art and life “as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible“147, the result of which would be that audiences would be “eliminated entirely“. The involvement and participation of the audience has been central to much of performance art since its inception. In their Futurist Evening cabarets, the Italian Futurist artists would attack or play tricks on their audiences so as to get their attention, and provoke a reaction. Surrealist games involved the participation of all present to make a collective work of art. Later, Kaprow involved the audience to create a seamless flow between art and life. More recently, participatory art projects have straddled the divide between art work and social project.

During the communist period, contact with the viewer was challenging, as it had the potential to implicate those involved in unsanctioned or suspicious activity. In the public sphere, everyday citizens, under the scrutiny of state surveillance, largely aimed to remain anonymous and blend in with the homogenous masses. In Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, for example, public street performances were rare, and if they occurred, they were often met with indifference. Such was the case with the work of Jirí Kovanda, who found a way to create artistic actions in the public space without attracting attention. He did so through the use of minimal gestures, barely perceptible to passersby as artistic actions, or as anything out of the ordinary. In Theater (1976), the artist stood on the busy main square in Prague (Wenceslas Square) and made ordinary gestures, such as scratching his head, which were captured in photographs by a colleague. The next year, he performed Untitled in a similar spot; this time he stood in the middle of the sidewalk, against the flow of foot traffic, with his arms outstretched, as if he were being “crucified“.148 While the action may have looked out of place on such a busy street, even nowadays, the artist emphasized that the action was quite fleeting, and only lasted a few seconds149, only long enough for his colleague to snap a picture, but not long enough to attract any real attention. His actions became more bold in Contact (1977), an action in which he appeared to accidentally bump into passersby on the street, briefly making contact with them through touch (which was also captured on film). Having any other form of direct contact with the viewer, for example by approaching or addressing him or her directly, as opposed to accidentally, would have been impossible in Prague at that time. Finally, in Untitled (1977), the artist stood backwards on the subway escalator, this time making eye contact with the strangers he encountered behind him.

This was perhaps the only type of contact that was possible with a non-art audience in the public space in normalization-era Czechoslovakia. Pavlína Morganová has noted that the reaction of those passing by is representative of the social reality at that time. In her words, “the mixture of their indifferent, baffled and aggravated looks is the essence of the public space’s totalitarian reality“.150 Tomáš Pospiszyl reminds us that even being captured on film, whether part of the action or not, could potentially implicate culpability in the eyes of the secret police, who also took such photos. Commenting on the position of the passersby, he stated, “even if they remain passive during the whole event, they are participants, accomplices“.151 Kovanda managed to implicate his compatriots as little as possible, using such subtle gestures that they were hardly detectable as anything unusual in the everyday public sphere.

In perestroika-era Latvia, however, the liberal reforms on free speech and openness created a space wherein artists could begin to interact with their viewers in unusual ways. In 1987, Latvian artist Miervaldis Polis put on a bronze suit and hat, and covered his face and hands in bronze paint and walked around downtown Riga as a living, breathing statue. He attracted considerable attention, and by the end of the performance, huge crowds were following him. The KGB officers who noticed the performance thought that he was making fun of Lenin, as he was dressed in a manner that resembled the myriad bronze statues that dotted all Soviet cities at that time, including those that honored Lenin. Although the artist was neither questioned nor detained, the bus driver who drove him to downtown, from his house in the suburbs, was. Four years later, the artist pulled off another public performance that was even more politically charged, when he lit a remote-controlled toy tank on fire in the middle of a public demonstration, and gave the controls to a small child. The action took place on the second anniversary of the Baltic Chain, a mass demonstration during which citizens from all three Baltic nations held hands from Tallinn to Vilnius. This was August 23, 1991 – two days after the failed Moscow coup, and the vote by the Latvian Parliament for independence and the banning of the communist party. The action could have been interpreted as critical of the lingering presence of the Soviet Army in Latvia. However, it was done so surreptitiously as to barely attract much attention.

