Artpool40Active Archives and Art Networks

International Conference of the Artpool Art Research Center

February 20–21, 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Schickedanz Hall, Budapest

Agustina Andreoletti | Zdenka Badovinac | David Crowley | Katalin Cseh-Varga | Mela Dávila Freire | Lina Džuverović | Meghan Forbes | Daniel Grúň | Sarah Haylett | John Held | Roddy HunterJudit Bodor | Jasna JakšićTihana Puc | Klara Kemp-Welch | Kaja Kraner | Emese Kürti | Karolina Majewska-Güde | Lívia Páldi | Henar Rivière | Sven Spieker | Kristine Stiles | Katalin Timár | Tomasz Załuski | Elisabeth Zimmermann

Meghan Forbes [Biography]
The Art Magazine as Archive: Underground Print Culture in 1980s East Germany


To situate the magazine as archive is an enticing, if now somewhat familiar, argument.[1] It constitutes the art magazine as an autonomous agent (and its creators, thereby, autonomous agents) in collecting, preserving, and presenting an art historical record that might otherwise be lost. In the context of Central Europe during the Cold War era, these magazines were often produced underground; maintaining a level of invisibility was a necessary modus operandi, in order to avoid the punitive control of the censor. Today, thirty years out from the fall of the Berlin wall, these unofficial magazines are both art-historical objects in their own right, and likewise, serve as an archive that can be consulted to help reconstruct artistic movements that were not actively supported in their own time by local cultural institutions.

Looking specifically at the case of East Germany, a notable set of publications cropped up in the 1980s, especially in Berlin, Dresden, Halle, and Leipzig that occupy a specific place within the broader framework of counter-cultural production during this period in Central and Eastern Europe. This paper will examine a set of such publications, such as Anschlag, Schaden, and Common Sense, to show how they operated as platforms for an artistic exchange on the local and international level through creative assembly and distribution methods, and enable us now to reconstruct otherwise unrecorded, even hidden, histories. These magazines both elide models of capitalist serialization and the socialist censor, and freely experiment across media, genre, and form in fascinating ways. For instance, poetry and art criticism alike appear as typed on typewriters in Samizdat fashion. They are presented alongside photographs of gallery installations and concerts, screenprints, Xeroxed concert fliers, and glued-in pieces of paper and twine.[2] The broad collection of editors and contributors, and advertisements for other publications and events, evidence of participation by East German artists in more extensive international networks, related to the Fluxus mail art continuum.

Within the theme of “Active Archives and Art Networks” and drawing on recent approaches to a critical discourse of the archive (Spieker, Assmann, Giannachi), I will consider how the alternative publications of the GDR were documents of the unfolding vibrant underground art scene in East Germany as well as how they serve now as invaluable primary documents for reconstructing the understudied history of that period. Actively archiving their contemporary moment, these magazines are unique to the context of the final decade of the GDR, while also connected with concurrent publications in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

[1] I address this topic in greater detail in the introduction to International Perspectives on Publishing Platforms: Image, Object, Text (London: Routledge, 2019), a collected volume which I edited.

[2] I have also presented an introduction to some of these magazines in a recent publication for post (Aug. 14, 2019):