Research: Artists & Agents. Performance Art and the Secret Services

Subversion does not belong to anyone. It can come from artists who outwit the state or from intelligence agencies who infiltrate the art scene on behalf of the state. But what happens when the two sides meet?

After the old state security archives in many Eastern European countries were opened, it became possible for this interaction to be studied in detail. Drawing on scientific essays and artistic contributions, the book shows how the secret police monitored happenings, performance art, and action art and looks at the debates they had about the new art form; it also demonstrates not only how the police documented artistic actions in detail using forensic techniques but also how they manipulated them and sought to thwart them with counter-actions.

In addition to this, the book also reveals how artists dealt with the possibility that they were being observed by the secret police and how they now work with the material stored in the archives maintained by the intelligence services.

The project is the result of a 5-years ERC Research grant:

Kata Krasznahorkai worked as a curator and researcher in the ERC project “Performance Art in Eastern Europe 1950–1990: History and Theory” at the University of Zurich’s Slavisches (Slavonic) Seminar.

Prof. Sylvia Sasse, author and curator, is professor of Slavonic Literature at the University of Zurich and heads the ERC project “Performance Art in Eastern Europe 1950–1990: History and Theory”.

The 686-page publication in German and English is available at Spector Books.

“A Kind of Perverse Novel”: Performance Art and the Secret Services



Artists & Agents – Performance Art and Secret Services @ HMKV Dortmund awarded as “Exhibition of the Year 2020” by the German AICA. Curated by Sylvia Sasse, Kata Krasznahorkai and Inke Arns

The focus of the exhibition “Artists & Agents” is on the files that various secret services in Eastern Europe and beyond have created on performance artists from the 1960s to the 1990s – in order to be able to “infiltrate” them all the better and “liquidate” them from within. For this, however, they had to become performance artists themselves. In addition to the documentation of the exhibition, the magazine contains an introduction by the curators Inke Arns, Kata Krasznahorkai und Sylvia Sasse as well as an extensive glossary explaining in particular the terms used by the secret services.

Download the exhibition magazine as a free PDF.