„Artist & Agents“ – Workshop (Abstracts)

„Artist and Agents“ – Workshop, 13.-14.09.2018


Der „Fall Julia Kristeva“ hat jüngst erneut vor Augen geführt, dass das Lesen von Staatssicherheitsakten eine anspruchsvolle Aufgabe ist. Diese Akten geben keine Fakten wieder, sie sollten vielmehr Fakten schaffen. Im Workshop stellen SpezialistInnen aus ganz unterschiedlichen Ländern Osteuropas und Lateinamerikas ihre Forschung in ehemaligen Staatssicherheitsarchiven vor und zeigen, inwiefern man Geheimdienstarchive auch als Kunstarchive lesen kann. Wie haben Spitzel die Kunstszene, insbesondere Performances, Happenings und Aktionen fotografisch dokumentiert? Wie haben Spitzel über Aktionen und Happenings diskutiert? Was sagt ihr Blick auf die Kunstszene über die Angst des Staates vor Künstlern aus? Wie „performativ“ war die Stasi, wie hat sie künstlerische Aktionen durch das Einschleusen von AgentInnen und durch Gegenaktionen manipuliert? Wie haben KünstlerInnen mit der Stasi als Schatten agiert, wie haben sie den potentiellen und konkreten Blick der Stasi in ihre Arbeiten einbezogen? Wie arbeiten KünstlerInnen nach 1989 mit dem von den Geheimdiensten geschaffenen Material?

The “case of Julia Kristeva” has recently drawn our attention to the fact that reading records kept by the state security is a challenging task. These records don’t reflect facts; the have much more to do with creating facts.

In this workshop, specialists from various countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America will present their research into archives of former state security agencies. In the process, they will show to what extent the archives of secret police can be understood as archives of the arts. Was does informants’ photographic documentation of the art scene, especially performances, happenings, and actions, look like? How did informants speak about the actions and happenings? What does their view of the art scene say about the state’s fears regarding artists? How “performative” was the Stasi? How did it manipulate artistic actions by planting secret agents and through counteractions? How did artists respond to the Stasi’s presence in the shadows? How did they incorporate the potential and concrete perspective of the Stasi into their works? Since 1989, how have artists worked with the material that the secret police collected on them?


13.9. 2018

10-11h: Kata Krasznahorkai (Zürich): “State Security Files in Performance Research. Chances, Pitfalls and Risks“

11-12h: Inke Arns, Kata Krasznahorkai, Sylvia Sasse: Introduction in the exhibition and book project, guided tour through the exhibition part “Artist & Agents” with Gabriele Stötzer

12-13.30h +++ Break +++

13.30-14.30h: Tamás Szőnyei (Budapest): “File under: Subculture and Surveillance – The not so chance Meeting of Underground Music and Secret Service in the Hungarian Archives”

14.30-15.30: Caterina Preda (Bucharest): “The Surveillance of Artistic Performance by the Securitate in Romania in the 1970s and 1980s”

+++ Coffee Break

16.00-17.00h: Anna Krakus (Los Angeles): “Did the SB Have a Sense of Humor?”

17.00-18.00: Anne König (spector books, Leipzig): How to produce the book on “Artists & Agents”?

19h: Gabriele Stötzer and Sylvia Sasse in conversation (in German): “Stasidada”


14.9. 2018

10-11h: Sylvia Sasse (Zürich): “Performative Censorship – the Performances of the Agents”

11-12h: Elisabeth Pichler (Braunschweig): “Artistic Reenactments of Stasi exercises: Wermke /Leinkauf”

12-13.30h +++Break+++

13.30-14.30h: Liliana Gomez-Popescu (Zürich): The Archives of the Operation Condor. Dissonant Narratives in the Works by Paz Encina and Voluspa Jarpa

14.30-15.30h: Anikó Szűcs (Haverford/Philadelphia): “Living Room Performances: The Politics and Aesthetics of Eastern European Apartment Theatres in the 1970s and 1980s”



Kata Krasznahorkai (Zürich): “State Security Files in Performance Research. Chances, Pitfalls and Risks“

Researching traces of performance art in Eastern Europe based on the files and documents of the former State Security Archives is a new field in performance research that not only sheds new light on performance art, but even more so on the operational methods, theories and acts of the state security itself. State security was deeply afraid of and highly concerned about this new field of artistic expression in the socialist societies and targeted these artists as special enemies of the socialist states. Based on a case study about the reporting of the state security of the first Hungarian Happening in 1966, the talk will analyse how these records can be used for performance research and how they contribute to the theorization and the narrative of performance art up until today. Here, I will focus on the question of why it was performance art specifically that put the machinery of state security on the highest alert and how these archives function as sources that have to be taken in wider consideration, while remaining alert to the pitfalls and risks of this kind of research – alongside the amazing chances they reveal for performance research and for the re-consideration of the Cold War narrative on the interrelation between “underground” artists and the state.

