Artists & Agents – Performance Art and Secret Services

26. October 2019 - 19. April 2020 Dortmunder U, Level 3


The international group exhibition Artists & Agents - Performance Art and Secret Services focuses on the interaction between secret services and performance art – an art form that was considered particularly dangerous by the secret services of the Socialist countries in Eastern Europe. Accessible archives today exist almost exclusively in Eastern Europe and reveal the "disruption" and "liquidation" of dissident artists by state security services. For this, however, some of the agents had to become 'performance artists' themselves. Artists & Agents, curated by Inke Arns, Kata Krasznahorkai and Sylvia Sasse, presents examples of artistic subversion and secret service infiltration, some of which have never been shown before. Recent works show that the issue of the increasing use of secret service methods in today's politics and everyday life is highly topical.

The exhibition features works by artists from Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, and the USA.

After 1990, many intelligence archives of the former Eastern Bloc countries were opened up for scientific research. This made it possible for the first time to examine the documentation of art through agents and the influence of the intelligence services on artistic work. Above all, the exhibition intends to show the interaction of intelligence actions and performance art in particular, which the socialist states of Eastern Europe were most afraid of.

The research for this project has made clear that the intelligence files reveal little about the observed, but much more about the fears and strategies of the observers. These fears and strategies, which can be traced back to the tiniest details of these acts – narrative, verbiage, abbreviations, punctuation, and omissions – are not only of particular importance to the history of art, but also contribute to raising awareness of today's democratic societies for the dangers and warning signs of dictatorships. The intelligence reports document, sometimes down to the smallest detail, artistic activities; they speak of the monitoring and "processing" ("destruction", "liquidation") of the artist scene and reveal information about the active, operative intervention of the state in the artistic production. However, not only the artists used performative techniques; also the agents had to "perform" to gain relevant information about performance art.

To illustrate the relevance of these issues for the present, the 2019–2020 exhibition is taking place in the years which mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain as well as the storming of the Stasi headquarters. In the GDR, it was the democratic opposition (including many artists) who stormed the Stasi headquarters in 1989/1990 in order to stop the further destruction of the files. In the run-up to the exhibition, extensive and targeted research was carried out in intelligence archives in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Germany. The exhibition will focus on examples from these countries from the years 1960–1990.

An exhibition by HMKV (Hartware MedienKunstVerein), Dortmund in cooperation with the Slavic Department of the University of Zurich. The project is based on the multi-annual research project „Performance Art in Eastern Europe 1950–1990. History and Theory” by the Slavic Department of the University of Zurich which was funded by the European Research Council (ERC).


+++ Awarded as "Exhibition of the Year 2020" by the German section of the international art critics' association AICA. Read the press release. +++

Design: Nathow & Geppert, Bielefeld, ng

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