Performing the East in the West
Performing the East has been on hiatus for much of the winter. Instead of traversing the mountains and coastlines of the former Yugoslavia, or bundling up for a Baltic winter, this writer has been knuckling down and catching up on all of the artist entries that time precluded me from making while in transit. I am pleased to say that I am more or less caught up with the backlog of artist entries from Croatia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Estonia. Looking back, it may have been a bit ambitious to keep up with all of the amazing artists that I met while on the road…
Although I wasn’t traveling, I did, however, continue my interviews, although my flights took me West, instead of East. Last October, when I was in Lithuania, I wrote to one artist who told me that he no longer lived in Vilnius – he is now working as an Associate Professor at MIT. Knowing that I would be in Boston for the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), I asked if I could meet with Gediminas Urbonas then. So, on rainy autumn day, I took the T out to Cambridge and met with him in his office, which happens to be right next to Joan Jonas’s. Although I am hesitant to overplay the proximity of their office spaces, I do think it is quite poignant that these two noteworthy performance artists, one from the East and one from the West, are now divided only by a concrete wall, and not by an Iron Curtain.
I spent a few days talking with Gediminas, who told me the story of his journey East to West, along with the story of his art, which he now creates together with his artistic partner and wife, Nomeda, who is currently a PhD candidate at MIT. Gedminas told me about his work with one of the first performance groups in Lithuania, Zalias Lapas (Green Leaf), followed by his creation of the artist-run platform, Jutempus, in the post-Soviet period, through to his current work with his partner and wife Nomeda, under the heading of Urbonas Studio.
This week, I will make another trip West, to the College Art Association’s annual conference in Chicago, where the “East” will also have a presence. Together with my colleague from Prague, Dr. Pavlina Morganova, we are co-chairing a session on Performance Art in Central and Eastern Europe, which features the following papers:
Fabiola G. P. Bierhoff, “Appropriation in East German Performance Art - the Legacy of Joseph Beuys”
Dr. Andrea Euringer-Bátorová, “Mapping the crossovers of tradition, neo-avantgarde and postmodern strategies in Slovak action art of 1960s and 1970s”
Katalin Cseh “Chained. Bodies and Monuments of Hierarchy in Hungarian Performance Art”
Nicoletta Rousseva, “A Stain on the Soul: Action and Ritual in Igor Grubić’s Black Peristyle.”
This panel also coincides with two publications that may be of interest. Firstly, Pavlina and I co-edited a special edition of Centropa: a Journal of Central European Art, Architecture and Related Arts on performance art in Central and Eastern Europe that will be published this month. This edition presents seven articles by art historians working in the region: Maja Fowkes, writing on Hungarian performance art; Ivana Mance, Croatia; Ileana Pintilie, Romania; Zora Rusinova, Slovakia, Pavlina Morganova, Czech Republic; Petra Stegmann, Fluxus; as well as myself, writing on Poland.
Finally, Pavlina’s groundbreaking book, Czech Action Art: Happenings, Actions, Events, Land Art, Body Art and Performance Art Behind the Iron Curtain, is now out in English, published by Karolinum Press. The first edition of the book was published in 1999 in Czech, and has only just recently been translated. Her text charts the development of performance art in the Czech Lands, and is an essential source for anyone interested in performance art in general or in the region. It will be available on the international market, though the University of Chicago Press, in June.
As the winter snow begins to melt, Performing the East will soon be on the road again, with more artists to meet, and more performances to track. Stay tuned!