Artists and Agents. Performance Art and the Secret Services (13./14. September 2018)

Workshop: “Artists and Agents. Performance Art and the Secret Services”, Zurich, Kunsthalle, 13./14. September 2018

After 1990, the national secret service archives of many former Eastern Bloc countries were made accessible for scientific research. The project Artists and Agents: Performance Art and Secret Services in Eastern Europe undertakes a unique experiment of restaging the interrelationship between performance artists and secret agents, based on the analyses of documents produced and archived by the secret services.

As the result of an ongoing archival research carried out for over three years by the team members of the ERC-research project Performance art in Eastern Europe: History and Theory (1950-1990), the analysis of this material immediately made it clear that the secret service records revealed little about those being monitored, but far more about the various anxieties, fears and strategies of those doing the monitoring. These fears and strategies, which can be traced even in the minutiae of these records—their narratives, words, shorthand, punctuation, and omissions—are of utmost importance, not only for the history of art, but also to sensitize today’s democratic societies to the dangers and indicators of dictatorships. Secret service reports document, sometimes down to the merest detail, artistic activities; they show the monitoring and “treatment” (“undermining”, “elimination”) of the art scene, and provide information about the active, operative intervention of the state in artistic production. The agent controllers and police spies paid particular attention to one specific artistic genre: performance art (actions, happenings, performances). But performative strategies were not only carried out by artists; it is also the agents who had to “perform” in order to gain relevant information on performance art.

Regarding the pertinence of questions raised by this research today, we plan the exhibition for 2019, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. We do so to gain the widest possible audience and attention to the project. This is the first time that the relationship between performance art and the secret services will be presented for a wide audience. Currently, the team members of the ERC-research project are undertaking extensive and focused research in secret service archives throughout Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Germany and the former Yugoslavia. In doing so, we would like to concentrate on examples from those countries from the years 1960-1990. The exhibition will present: 1) reports as reproductions, which document or comment action art oder performance art, which show the “performance” of agents within actions and performances; 2) photographs made by secret service agents documenting legal and illegal gatherings, exhibitions, actions and happenings; 3) records in which a theoretical debate takes place about the genre of the happenings and performances; 4) artistic works that use these materials.

In September we launch a preparatory workshop with international participants and a public talk for the exhibition “Artists and Agents. Performance Art and the Secret Services” opening in Fall 2019 at the Hartware MedienKunstVerein curated by Sylvia Sasse, Inke Arns and Kata Krasznahorkai

With: Inke Arns, Liliana Gómez-Popescu, Anna Krakus, Kata Krasznahorkai, Elisabeth Pichler, Caterina Preda, Sylvia Sasse, Gabriele Stötzer, Tamás Szőnyei, Aniko Szucs,