A similar atmosphere prevailed in perestroika-era Lithuania. The artistic group Žalias Lapas [Green Leaf] was formed in Vilnius at the end of the 1980s, by a group of artists who created actions and installations collectively.152 Essentially they used the group as a platform from which to experiment with different media and ideas. According to Džiugas Katinas, one of the group’s members, this was a time when “anything was possible“153, as Lithuania was in a time of transition – one system was on its way out, but the new one hadn’t yet been established. Consequently, in December 1990, Žalias Lapas was able to stage The Way, a massive happening/action in the center of Vilnius’s Old Town, in front of the old City Hall. In front of the building, they set up metal sculptures, and figures in white body suits spread sand and coal in lines on the road. As the cars drove along the road that passes between the square and the Town Hall, their wheels picked up the sand and coal and “distributed“ it through the city, so the cars become both consumers and creators of art. Quite accidentally, after the performance, Vilnius had its first snowfall of the season. This meant that not only was the coal spread through the city, but that it splashed on buildings and walls, which made it difficult to clean up. The artists and their co-conspirators (the general public) had left a more permanent mark on the city than planned, and this ephemeral act left a lasting trace.

Claire Bishop has noted the “return to the social“154 in the art of the 1990s and 2000s, with a surge in participatory, social and interactive art projects. This echoes Piotrowski’s characterization of the post-communist period as “agoraphilic“, as artists moved into the public sphere.155 Miwon Kwon has traced this development back to the more static forms of site-specific art, and considers the socially engaged projects of the turn of the twenty-first century as a more radical critique of the institution. In her words, “a dominant drive of site-oriented practices today is the pursuit of a more intense engagement with the outside world and everyday life – a critique of culture that is inclusive of non-art spaces, non-art institutions and non-art issues“.156 As the world of art comes to be deemed as too “elitist“, artists abandon that world for the public sphere. While Bishop demurs the tendency to trace the rise in social art projects to the fall of communism157, it is interesting to note the development of these types of projects in the East, the precise location of fall, which Bishop believes “deprived the Left of the last vestiges of the revolution that had once linked political and aesthetic radicalism“.158 Artists in the region engaged with socially based artworks for a range of reasons, from raising concerns or awareness with regard to socio-political issues, to reclaiming a lost past or giving voice to the general public through social and artistic engagement.

The Montenegro Culture Bureau is a collective of amateur artists working in Podgorica, who create actions and happenings to draw attention to and critique the patriarchal culture in contemporary Montenegrin society. The group is made up of people from various professions, for example a lawyer, journalist and sociologist, yet they come together under the platform of art to tackle social issues. In other instances artists used their public projects to create a wider audience for contemporary art. In any case, the communal spirit that was perhaps aimed at but never realized under communism was finally able to be activated in the post-socialist space.

Yuriy Kruchak and Yulia Kostereva, from Ukraine, began working on community and social art projects in reaction to what they saw as apathy and inaction in contemporary Ukrainian society. This was prior to the events of Euromaidan in Kiev, in 2013–2014. Kruchak and Kostereva established Open Place as a platform to create connections between their artistic practice and everyday life. In their words, Open Place aims at the “establishment of the connections between an art process and different layers of the Ukrainian society“.159 In 2009, in Geneva, they staged an interactive performance entitled The 7th of November (the date of the 1917 October Revolution). The artists invited 20 local citizens to move 80 plastic plaid bags, the same used by Fiodorova and Popescu in their performances, filled with newspapers, across the city, and eventually bring them to a public sculpture in front of the Palace of Nations, Broken Chair, which was installed as a monument in support of the international treaty for a ban on cluster bombs. The participants of the action used the bags to “repair“ the chair, creating an artificial support or fourth leg for it.

The purpose of the action was to bring attention to the status of migrants in Geneva, and in general throughout the world. The artist recalls that as artists from Eastern Europe in Switzerland, they themselves felt like “barbarians“160, which they imagine is not dissimilar to the way in which most immigrants there feel, or are made to feel by local inhabitants. The bags were used because of their iconic association with foreigners. In their travels through the city, the group made a real imposition on the public space, as 80 of these large bags blocked the view of the city on the bus, and disrupted sightseeing, interfering with the pristine views. By bringing these bags out into the public space, they confronted passersby with a reality that they might not like to see or acknowledge. They brought the bags to the chair to repair it, using the chair as a symbol of a “broken nation“ or union. Finally, the artists said that in doing this action, they wanted to show that “barbarians“ could also fix something.161 In doing so, they demonstrated that public space is not just for tourism, but also a space for dialogue. They also gave the local citizens who participated the experience of what it might be like to exist as a foreigner in that environment, and thus a space from which to sympathize with his or her position.

