The project explores cultural transfers between artists, art professionals, and intellectuals of the region in the ’70s to compose a new, transnational, and dialogical history for neo-avant-garde art of Central-East Europe. Running from 2021 to 2024, this collaborative research project will first take the form of a traveling four-chapter conference in Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, and Poznan, followed by a prospective traveling exhibition and catalog.
This project applies theories of cultural transfer (cross-border contacts triggering mutual changes in cultural concepts and practices), histoire croisée (interlinked history), and cultural translation to the field of CEE art. Developed in the context of postcolonial studies, these theories question the hierarchical, one-way concept of influence. The analysis of cultural transfers between and beyond the countries of CEE can circumscribe the relativity and changing validity of categories such as official/non-official which have been responsible for reductive historicizations of CEE art of the Cold War era. Going beyond mere comparisons that suppose the possibility of a neutral or external point of view, our project endeavors to create a new perception of regional histories based on transnational cultural transfers.
Each chapter of the conference series approaches cultural transfer from a different angle. Starting in Bratislava from the critical evaluation of networks and communication channels, in Budapest we move on to test the applicability of various theories of cultural transfer and translation in uncovering the interconnections between state-governed cultural diplomacy between the so-called friendly countries and the self-organized exchanges. The third colloquium in Prague elaborates further the role of exhibitions in cultural transfer and the grey zones and shifting boundaries between official and non-official spheres. The fourth chapter in Poznań expands our field of discussion to transregional contacts and examines dialogs and exchangesbetween artists and art professionals in Latin America and CEE. The project thus aims to extend the focus on Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) in a south-eastern direction to include contacts with non-aligned states such as Romania and the former Yugoslavia, as well as Latin America.
We focus on the ’70s, a period when contacts between the local art scenes were no longer exclusively defined by centralized, top-down cultural diplomacy between the so-called friendly countries but also by the increasing collaboration of the actors of the parallel cultures that had recently evolved in each country of the region by this time. Instead of homogenizing views of the "bloc" defined by political control, we use critical methodologies, not only on a theoretical level but also in our direct work with diverse archival materials. We investigate sources only available in local languages and archives: postal correspondence between various cultural actors, personal archives reflecting formal and informal networks, documents of both self-organized and official-diplomatic exchanges, art events, and artistic collaborations.