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.
To be published with The MIT Press, February 2022.