In 2012, three project leaders – two artists (Astrit Ismaili and Tobias Bienz) and one lawyer (Rina Kika); two from Kosovo (Kika and Ismaili) and one from Switzerland (Bienz), created PRISHTINË – mon amour, a project that defies categorization. It was simultaneously a performance, installation, participatory art project and social project as well. In the end it involved 180 participants from Prishtina and other cities, all of whom came together to make this massive undertaking possible. The project reclaimed a piece of public space in the city – the Palace of Culture, Youth and Sports, or, as it is locally known, Boro and Ramiz, in which an evening of performance took place, one that comprised performances by several different artists. In effect, the entire project was a performance in and of itself, because of the preparatory work involved, and also the involvement of participants it entailed.

In 2000, an electrical fire left part of this Yugoslav-era multi-purpose venue unusable, and it started to become used unofficially as a parking lot. The alternative name for the building, Boro and Ramiz, comes from the names of two partisan fighters, Boro Vukmirovic’ and Ramiz Sadiku, a Serb and Albanian who together fought the fascists in World War II. They were the perfect symbol of inter-ethnic harmony in Tito’s Yugoslavia. The PRISHTINË – mon amour project turns this idea of unity and togetherness into a reality without any hidden agenda, political or otherwise. In the end, it brought the community together, and created a memorable event for the inhabitants of Prishtina, which anyone could be a part of. The participants helped to clean up the building and make it ready to host the performances that were to inhabit the building on the final night of the project. On September 8, 2012, over thirty artists and performers with work (either performance or installation) were on display, and the event was attended by over 2,000 people.

Artists have also used the ambiguity of public space inhabited by an artistic project to provide citizens with a voice on current political issues, within the more neutral zone of art. In For Skopje with Love (2011), Macedonian artist Gjorgje Jovanovic’ invited the public to engage with and respond to recent political events, by writing their opinions and thoughts on boards like those that one would see at a demonstration or protest, and put them on sites around the city. Giving a voice to the public was especially important in the wake of the 2011 protests in Macedonia, which erupted after the government attempted to cover up the brutal killing of a 21-year-old, who was beaten to death by the special police forces, during a celebration in the main square in Skopje, following the re-election of the ruling party. The idea behind the Jovanovic’’s project was that all inhabitants are responsible for their city. The artist said that he hoped participants would contribute their thoughts feelings, good or bad, and take an active role in shaping the future of their surroundings, instead of simply passively standing by.162

Estonian artist Flo Kasearu also used the public space as a blank canvas to provide a voice to its citizens. When the Estonian government erected a controversial Freedom Monument in the city center of the capital, on Tallinn’s Freedom Square, the artist plastered the city with blank sheets of paper headed with the words: “FREEDOM/we announce a contest to find the best solution“, silently inviting citizens to contribute their ideas with regard to the meaning and significance of the word “freedom“ on the paper below. Although not overtly critical, the poster campaign indicts the government for not consulting the general public about the design, and rectifies the situation by giving them a chance to speak, albeit retroactively. Kasearu’s intervention in the public space, and the public’s participation, made visual the varying opinions with regard to the monument.

While initially forays into the public sphere brought more direct contact with the viewer, and expanded the potential audience of an artwork, during the communist period, the possibility to create such projects were dependent on the local socio-political situation, and the tolerance level of local authorities to interruptions in the public space. In the case of Kovanda, his interventions went unmolested because they were barely detectable, however perestroika and the Fall of the Berlin Wall enabled artists such as Polis and Žalias Lapas to safely intervene in the public sphere. In the post-communist period, these project gradually expanded and developed into social projects, such as PRISHTINË – mon amour, and political acts that straddled the border between art and activism, for example in the work of Jovanovic’ and Kasearu. In all cases, it is the performative aspect of these artworks that enable them to enter, remain in, and affect the public sphere.



While this is by no means a comprehensive survey of performance art practices in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, in this article I have attempted to show a range of practices by artists from the region from both before and after the fall of communism. What I hope this text has demonstrated is the unique manner in which artists from the region engaged with performance art practices, both responding to and expanding on developments in the West, as well as developing their own distinctive forms of the genre. While the system change brought about great changes in everyday life, artists in the post-communist period continued to address regional and local concerns, many of which were in fact a result of these changes, for example the opening up of the East to West, and the desire for free-movement within Europe. Artists in the post-communist period drew both from Western and local sources, although in many instances they learned of work in performance outside their own borders before discovering local examples. Consequently, their work demonstrates both continuity and change from the communist to the post-communist period within the field of performance art.



