Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Project Outline


Networking the Bloc. East European Experimental Art and International Relations sets out to produce a history of the personal dialogues that fuelled the 1960s and ’70s experimental zeitgeist 'from below'. The research objective is to disrupt top-down accounts of Cold War cultural exchange and die-hard myths of monolithic developments taking place in isolation. Weaving together many minor narratives of experimental exchange, the project articulates a new topography of conceptual and event-based art in late-socialist Europe. Troubling the viability of an East-West framework for post 1960s art history, Networking the Bloc repositions East-East dialogue within the global art historical field. The focus is on exchange among experimental artists from the countries of the Soviet ‘bloc’ and former Yugoslavia in the decades preceding the events of 1989 and the detours these took via Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Paris, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Venice, among others.


In 1975, ‘Basket Three’ of the Helsinki Agreements was put in place so as to guarantee the ‘free movement of people and ideas’ across divided Europe. Networking the Bloc investigates the opportunities for and the impediments to these freedoms both prior to and after the Agreements. A key thesis of the project is that artistic relations among experimental artists contributed to strengthening what the Hungarian dissident György Konrád called, in his essay ‘Antipolitics’ (1984), the ‘horizontal human relationships of civil society’, in opposition to what he described as ‘the vertical human relationships of military society’. By revealing the horizontal relationships among experimental artists in the decades preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union, the project examines art’s role in the rebirth of civil society.

Research is structured around three types of nodes:
1. people (artists, thinkers, gallerists)
2. spaces (apartments, studios, galleries)
3. events (exhibitions, festivals, political turning points)

Key questions include the following: How did artistic ideas travel across national and ideological frontiers in a communist period characterized by political isolationism and a sophisticated network of censors, secret police and informers? What opportunities existed for unofficial artists in different countries to inform others of their work and to obtain information relating to developments abroad? What bureaucratic obstacles did artists have to surmount in order to engage in what we now call networking? Which state-sponsored artistic events became key spaces for unofficial exchange? What roles did foreign curators and exiled artists play in facilitating international communication, collaboration, and the circulation of information within the bloc?

Project coordinator: Dr Klara Kemp-Welch

Funding Body: The Leverhulme Trust