Mihai Lukacs is an artist with a diverse background. He is currently finishing up his PhD at the Central European University in Gender Studies, and has studied theater and acting. His work in performance thus spans the genres of performance art in terms of the visual arts, theater and theory. His overarching focus is a classless and genderless utopia, and he explores this possibility by examining the present conditions of human subjugation (specifically through the concept of humiliation), and by implicating the viewer, to get him to question his own views on how the world functions, and humans are labeled and stratified.
One of Mihai’s performances, which he has done in a number of different cities across Europe, is entitled Queer Worker. He created a text about the concept of the queer worker based on different manifestos, which illustrates the thought process behind combining the categories of queer and the worker: “The exploitation of the working class goes hand in hand with the oppression of women and queers. Our struggles for sexual justice go hand in hand with those for social justice, the redistribution of goods and abolition of property goes hand in hand with changing the gendered/sexed/racialized instruments of culture,” he writes. With this work, the artist can combine communist ideology, which advocated the liberation of the worker, with contemporary queer theory, feminism, and other civil rights movements. In some ways, his interest in the liberation of minorities comes from the local situation in Romania, where official rhetoric blames homosexuality for the declining birth rate, and fears the “queer apocalypse” will be the end of the Romanian nation. But despite this local situation, Mihai sees this as a global phenomenon, because Romania is certainly not the only place in the world where LGBT people are marginalized. But the artist’s Queer Worker manifesto does more than simply criticize; it presents a solution: “Let’s mix working class leitmotifs with queer theory and political utopias and bake a genderless and classless society,” he begins. For Mihai, the term “queer” is an “umbrella term” for any subject that is marginalized on the basis of gender or sexuality. So, the liberation of the LGBT community can stimulate the liberation of all minorities, including the proletariat, Roma, religious minorities, etc.
Mihai described the Queer Worker performance as a “food performance,” as it involves a worker (the artist) on his lunch break, eating in front of the audience. He took the idea of a food performance from Brecht, whose work attempted to transgress what he described as “culinary theater,” that is, easily digestible, form of art that confirms one’s way of living, as opposed to challenging it. For Mihai, the Queer Worker performance takes an activist approach, and aims to involve the audience in discussion, to confront their own views about capitalism, society, the worker, and the oppressed.
The artists provokes viewers in a more visceral way with his Public Humiliation performances, one of which involved participants performing menial tasks, such as washing the paving stones on their knees, in public, and informing passersby that they are doing so as “punishment” for their bad or wrong behavior. This performance took place in Vienna, in the Museum Quarter, and the artist commented that viewers were not surprised when they learned that this activity was a punishment, as it seemed logical to them that the Austrian authorities would dispense such a sentence. The artist cites historical examples of public humiliation as punishment, for example of Jews by the Nazis, or of women suspected to be witches (Hungary), or of slaves in 19th-century Romania, which indicate that this type of action is not so far from the realm of possibility, as real examples can be found in the not-too-distant-past.
Mihai’s brand of performance art combines the didacticism of a public lecture with the interactivity of participatory art. He uses everyday yet vivid means (food, work) to convey complex concepts and questions to his viewers, to motivate them to confront their own ideas about minorities, hierarchy, and the repressive nature of contemporary society.