 1. ‑Lucy Lippard and John Chandler, “The Dematerialization of Art“, Artforum International 6/6, 1968, pp. 31–36.

 2. ‑Already by 1973, in her “Postface“ to Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, Lippard had acknowledged that these hopes that ephemeral and conceptual art would be able to avoid commercialization had been in vain.

 3. ‑Robyn Brentano, “Outside the Frame: Performance, Art, and Life“, in Robyn Brentano, ed., Outside the Frame: Performance and the Object, a Survey History of Performance Art in the USA since 1970 (exhibition catalogue), Cleveland, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, 1994, p. 42.

 4. ‑Kristine Stiles is perhaps the one exception to this rule, as her texts on performance art take an inclusive approach and consider artists from the East and the West.

 5. ‑For example, the Japanese performance artists she mentions are those who presented work in the US.

 6. ‑Roselee Goldberg, Performance Art: from Futurism to Present, New York, Thames and Hudson, 2011, p. 214.

 7. ‑Ibid.

 8. ‑Ibid.

 9. ‑Diana Popova, in conversation with the author in Sofia, June 2, 2014.

10. ‑Iosif Király, in an interview with the author in Bucharest, March 26, 2014.

11. ‑Tomáš Ruller, in an interview with the author in Aberdeen, UK, May 15, 2014.

12. ‑Pavlína Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, Prague, Karolinum Press, 2014, p. 50.

13. ‑Happsoc was both a manifesto and association made up of two artists, Alex Mlynárcik, Stano Filko and theoretician Zita Kostrová.

14. ‑Maciunas’s family left Lithuania in 1944, when he was thirteen, and settled in New York in 1948.

15. ‑Petra Stegmann, “Fluxus and the East“, Centropa: A Journal of Central European Architecture and Related Arts 14/1, January 2014, p. 42.

16. ‑As mentioned by Ceslovas Lukenskas, in an interview with the author in Vilnius, September 30, 2013, and also by Dziugas Katinas, in an interview with the author in Vilnius, October 3, 2013.

17. ‑As qtd. in Sirje Helme, PopKunst Forever: Estonian Pop Art at the Turn of the 1960s and 1970s, Tallinn, Art Museum of Estonia – Kumu Art Museum, 2010, p. 145.

18. ‑As qtd. in Helme,p. 146.

19. ‑Pavlína Morganová, “Action! Czech Performance Art in the 1960s and 1970s“, Centropa: A Journal of Central European Architecture and Related Arts 14/1, January 2014, p. 25.

20. ‑Knížák formed the Aktual Art group together with Jan Trtílek, Sona Švecová and the Mach brothers (see Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 50), and together they created untraditional art works and art forms, including performance and happenings.

21. ‑See Morganová, “Action! Czech Performance Art in the 1960s and 1970s“, p. 25.

22. ‑Stegmann, p. 48.

23. See ibid.

24. ‑According to Stegmann, p. 50.

25. ‑See Andrea Bátorová, “Alternative Trends in Slovakia during the 1960s and Parallels to Fluxus“, in Fluxus East: Fluxus Networks in Central Eastern Europe (exhibition catalogue), Berlin, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, 2007, p. 166.

26. ‑See Stegmann, p. 51.

27. ‑Ileana Pintilie, “Action Art in Romania Before and After 1989“, Centropa: A Journal of Central European Architecture and Related Arts 14/1, January 2014, pp.86–87.

28. ‑Ileana Pintilie, “Between Modernism and Postmodernism“, in Alina Șerban, ed., Ion Grigorescu: the Man with a Single Camera, Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2013, p. 33.

29. ‑Diana Popova and Svilen Stefanov, eds., N-Forms? Reconstructions and Interpretations, Sofia, Soros Center for the Arts, 1994 (exhibition catalogue), p. 23.

30. ‑See Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe, 1945–1989, London, Reaktion, 2009, pp. 285–286.

