Imagined Communities. Artistic Collectives and the Political Power during the Cold War

Course Description: 

According to Bertolt Brecht, for overcoming difficulties, communities are formed in nature, but the community is only viable until leaves untouched individual lives of the individuals involved. Under conditions of totalitarian and posttotalitarian regimes the ’untouched’ life of individuals becomes even more and more desirable and utopic.

The course will focus on the artistic communities of the second halt of the 20th century in their dialogical operation with the political power, emphasising the case and history of East Central Europe. Similarly to their counterparts from the other side of the Iron Curtain, collective acting served a relevant model for artists during their self-definition processes. At the same time, political interventions much more characteristic in socialist countries resulted more specific roles and connectedness to the ruling power. Different versions of dissident thinking, oppositional attempts, aesthetic resistance, reformist utopias and even collaborations from the grey zone are all tangible concerning artistic practices from the past.

Examining art scenes emerging after 1956, we will focus on theories and notions of modernism and the neo-avantgarde, using as a starting point historical self-definitions in dialogue with latest methodological approaches of „horizontal art history”. Taking examples from global and East-Central European art practices, we will consider dominantly experimental artistic practices in a comparative way, using the methods and vocabulary of visual, cultural and gender studies, history, art history and musicology. Concentrating on issues of marginality, deconstruction of „East” and „West”, the politicised phenomena of youth subculture, the recuperation of public space, issues of cultural minorities in Yugoslavia, samizdat practices in Russia and cultural rebellions in Hungary, we will cover the region’s cultural scene. Working with a methodological pluralism when combining a historical-theoretical approach with an actor inspired approach, participants will have the direct possibility to access primary sources of archives and pieces of visual arts.

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