Performance Art in Slovakia in the 90s. Michal Murin

Performance Art in Slovakia in the 90s
Michal Murin

(From the Position of the Art-Form, through its Reflection to the Co-Existence of Solitary Worlds) by Michal Murin, performance artist, curator and reviewer

In 1991 the exhibition Umìní akce (Art of Action) took place in the Mánes gallery in Prague. It defined something new and for some people closed a certain period. For the exhibited artists it was a kind of satisfaction for their activities in the past and the catalogue to the exhibition certified their pioneership. I regret to say that despite of existence of open information space, nowadays nobody hears about their further activities in the field of performance art. Although these artists stopped with the performances, they strengthened their positions in the eyes of experts who consider them the exclusive representatives of performance art in Slovakia. The art historians, following the artists of their generation, reflect their performance activities only through historical context and do not reflect the present activities of generation younger artists at all. As the years pass, books and articles are being written on performance art in Slovakia. Their authors reflect the historical "events and turning points" in art of action in Slovakia, although at that time they were not interested in this artistic form and selectively paid attention to traditional forms.

Positive fact is that József R. Juhász was among the few young Slovak artists presented at the exhibition Umìní akce in 1991. It was him, who organized eleven years of the international performance art festival called Transart Communication (from 1999 Human Body Electronics). They are documented in several festival catalogues and extensive video archives, years 1995 - 96 also on CD-ROM. The festival established important platform for the performers and, in my opinion, anticipated a world tendency in art of action and performance in nineties and initiated many other, smaller or bigger festivals. To prove this, it is sufficient to name a few festivals held in the Czech and Slovak contexts: the MALAMUT performance art festival in Ostrava (1995 - 98), the A.K.T. in Brno (1997 - 98), the Permanent Performance (1997) in Cheb, the Performance Festival in the Prague Palmovka Synagogue (1996 - 97), Action Prague festival in Prague (Roxy club, 1998) and last but not least, the activities of Sklenená Louka venue in Brno and the Hermit Foundation in Plasy, presenting a wide range of foreign artists as well the Czech and Slovak performers. In the Slovak context, it was mainly the Festival of Intermedia Creativity (FIT) in 1991-92, Fluxfest in 1991 and festival SOUND OFF in 1995 - 99, all organized by Society for Non-Conventional Music, then festival ...Medzi ... (...In Between ...) in 1995 - 98 in Skalica, the BARLA 96 video-journal of performance arts and BEECAMP Festival in 1995-96.

Part of The Sixties exhibition, held in 1996 in the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava, was dedicated to the performance art and currently we can see some of its manifestations at the huge retrospective The History of Slovak Visual Arts of 20. Century there. The art of action cannot miss at these shows as it was one of the few quality activities arising under heavy political pressure of the seventies. For a long period of time, a self-contained exhibition is in discussion in Slovakia, which would present performance art with a special focus on the generation of older artists as Stano Filko, Alex Mlynarcik, Peter Bartos, Julius Koller, Jana Zelibska, Rudolf Sikora, Milan Adamciak, Vladimir Popovic, Jan Budaj, Pagac - Oravec duo, Peter Meluzin, Vladimír Kordos, Peter Ronai , Lubomir Durcek and Radislav Matustik.

Another big exhibition of action art is planned for Slovak National Gallery in 2001 under the curation of Radislav Matustík. In this perspective, Peter Rónai´s project seems interesting: he would like to give space to all artists using this form of artistic communication, regardless their age, gender, religion and interpersonal collisions in next BARLA video journal. The term "performance" nowadays covers a wide range of activities: actions, events, pieces, happenings, neofluxus projects and concepts, so called experimental theatre projects, body art, video-actions, photo-actions, multimedia and intermedia performances. The global emphasis to exploit in performances various media appears also in Slovak arts. This is partly due to theatre and concert experience of some authors and partly it was influenced by the development of Transart Communication Festival itself as the only public and open presentational platform in Slovakia since 1988. The festival offered artists new technical possibilities and as it took place in a cinema building the artists started to use video, film and slide projection. This determining fact, i.e. the location, along with the stage space led the authors to use the scenic multimedia presentation. This was completely in line with the world trend, leaving the conceptual performances and traditional fine artefacts behind. On the other hand, such an attitude can be still seen at the openings of individual exhibitions of some artists who exploit performance as a vehicle to create an object or to make an installation for the exhibition. Some artists still continue in their private performances which are occasionally reflected by media, displayed at exhibitions or presented in catalogues. Things like simplicity in conspicuousness, introvert feel for reality, gestures, messages, individual or intuitive mythologies do not have the same meaning as 20 years ago. However, the authors continue to present their documentation - photoactions trying to complete their ideas which they have been working on for many years. In Slovakia, women artists are becoming more active around Aspect, a feminist group with own magazine. Aspect has been providing since 1995 suitable conditions for presenting and medializing women artists´ performances and video performances. On the other hand, young artists´ performances presented at festivals get very little attention from art critics or journalists. Sadly enough, the attention thay get is descriptive, non-analytical and struck with interpersonal relationships. Since a great number of performances are multi-layered, the reviewers can hardly grasp the intellectual background of the artists. In their reviews they downgrade themselves to depthless description (saying who did what, when and how), compiling a list of instructions as it used to be done in a better way by the performers 20 years ago. At the same time, such a low quality reflection deters young artists from performances. Those who realize them gain the dismissive approach from the side of theoreticians, who prefer performances in the spirit of the seventies but not in a revival way. The theoreticians in Slovakia dealing with performance art confirm own opinions by prestigious retrospective exhibitions, like UBI FLUXUS during the Venice Biennale 1991 or Out of Action presented in the Viennese MAK in 1998 were. Both mentioned exhibitions confirmed the performance art as important "other" form of presenting ideas and for Slovak context it is significant, that the Out of Action exhibition was reviewed in a prestigious and influential weekly by a distinguished art historian who was never been at any performance art festival in Nové Zámky and obviously never reflected current performance tendencies. The tendency not to reflect the performance art by art reviewers creates, to a certain extent, a climate in which this artistic form is viewed with disrespect. Despite this disregard in the local context, performance artists have been lately presenting their work mainly abroad.

