agora8 is the result of doctoral research that enquired into Eastern European Time-Based Art Practices. It contextualises these activities within the Communist project of emergence and post-Communist disintegration and transition.
It has two objectives. On one hand it is intended as an introductory guide to readers who are not so familiar with the background and contexts of this compelling period in recent history and art and, on the other, to contribute to the ongoing debate about how we care for these histories and their impact on art historicization structures and processes.
Soviet-era Communism was a project of emergence that failed to realise its Utopian ambition. Nevertheless, it created an unprecedented simulacrum whose visual language was appropriated by a number of artists as a readymade. This artistic response to everyday reality shaped an unofficial narrative of the Communist epoch.
Operating beyond the official realm artists were subject to varying degrees of censorship, and their activities led to what became known as ‘non-official’ art. Non-official artists suffered from inferior materials, lack of exposure, and were forced to radicalize their methods of production. Without official support the everyday domestic realm and a diverse range of interrupted sites became the primary arenas of production, while the artist's body often acted as one or both material and surface.
On the one hand the thesis takes the Communist context as a common platform from which to discuss time-based art practices in Eastern Europe while, on the other, it proposes that such a general view is worthless since it does not pay sufficient attention to the particular conditions within each bloc country.
While the former serves as a reference for artistic response in a wide view, the latter provides a deeper, more contextualised, understanding of the social, political, and cultural conditions that ultimately shaped non-official art.
To understand fully the effect of the Communist past also involves analysing it through the lens of the present day. A number of works produced pre- and post-1989 are analysed that offer insights into the past, its disintegration, and the transition period.
The theoretical and critical thrust is shaped from primary research material gathered from artists, intellectuals, and critics throughout the region, so as to most clearly reflect its own contemporaneous and unfolding discourse. It builds on these key sources and underscores the difficulties faced when trying to locate the works within existing art history canons.
Together with a written thesis, a further two curatorial strands complete the form of the thesis. This website has been created to reflect the research enquiry, three re-enactments of historical works are undertaken as a strategy that allows for a more experiential dialogue with context, and three new performances devised by the author in response to the contexts researched complete the work.
The thesis was written throughout Eastern Europe, and primarily in Poland where the author lives and works.
Kenny McBride, Warsaw 09/2009.