Kata Krasznahorkai is a Berlin-based researcher and curator working at the University of Zürich on the interrelation between performance art and state security in the ERC-project “Performance Art in Eastern Europe 1950-1990: History and Theory” (www.performanceart.info). She has published and lectured extensively on the interrelation between performance art and state security and has been working on a monograph based on her research in the Hungarian and East German state security archives since 2012. Together with Sylvia Sasse and Inke Arns, she is curating the exhibition “Artists & Agents” at the HMKV Dortmund, opening Fall 2019.

Tamás Szőnyei (Budapest): “File under: Subculture and Surveillance – The not-so-chance Meeting of Underground Music and Secret Service in the Hungarian Archives”

Founded in 1995, the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security has two basic tasks: providing access for citizens to data produced by the former state security pertaining to themselves, and providing access for scientific researchers to the documents pertaining to their topic of interest. In order to fulfil these tasks, the Archives process the documents and make them searchable in the computer database.

The secret service observed each segment of the society, including culture: literature and popular music in the first place, but were also interested in theatre, film and art as well.

Besides introducing the Historical Archives and how one can research there, I will provide insight into the surveillance of subcultures. From the beat scene of the ’60s, through the rock and folk scene of the ’70s to punk and new wave in the ’80s, the internal security service was gathering information on youth movements – groups and fans – in order to be able to interfere if needed in the defense of the socialist system. I will show secret police reports concerning events that I have the posters of in my collection. Through these different kinds of documents, one can sense a surreal symbiosis between two sorts of activities: the making of art and its observation for political reasons.

Tamás Szőnyei was born in Budapest in 1957. From 1992 to 2012, he worked as a journalist for the political/cultural weekly magazine Magyar Narancs. Since 2012, he has been working at the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest. Szőnyei has written monographs on new wave music (Az új hullám évtizede [The New Wave Decade Vol 1 & 2], 1989, 1992), as well as about the interaction of rock music and literature with the state security, based on research into documents of the former secret service (Nyilván tartottak – Titkos szolgák a magyar rock körül 1960–1990 [Kept On File – Secret Servants around Rock in Hungary] and Titkos írás – Állambiztonsági szolgálat és irodalmi élet 1956–1990 [Secret Writing – The State Security Services and Literary Life Vol 1 & 2]). Szőnyei recently published a major illustrated catalogue of his collection of Hungarian new wave posters (Pokoli aranykor [Infernal Golden Age], 2017), with a special focus on the interaction between state security and motifs on new wave posters, a project which has also been presented as an exhibition in Budapest.


Caterina Preda (Bucharest): “The Surveillance of Artistic Performance by the Securitate in Romania in the 1970s and 1980s”

This talk uses the theoretical approach towards art and politics in dictatorships and emphasizes the importance of using archival documents to better understand their cultural institutions. Situated in the larger context of surveillance by the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, of visual artists during communism, this study discusses the specific case of the surveillance of artists that engaged in performance art (happenings, action art, body art) during the last two decades of Romanian communism. The article specifically investigates three case studies that have been documented using the files of the Securitate: those of the artists Alexandru Antik, Imre Baász, and Wanda Mihuleac. They were chosen because in two cases there is a definition of performance in their file (Antik and Baász) and in the third case (Mihuleac), although she was an artist who created performances (“furtive actions”) at the time and supported other neo-vanguard manifestations, there is no reference to performance in her dossier. Based on the archival material of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), which has administered the files of the former Securitate since 2006, we can see how the motives for the surveillance of artists in the repressive institution were in the first place political, and only secondarily artistic.


Caterina Preda (caterina.preda@fspub.unibuc.ro), PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Bucharest where she teaches undergraduate courses on Latin American politics, art and politics, and a graduate course on cultural memory in South America and Eastern Europe. Her research deals with art and politics in dictatorships, artistic memory in post-dictatorships in South America and Eastern Europe (Chile and Romania), and cultural memory. Her most recent book is Art and Politics under Modern Dictatorships: A Comparison of Chile and Romania (Palgrave 2017). Her latest research project (2015-2017) dealt with the case of the Romanian Artists’ Union (UAP).


Anna Krakus (Los Angeles): “Did the SB Have a Sense of Humor?”