31. ‑Miško Šuvakovic’, The Clandestine Histories of the Oho Group, Ljubljana, Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E., 2010, p. 45.

32. ‑Raša Todosijevic’, in an interview with the author in Belgrade, August 3, 2013.

33. ‑Ibid.

34. ‑Ibid.

35. ‑See the artist’s biography in Aleksandar Battista Ilic’ and Diana Nenadic’, eds., Tomislav Gotovac, Zagreb, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2003, p. 300.

36. ‑Octavian Eșanu, Transition in Post-Soviet Art: Collective Actions Before and After 1989, Budapest, Central European University Press, 2012, p. 89.

37. ‑Ibid., p. 101.

38. ‑See Mark Allen Svede, “Many Easels, Some Abandoned“, in Alla Rosenfeld and Norton C. Dodge, eds., Art of the Baltics: The Struggle for Freedom of Artistic Expression Under the Soviets, 1945–1991, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 2001, p. 207.

39. ‑Andris Grïnbergs, in an interview with the author in Riga, February 2009.

40. ‑Lilia Dragneva, “Ten Years of Moldovan Contemporary Art“, in IRWIN, East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2006, p. 240.

41. ‑See Edi Muka, “Albanian Socialist Realism or the Theology of Power“, in IRWIN, East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2006, p. 133.

42. ‑Fabiola Bierhoff, “Appropriation in East German Performance Art – the Legacy of Joseph Beuys“, paper given at the panel “Performance Art in Central and Eastern Europe“, College Art Association annual conference in Chicago, IL, USA, February 15, 2014.

43. ‑See Claudia Mesch, Modern Art at the Berlin Wall: Demarcating Culture in the Cold War Germanys, London, I. B. Tauris, 2009, p. 192.

44. ‑Clara Mosch was formed in 1977 and consisted of artists Michael Morgner, Thomas Ranft, Carl Friedrich Claus, Gregor-Thorsten Schade and Dagmar Ranft-Schinke. The group’s name comes from an amalgamation of the four artists’ last names.

45. ‑The group initially consisted of three artists, Micha Brendel (b. 1959), Else Gabriel (b. 1962) and Via Lewandowsky (b. 1963); Rainer Görß (b. 1960) later joined the group.

46. ‑See Mesch, p. 193.

47. ‑The reference is to the panopticon as a metaphor for the manner in which modern “disciplinary“ societies are policed, monitored and regulated by constant surveillance, employed by Michel Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish, 1975.

48. ‑Piotr Piotrowski, Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe, London, Reaktion Books, 2012, p. 7.

49. ‑See Klara Kemp-Welch, Antipolitics in Central European Art: Reticence as Dissidence under Post-Totalitarian Rule, 1956–1989, London, I. B. Tauris, 2013, p. 9.

50. ‑See Ivana Bago and Antonia Majaca, “Dissociative Association, Dionysian Socialism, Non-Action and Delayed Audience: Between Action and Exodus in the Art of the 1960s and 1970s in Yugoslavia“, in Ivana Bago and Antonia Majaca, eds., in collaboration with Vesana Vukovic’, Removed from the Crowd: Unexpected Encounters I, Zagreb, [BLOK], 2011, pp. 280–282.

51. ‑Tomáš Pospiszyl, “Look Who’s Watching: Photographic Documentation of Happenings and Performances in Czechoslovakia“, in Claire Bishop and Marta Dziewanska, eds., 1968–1989 Political Upheaval and Artistic Change, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011, p. 85.

52. ‑Zdenka Badovinac, “Body and the East“, in Zdenka Badovinac, ed., Body and the East: from the 1960s to the Present (exhibition catalogue), Ljubljana, Moderna Galerija, 1998, p. 10.

53. ‑Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 11.

54. ‑Ibid.

55. ‑‑Ibid., pp. 13–14.

56. ‑Ibid., p. 3.

57. ‑Ibid., p. 14.

58. ‑Ivana Bago, “A Window and a Basement: Negotiating Hospitality at La Galerie Des Locataires and Podroom – the Working Community of Artists“,Art Margins 1, 2–3, 2012, p. 136.

59. ‑Iosif Király, in an interview with the author in Bucharest, March 26, 2014.

60. ‑Dan Perjovschi, in an interview with the author in Bucharest, March 24, 2014.

61. ‑Raimonds Lïcïtis, in an interview with the author in Riga, July 7, 2009.

