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Socialist Performances Replaced: Re-Enactment as a Critical Strategy in Contemporary East European Art

By Maja Fowkes and Reuben Fowkes
Published in Katalin Cseh-Varga and Adam Czirak, eds, Performance Art in the Second Public Sphere: Event Based Art in Late Socialist Europe (London: Routledge, 2018)

All attempts to restage works of neo-avant-garde performance art are confronted with the fact that the setting in which they were originally realised differed radically from that of today. Such differences go beyond widely remarked contradictions between the prevalent attitude of experimental artists of the 1960s and 70s towards the unique status of performance as existing outside of institutional structures and a more recent integration of ephemeral works of live art into public and private collections. The particularity of the remaking of East European performances derives rather from the fact that the originals lie on the other side of the historical fissure between the socialist past and the post-communist present. This has far reaching implications for the interpretation of the content of performances, since for example the making of direct political allusions previously carried the risk of punitive retribution, while the choice of location for performative actions also had a particular meaning during socialism, since both the public and private realms had different connotations. The fall of communism also spelt the end for the distinctive existential territory of the second public sphere, disbanding the context in which live art had primarilybeen performed. To re-enact a performance from the period is alsoto engage with the contested legacies of socialism, from processing the experience of surviving under repressive conditions to exploring feelings of loss and nostalgia for a lifeworld that no longer exists.