Saturday, January 24, 2009

re.act conference: yes, we have no bananas

Bojana Pejic presents to the re.act.feminism conference; photo by Val PhoenixWell, after an enlightening afternoon and evening spent at the re.act conference, I emerged with some delightful quotes and thoughts. The talks I attended on "Performative Tendencies in the DDR" and "When Personal Was Not Political" were intended to fill in some gaps in the historical record, documenting performance culture in the DDR and Yugoslavia, states that no longer exist and whose conditions produced a particular kind of performance that was done in secret.

Nonetheless, as Bojana Pejic pointed out in her witty presentation, commenting on the "comradesses" of her country, much subversive art was produced, even if it didn't use the name feminist, which was considered a western concept. Artists such as Sanja Ivekovic found a way to stage performances by utilising the state surveillance and incorporating it into her scenarios, making the agents of state control complicit in her actions.

Pejic also pointed out that Yugoslavia had a bit of a consumerist culture, i.e., they had bananas. Bananas seem to be some kind of marker for the eastern bloc: to have them was to have some connection with the west, a tiny bit of capitalism in the form of the forbidden fruit. An audience member questioned whether this focus on bananas weren't some kind of phallic-patriarchal-capitalist symbolism, which added a bit of levity to the proceedings.

The DDR, Angelika Richter informed us, did not have bananas, only green oranges from Cuba. State controls on expression were much tighter, producing a hermetically sealed border state. Consequently, there was no public audience for the art produced by women such as Cornelia Schleime and Gabriele Stötzer. Instead, they made photographs and Super 8 films to be shared amongst themselves.

I was able to speak with Gabriele Stötzer, who explained a bit about the artistic Frauengruppe that she founded in Erfurt in the early 80s. More on that another time, but she confirmed that the group was not aware of any of the western feminist performance art going on at the time, and she followed her own drives in making photos focussing on the female body, wanting to externalise the pain she felt after being imprisoned for being a "class enemy". Her story shows the incredible threat these women posed to the state.

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