62. ‑Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance, New York, Routledge, 1993, p. 146.

63. ‑Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, New York, Routledge, 2008, p. 60.

64. ‑‑Ibid., p. 59.

65. ‑Philip Auslander, “On the Performativity of Performance Documentation“, in Barbara Clausen, ed., After the Act: The (Re)Presentation of Performance Art, Vienna, MUMOK Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung, 2005, p. 29.

66. ‑Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 33.

67. ‑Ibid.

68. ‑Maja Fowkes, “Off the Record: Performative Practices in the Hungarian Neo Avant-Garde and Their Resonance in Contemporary Art“, Centropa: A Journal of Central European Architecture and Related Arts 14/1, January 2014, p. 58.

69. ‑László Beke, “The Hungarian Performance – Before and After Tibor Hajas“, in Zdenka Badovinac, ed., Body and the East: from the 1960s to the Present (exhibition catalogue), Ljubljana, Moderna Galerija, 1998, p. 103.

70. ‑See Fowkes, p. 65.

71. ‑Ibid.

72. ‑Beke, p. 105.

73. ‑Edit András, “Do I Dream Freely or on Command?“ in Bojana Pejic’, ed., Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe (exhibition catalogue), Cologne, Buchhandlung Walther König, 2009, p. 123.

74. ‑Ibid., p. 121.

75. ‑It is important to note that these photographs were staged in “the language of film“, and were made as photographs for the simple reason that at the time the artist was not able to make a film. This is an interesting contrast to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, for example, which were created to look as if they were stills from films that actually existed. Here, Gotovac creates stills in lieu of a film that he would like to create. See Ješa Denegri, “The Individual Mythology of Tomislav Gotovac“, in Aleksandar Battista Ilic’ and Diana Nenadic’, eds., Tomislav Gotovac, Zagreb, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2003, p. 269.

76. ‑Ibid., p. 273.

77. ‑Pintilie (2014), p. 89.

78. ‑Pintilie (2013), p. 23.

79. ‑Ion Grigorescu, in Marta Dziewanska, ed., Ion Grigorescu: In the Body of the Victim, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011, p. 68.

 80. ‑Grigorescu, in Dziewanska, p. 68.

 81. ‑I. G. Plamen and Marko Pogacnik, from “Manifest OHO-a“, quoted in Miško Šuvakovic’, The Clandestine Histories of the Oho Group, Ljubljana, Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E., 2010, p. 29.

 82. ‑Badovinac, p. 16.

 83. ‑Denegri, p. 273.

 84. ‑Ibid., pp. 273–274.

 85. ‑See Jasna Dragovic-Soso, Saviours of the Nation: Serbia’s Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism, London, C. Hurst & Co., 2002, p. 48.

 86. ‑It is worth mentioning that the consequences for such actions before and after the socialist period were similar, as most of the public performances where the artist appeared naked ended with the artist’s arrest. According to Darko Šimicic’, curator of the Tomislav Gotovac archive, in most cases the judge was sympathetic, and imposed the minimum sentence necessary, which was usually a fine. Darko Šimicic’, in an interview with the author in Zagreb, August 15, 2013.

 87. ‑Badovinac, p. 16.

 88. ‑Ibid.

 89. ‑See Branislav Jakovljevic’, in Claire Bishop and Marta Dziewanska, eds., 1968–1989 Political Upheaval and Artistic Change, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011, pp. 40–41. The Youth Relay races had been organized since 1945 in Yugoslavia, and starting from 1957 they occurred annually, on Tito’s birthday, May 25. The Youth Work Actions were started after World War II to meet the needs of reconstruction and industrialization following the war.

 90. ‑Ibid., p. 48.

 91. ‑Ibid., p. 47.

 92. ‑Ibid., p. 42.

 93. ‑Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 167.

 94. ‑Jindrich Chalupecký, as qtd. in Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 175.

 95.T‑he performance took place on February 21, 2012 in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Three members of the group were arrested and charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, because of the fact that their performance took place in an area of the church reserved only for priests, and for the fact that they were acting and dressed inappropriately for that space. The performance was later disseminated through a video called Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away, and was a protest of the Orthodox Church’s overt support for Putin during his presidential election campaign.