The art of action in Slovakia has, of course, in nineties its amplitudes, the states of adoration (during short period 1990 - 91) and regression. Formerly prohibited arts gained prestigious position in 1990 and 1991. Some artists, working so far in traditional forms (painters, sculpturs), wanted to surf on this wave and began to produce so called performances, too. However, doing that they contributed to degradation of the form as such. Another authors dealed at the beginning of the nineties rather with publicizing their actions from seventies and eighties in teoretical journals, other ones did vehemently installations in the galleries. According to Dick Higgins´ theory, installations are the successor of performance art. Group Transmusic Comp. (M. Adamciak, M. Machajdík, M. Murin, P. Cón etc.) played an outstanding role mainly in 1989 - 92. Apart from quotations and "appropriational interpretations" of pieces by famous Fluxus representatives, the artists (over 10) associated in the Transmusic Comp. came up with a great number of performances, in which the elements of theatre and experimental literary forms were integrated through actual, mostly improvised music. During its three years existance Transmusic Comp. did around sixty autonomous and never re-run performances out of which some were fluxus-like, others theatrical or musical. The members of group often created specific performances for the occasions of exhibitions openings, corresponding with the works of exhibiting artists. The music-theatre performances of Transmusic Comp. had in the field of theatre their pendants in the projects of M. Karásek´s and B. Uhlár. The big-screen productions by KPB (1990 - 92) and early shows put up by STOKA theatre company (1991 - 94) were anticipated by the shows of theatre group DISK (1987 - 89). All these shows were composed and directed in form of theatrical version of autonomous actions-performances - each of them would easily gain interest at any performance art festival. Using performance as a form in directed theatre piece turned out very attractive for the audience. But from Uhlár´s side it was also intentional critical approach towards performance art as an amateur theatrical form. Similarly, some critics occasionally wrongly pay their attention more to "amateurism" in rhetorical or musical expression of the performer instead of content and depth of the artists´ message.

Sometimes it is hard to understand that for the performance artists spectacularism, dramatic action and theatrical rendering are often irrelevant. And for those performers who care for dramatics couldn´t be problem to hire a director, actors or any other craftsman from the realm aof traditional theatre. I think, these days it would be more acceptable than it was 30 years ago. To complete the list of performance activities in Slovakia, let me mention PATAFUNUS (1990), the TV documentary, which presented performances and events by the Society for Promotion of Pataphysic, then San Francisco Performance Arts Festival (organized by Society for Non-Conventional music in Bratislava in 1991) with the participation of Slovak artists too, then installation performances by the first Slovak experimental and avant-garde theatre group Balvan (The Boulder, 1987-92), the dance-performance projects HUBRIS (1993), ADATO and DEBRIS (1998), or a multimedial performance Deep Look Into the Slovak Soul (actual re-interpretation of Jarry´s UBU KING which reflected Slovak realities of post velvet-revolution period, 1993), Piano Hotel (1997) and projects of duo LENGOW & HERMES (from 1997).

Later mentioned duo seems to be very intersting part of performance life in Central Europe in the end of nineties as it integrates play, action, installation, performance, presentation and reflection into one form denying the genre and style classifications and balancing on borders of discoursive and non-discoursive way of expression. LENGOW & HERMES 's poetics is full of lingustic, contextual and reinterpretative games, intertextualiy, appropriation, quotations, allusions, collage, erasion the borders between real and virtual worlds, media manipulations, camouflage and humour. By establishing the multiviews and combining the various codes, discoursive conventions, channels and perceptive modes they are trying to articulate the plurality of postmodern age and deconstruct the possibility of "pure" media. The activities in 90ties were reflected in texts published in the following journals: Kultúrny zivot (Culture Life), Profile contemporary art magazine (a special issue 3/93 dedicated to performances edited by M. Murin) and book AVALANCHES 1990 - 95 (ed. M. Murin) which included also a translation of Kostelanetz´s text The Theatre of Mixed Means, very important for Slovak and Czech performance art context. To conclude, let me present the most detailed list of Slovak artists who dealed in the nineties with performance art: M. Adamciak, P. Bartos, J. Bartusz, J. Bodnárová, A. Daucíková, J. Juhász, R. Fajnor, I. Hrmo, H. Fichna, S. Filko, P. Kalmus, J. Koss, V. Kordos, LENGOW & HERMES, O. Meszáros, M. Murin, M. Nicz, P. Rónai, Pagác-Oravec, L. Stacho, E. Szucsova, Vertigo group, D. Záhoranský, D. Tóth, P. Tóth, J. Zelibská and A. Zigová.

Texto extraído de:
Slaps Banks Plots
Performance Art Magazine
Issue # 4