The communist regimes of the former East Bloc countries regarded performance art to be an especially subversive Western art form and consequently kept it under surveillance by their secret services. These activities became known when the secret service archives were opened to the public in 1990. The files contain evidence of how artists were monitored and what actions were taken by the respective regimes to destabilise the art scene and thereby weaken the opposition.
The exhibition “Artists & Agents” has painted a portrait of how far these efforts went. Embedded in the long-term research project “Performance Art in Eastern Europe: History and Theory (1950 – 1990)”, the project examined various files from Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, Polish, Romanian and East German secret service archives. Although these documents offer little information about the monitored individuals, they reveal the fears of the regimes and illuminate the strategies and censorship practices of the secret services, many of which are still employed in similar fashion in authoritarian states today. The international team of curators presented concrete examples of how artistic actions were prevented by staged incidents and how artists were systematically maligned by means of criminal entrapment. For example, in Gabriele Stötzer’s photography projects, the East German secret service planted an agent, who, posing as a transvestite, tried to convince her to stage pornographic scenes. These photos would have subjected her to criminal prosecution.
The exhibition also revealed the serial quality of recurrent formats and formulations in the files. These possess an archival aestheticism of their own – meticulous notes on the predilections, activities and clothing styles of potentially dangerous artists and snapshot series made by unofficial collaborators of gallery visitors. In contrast, the exhibition also included works by such artists as the Romanian Ion Grigorescu, who adopted undercover techniques to secretly document the agents at work, or Cornelia Schleime and Daniel Knorr who began using the archives as artistic source material after 1990.
Curators: Inke Arns, Kata Krasznahorkai (HU), Sylvia Sasse (CH)
Artists: György Galantai / Artpool (HU), Laszlo Beke (HU), Ion Grigorescu (RO), Orange Alternative (PL), Gabriele Stötzer and others