 96. ‑Michel Feher, “Of Bodies and Technologies“, in Hal Foster, ed., Discussions in Contemporary Culture, 1, Seattle, Bay Press, 1987, p. 161.

 97. ‑Ibid.

 98. ‑Amelia Jones, The Artist’s Body, London, Phaidon Press, 2012, p. 23.

 99. ‑Ibid., p. 27.

100. ‑Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 162.

101. ‑Ion Grigorescu, in an interview with Anders Kreuger in New York, August 29, 2009, Accessed October 2, 2014.

102. ‑Ion Grigorescu, in an interview with Anders Kreuger, p. 283.

103. ‑The artist was jailed after a copy of György Konrád and Iván Szelényi’s manuscript, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, (1973–1974) was discovered in his apartment following a raid. See Kemp-Welch, pp. 138–140.

104. ‑Péter György, “Hungarian Marginal Art in the Late Period of State Socialism“, in Aleš Erjavec, ed., Postmodernism and the post-Socialist Condition: Politicized Art under State Socialism, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003, p. 179.

105. ‑See Kemp-Welch, p. 127.

106. ‑Marina Naprushkina, in an interview with the author in Berlin, May 7, 2014.

107. ‑Ghenadie Popescu, in an interview with the author in Chișinău, March 31, 2014.

108. ‑Popescu, interview with the author, March 31, 2014.

109. ‑Tomaž Krpic, “Medical Performance: the Politics of Body-Home“,PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 94, 32/1, January 2010, p. 39.

110. ‑Ibid., pp. 39, 41.

111. ‑Jurij Krpan, in an interview with the author in Ljubljana, August 26, 2013.

112. ‑Tanja Ostojic’, in an interview with the author in Berlin, May 8, 2014.

113. ‑Jones (1998), p. 23.

114. ‑Ibid., p. 29.

115. ‑Piotrowski (2009), p. 364.

116. ‑Borjana Mrdja, in an e-mail to the author, March 6, 2014.

117. ‑Dan Perjovschi, in an interview with the author in Bucharest, March 31, 2014.

118. ‑Rassim, in a Skype interview with the author, June 24, 2014.

119. ‑According to Rassim, in a Skype interview with the author, June 24, 2014.

120. ‑Luchezar Boyadzijev, in conversation with the author in Sofia, May 29, 2014.

121. ‑Rassim, in a Skype interview with the author, June 24, 2014.

122. ‑Diana Popova, “Corrections 2 – Art by the Scalpel“, on Rassim’s website: (accessed October 3, 2014).

123. ‑Vladimir Nikolic’, “About Death Anniversary, 1968–2004“, 2007, text available on the artist’s website: foto/about%20death%20anniversary.pdf (last accessed October 3, 2014).

124. ‑This notion has been contested by artist Mary Kelly and feminist theorist Griselda Pollock, for example, who argue that the presentation of the (naked) female body in performance art simply participated in the phallocentric fetishism thereof. Jones addresses this critique in her 1998 text, see pp. 22–29.

125. ‑Jones (1998), p. 9.

126. ‑See Bojana Pejic’, “Eppur si muove – Introduction“, in Bojana Pejic’, ed., Gender Check: a Reader, Cologne, Buchhandlung Walter König, 2010, p. 21.

127. ‑Martina Pachmanová, “In? Out? In Between?“, in Bojana Pejic’, ed., Gender Check: a Reader, Cologne, Buchhandlung Walter König, 2010, p. 39.

128. ‑See Bojana Pejic’, “The Morning After: Plavi Radion, Abstract Art and Bananas“, in Bojana Pejic’, ed., Gender Check: a Reader, Cologne, Buchhandlung Walter König, 2010, p. 109.

129. ‑Borjana Mrdja, in an interview with the author in Banja Luka, July 29, 2013.

130. ‑Olesya Turkina, “Russia in Search of New Identity: Art Identities in Conflict“, 1998, Olesya_Turkina.htm (accessed June 6, 2014).

131. ‑Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, “Where the Heck Am I? Where Are My Things?“ in Laura Hoptman and TomášPospiszyl, Primary Documents, Boston, MA, MIT Press, 2004, pp. 234–235.

132. ‑Vladisav Mamyshev-Monroe, Facebook album Taming Beauty, on the artist’s Facebook page (last accessed October 3, 2014).