This talk will investigate the relationship between the Polish performance group “Pomarańczowa Alternatywa” [Orange Alternative] and the Polish secret police (SB). The Orange Alternative was founded in 1981 and remained active throughout the last decade of Polish socialism by organizing street parties, covering the streets of Wrocław and Warsaw in graffiti, and with general kinds of play. Or, according to SB, through “play” – as the secret police frequently categorize their actions as playful only within quotation marks. To SB, these public gatherings are anything but fun, and to make things worse, part of the fun the group had was directly mocking the Police (MO) and SB. In “Did the SB have a Sense of Humor?” I research how the secret police wrote about and worked around the happenings of the Orange Alternative, focusing in particular on the events that targeted the police and secret police, making them the butt of the joke. I will also engage with recent Polish performance artist Paweł Althamer, whose work embodies the kinds of consequences a life under SB observation and control might have.

Anna Krakus is an Assistant Professor in the departments of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from New York University. Her monograph No End in Sight: Polish Film During Late Socialism came out with the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2018. Her next project engages with material culture, collections, and the Polish formerly secret police files. She has engaged with the secret police files since 2009 when she first undertook a search for Michel Foucault’s file from his year in Poland in 1958.


Gabriele Stötzer and Sylvia Sasse in conversation (in German): “Stasidada”

In the days of the GDR, Gabriele Stötzer was one of the many artists and authors who were watched, for years, as well as “demoralized” by order of the Stasi. Today, she works to “demoralize” the material that the Stasi collected by “dadaizing” it.

The file kept on her consists of thousands of pages of “assessment reports” filled out by intelligence agents, observational protocols from more than twenty different unofficial employees, confiscated letters, surveillance photos, sketches of her apartment, of her private “Galerie im Flur” (Gallery in the Hallway), and protocols concerning the surveillance of her circle of friends. On 4 December 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she and a number of other artists and activists occupied the Stasi headquarters in Erfurt and ensured that the Stasi would not be allowed to continue destroying the records they had kept. She was also one of the first people to allow excerpts of the exhaustive records kept on her to be published. We will speak with Gabriele Stötzer about that time, about spying, about her artistic work in the underground, and about reading and re-appropriating Stasi records.

Gabriele Stötzer is an artist, poet, and performer. In 2013, she received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in honor of her contribution to the reappraisal of the communist dictatorship. She had been sentenced to one year in prison and was one of the initiators of the first occupation of a central office of the State Security on the 4th of December 1989 in Erfurt to protect the archive from destruction. In 2013, she curated the exhibition Zwischen Ausstieg und Aktion. Die Erfurter Subkultur der 1960er, 1970er und 1980er Jahre. Her Super8 films and photographs have been widely shown internationally at major surveys of performance art, such as re.act.feminism – performance art of the 1960s and 70s today (Berlin, Akademie der Künste, 2009) or in 2013 in her solo show Gabriele Stötzer, Schwingungskurve Leben at the Schiller Museum in Weimar.


Sylvia Sasse (Zürich): “Performative Censorship – the Performances of the Agents”

With the term “performative censorship”, I refer to those secret service activities which were unquestionably intended to impede artistic actions and works, but which were not intended to be recognised as censorship: disguised counter-actions of the secret service. This could have been something as minor as breaking a water pipe to prevent an exhibition, or as complex of a counter-action as the “Bulldozer Exhibition” in Moscow in 1974. In my talk, I will analyse actions of “performative censorship”, partially from the outside, as in the case of Russia, and partially from the inside, in cases where secret service actions can be examined in detail, as in the former East Germany. This will also involve formulating a theory that situates the actions of the secret services in the context of theatre and performance.

Sylvia Sasse is Professor for Slavic Literature Studies at the University of Zurich, co-founder of the ZKK (Center for Arts and Cultural Theories) and co-publisher of “Geschichte der Gegenwart”. Prof. Sasse is the project-leader of the ERC-Project “Performance Art in Eastern Europe 1950-1990. History and Theory” (performanceart.info) and is working on a monograph on “Subversive Affirmation. Critique of Critique revisited” as well as curating the exhibition “Artists&Agents. Performance art and the Secret Services” together with Inke Arns and Kata Krasznahorkai at the HMKV Dortmund.


Elisabeth Pichler (Braunschweig): “Border Crossing Exercises: Artistic Reenactments by Wermke /Leinkauf”

The state apparatus of the former GDR did not only observe its potential enemies – it also meticulously documented its own activities. Artist duo Wermke/Leinkauf take such documents as a starting point for their work “Überwindungsübungen” [lit.: overcoming exercises]. Based on archival images and written records from 1974/75 documenting East German soldiers simulating the conquering of a “test wall” (for reinforcing purposes), they reenact these exercises along length of the former border of Berlin.

Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf were born at the end of the 70s in East Berlin and their artistic practice is strongly influenced by the city’s transformation following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The appropriation and incorporation of space, knowledge and practices always play an important role in their video works and installations. In my research on the artistic usage of archival material from the former GDR’s state apparatus, I examine different modes of appropriation, focussing on the relation between the given material and artistic intervention, and their transformational processes. What are recent artistic strategies to shift, reverse or enforce meaning, with respect to time, space and context? The legacies of the GDR’s state apparatus are diverse and partly of delicate origin, and in my contribution for “Artist & Agents” I will focus on the specifics of artistic involvement in self-documentation.

Elisabeth Pichler studied communication design at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam and received her master’s degree in Cultures of the Curatorial at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig (HGB). Together with Lena von Geyso, she works as a curatorial team Kein Ort, sondern ein Zustand (Not a place, but a condition) and realizes interdisciplinary projects and exhibitions that combine experimental, media-scientific and artistic approaches. Since October 2016, Elisabeth Pichler has been a scholarship holder at the DFG PhD Program The Photographic Dispositif at Braunschweig University of Art (HBK).


Liliana Gomez-Popescu (Zürich): “The Archives of the Operation Condor. Dissonant narratives in the works by Paz Encina and Voluspa Jarpa”

This paper discusses the epistemologies and politics of archives of the secret services and examines the files related to Operation Condor, known as the initiative led by the secret services of the United States during the Cold War to back the dictatorships in Latin America, as used, assembled, and rearranged by Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina and Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa. In her work En nuestra pequeña región de por acá (2016), Jarpa engages with the declassified CIA archives to problematize the relationships between politics, history, and image. Focus is placed on the archival logic that she deconstructs as a fabrication of a legal-administrative assemblage to explore the aesthetic-political potentialities as dissonant narratives. In her two short films, Arribo and Familiar (2014), Encina re-reads the files of the Archivos del Terror, discovered in 1992 in Asunción, Paraguay, to criticize the chrono-normativity of historiography and its hegemonic models and to contest the amnesia of Paraguayan contemporary society. She inquires into the way in which documents are constituted and suppress other narratives, while unfolding the affects trafficked therein through the visual and the sonic. Both artists engage with the complex process of writing history and represent a recent shift in Latin American art.

Liliana Gómez-Popescu is a Swiss National Science Foundation professor at the University of Zürich where she directs the project Contested Amnesia and Dissonant Narratives in the Global South. Post-Conflict in Literature, Art, and Emergent Archives. She received her PhD in Latin American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin and New York University, and her Habilitation for Ibero-Romance literature and cultural analysis at the University of Zürich. Her second book, A Laboratory of the Modern. The Caribbean in Photographic Archives, is forthcoming. Her research fields are comparative literatures; cultural and media theory; visual cultures and architecture; environmental humanities and creative human rights; and political philosophy.

Anikó Szűcs (Haverford/Philadelphia): “Living Room Performances: The Politics and Aesthetics of Eastern European Apartment Theatres in the 1970s and 1980s”

Dissident theatre artists of the former Eastern bloc, once banned from the public sphere, held performances in their private apartments. The already volatile boundaries between the private and the public in these instances were further blurred by the state security’s invisible surveillance: even though news of such performances usually spread via word of mouth and mostly friends and acquaintances attended them, the secret police always found ways to infiltrate these events through their informers—some of these same friends and acquaintances. This presentation is part of a research project that aims to create a comprehensive archive of the apartment theatres in the Soviet bloc. In this first exploration of the subject, I will focus on the apartment theatre of Péter Halász in Hungary and Czech actress Vlasta Chramostová’s Living Room Theatre in the former Czechoslovakia to consider the distinctive features of the genre of the apartment theatre in this region in the 1970s and ask how the former state security documents inform our research on these performances. I am particularly interested in the tension between the poetic-phenomenological and the political; while both Halász and Chramostová experimented with the affective and phenomenological (neo-)avant-garde aesthetics outside of the constraints of the political, their works were inevitably framed as oppositional political gestures and provocations in the informer reports and internal files of the state security archives.

Anikó Szűcs is a Mellon Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature at Haverford College. She is currently completing her first book, which analyzes contemporary artists’ use of state security files in their artworks. She holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University, and an M.A. in theatre studies and dramaturgy from the University of Theatre, Film, and Television of Budapest. She co-curated the exhibition “Revolutionary Voices: Performing Arts in Central & Eastern Europe in the 1980s” at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, and has published articles in both English and Hungarian.