PARALLEL PUBLIC: EXPERIMENTAL ART IN
LATE EAST GERMANY
It is well understood that artists in East Germany lived within a rigorously managed and aggressively surveilled state culture. Misunderstood are the ways that they actually manipulated that system to make it work for them. Without an adequate analysis of these artists as dissenters and witnesses, subjects and agents, we will continue to miscalculate the role culture played in the German Democratic Republic’s rapid decline. Parallel Public rewrites the history of experimental art in late East Germany by analyzing photography, performance art, film, publications, and galleries as a form of public life. Interpreted through an interdisciplinary lens informed by the theories and methods of art history and visual culture studies, its examples reveal how artists engaged with the state to both exceed and expose its core disjunctions. In fact, this book argues that in their efforts to surpass the boundaries of creative practice prescribed by official cultural politics, artists not only rejected but effectively revealed the false consensus that underpinned the collective foundations on which the East German state depended.
By the Cold War’s final decade, the East German government’s inability to produce a collective public significantly frayed its power. The work of experimental artists was not only an antidote for, but also a diagnosis of a weakening state: a foil and a mirror to official culture. The GDR’s experimental scene produced an alternative public—a parallel public—with commitments to culture, community, and interdisciplinarity that state socialism had sought, but failed to inspire. This irony, really an inversion of state socialist principle, lies at the heart of this book.
Published with The MIT Press, March 2022.
Winner of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize, 2022.
PRAISE OF THE BOOK
“Sara Blaylock's pioneering book moves beyond the idea that art in the GDR was monolithic, isolated, or secretive. Instead of merely reacting to state power, the performance-based artworks presented in this highly readable study suggest forms of being and working together that echo the ethical and political commitments that once, long ago, accompanied the GDR's foundation.”
Sven Spieker, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Scholars of twentieth-century art should take note of this work: the first of its kind to capture the dazzling variety of experimental work emerging in what would later prove to be the late GDR, while offering a complex and richly contextualized picture of 1980s socialist culture and experimentation beyond the analytic of “1989.”" Briana Smith, Harvard University, September 2023.
"Blaylock’s perspective allows the reader to discover that, in the late years of not only GDR but in many Soviet republics, many artists operated in the vast interstitial space between State-sanctioned and alternative culture as official titles gave the artists the means to practice art while unofficial culture widened their perspective." Senem Yildirim, Visual Studies, April 2023.
“Blaylock’s account is thickly detailed and scrupulous in its assessment of artistic strategies in the late GDR. Its own critical agenda and scholarly rigour offer valuable pointers for further assessments of Cold War culture.” Rod Mengham, Times Literary Supplement, January 2023
"Rather then examining GDR art in light of styles and tendencies in the West, which claimed the privilege to be the place where history was made, Blaylock stresses the need to study non-Western art in its own right, no longer a periphery and a somewhat pitiful belated answer to Western trends and models, but an autonomous system with its own logic and stakes. In that sense, taking the GDR as an exemplary case study should help fight universalizing visions on “world” culture. Parallel Public looks into completely different directions, which will prove dramatically inspiring in the years to come, now that the “one world” belief is also collapsing in the turmoil of history." Jan Baetens, Leonardo, November 2022