133. ‑In 2013, he died as tragically as his namesake, and under equally suspicious circumstances, drowning in a few inches of water at his hotel in Bali.

134. ‑Boryana Rossa, on her website:, accessed October 6, 2014.

135. ‑Alexander Alberro, “Institutions, Critique, and Institutional Critique“, in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, eds., Institutional Critique: an Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2009, p. 7.

136. ‑Dalibor Martinis, as qtd. in Nada Beroš, Dalibor Martinis: Public Secrets, Zagreb, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2006, p. 61.

137. ‑Sinisa Labrovic’, in an interview with the author in Zagreb, August 18, 2013.

138. ‑Mladen Miljanovic’, in an interview with the author, July 28, 2013.

139. ‑Ibid.

140. ‑As conveyed by Artu-ras Raila, in an interview with the author in Vilnius, October 2, 2013.

141. ‑Piotrowski (2012), p. 22.

142. ‑Vera Mlechevska, in an interview with the author in Sofia, May 31, 2014.

143. ‑The Group of Six Artists consisted of Boris Demur (b. 1951), Željko Jerman (1949–2006), Vlado Martek (b. 1951), Mladen Stilinovic’ (b. 1947), Sven Stilinovic’ (b. 1958) and Fedor Vucemilovic’ (b. 1956).

144. ‑Mladen Stilinovic’, in an interview with the author in Zagreb, August 19, 2013.

145. ‑See Klara Kemp-Welch, “Art Documentation and Bureaucratic Life: The ’Case’ of the Studio of Activities,
Documentation and Propagation“, in Jacek Dobrowolski, Maciej Gdula, Klara Kemp-Welch, and Georg Schollhammer, eds., Zofia Kulik/Przemyslaw Kwiek: KwieKulik, Zurich, JRP Ringier, 2012, pp. 518–520.

146. ‑It is also worth mentioning Tanja Ostojic’’s 2001 performance at the Venice Biennale, I’ll Be Your Angel, during which she acted as an escort to Harald Szeemann, director of that year’s biennale, following him around the event dressed in couture. The performance not only addressed the power structure of the biennale, but the relationship between artist and curator, especially the particular dynamic of the female Eastern European artist with the Western male curator. Other artists have also addressed the lack of representation at the Venice Biennale, for example, in 2011 Moldovan artist Tatiana Fiodorova created a series of t-shirts with the words “Artist Without Pavilion“ on the front, in reaction to the situation where a group of wealthy citizens purchased an exhibition venue at the biennale and claimed to represent Moldovan art with their traditional and conservative paintings. That same year Bosnian artist Nela Hasanbegovic’ created a created an installation in the town of Pocitelj: a makeshift pavilion, in lieu of an actual pavilion, installed in Venice, for artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina to represent their country. For years, the country could not agree on a method for selecting artists to send to Venice. Later, the city of Pocitelj made the pavilion into a permanent construction.

147. ‑Allan Kaprow, “Assemblages, Environments and Happenings“ (1959–1961), reprinted in Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1900–2000: an Anthology of Changing Ideas, London, Blackwell Publishing, 2002,p.722.

148. ‑Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 184.

149. ‑Jirí Kovanda, in an interview with the author in Prague, June 27, 2011.

150. ‑Morganová, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, p. 186.

151. ‑Poszpiszyl, p. 85.

152. ‑The group consisted of Gediminas Urbonas, Džiugas Katinas, Aidas Bareikis, Julius Ludavicius, Artu-ras Makštutis, Gintaras Sodeika, among others.

153. ‑Dziugas Katinas, in an interview with the author in Vilnius, October 3, 2013.

154. ‑Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells, London, Verso, 2012, p. 3. In her February 2006 article in Artforum she referred to this as a “social turn“.

155. ‑Piotrowski (2012), p. 7.

156. ‑Miwon Kwon, “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity“, October 80, Spring 1997, p. 91.

157. ‑Claire Bishop, “The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents“, Artforum, February 2006, p. 179.

158. ‑Ibid.

159. ‑As stated on the Open Place website, eng/about/mission/ (accessed October 6, 2014).

160. ‑Yulia Kostereva, in a Skype interview with the author, June 19, 2014.

161. ‑Ibid.

162. ‑Gjorgje Jovanovic’, in an interview with the author in Skopje, June 21, 2013.