Was Ist Kunst? 

All behaviour is performance. Performance behaviour is a condition of art. Performance behaviours are Ghost Dances in the dying culture. Performance behaviour is an artistic and social phenomenon of the east and west, where differing ideologies masks the common destruction of cultural values and simultaneously suppress the search for new models. Performance is made out of moments when the performer behaves according to an inner reality. Unhampered by prior notions of how things should be done. It involves risk. Risk is essential. 

This work enacted by Todosijević off screen and directed to a passive subject on screen points to a division between subject and object. The isolation of Todosijević’s subject and the abstract nature of his question ‘What is art?’ are products of the twentieth century and the alienated place people have in relation to both means production and processes of nature. Ritual acting out is as old as history itself and continues to occupy a critical place in collective consciousness, with a crucial difference. Rituals once took place without observers, all participants.  

Is there anyone here that can tell me
Where I can find employment?
For to plough, and to sow, and to reap and to mow
I am to be a farmer’s boy
I am to be a farmer’s boy

Let’s go back to the beginning of the job. Now, the local lads have a drink in the Kings Arms. Two or three pints. Then we move over to the hillside of the village and we sing the traditional songs, then to the Carpenter’s Arms in Westwoodside. This is all just to loosen us up.

Is there anyone here that can tell me
Where I can find employment?
For to plough, and to sow, and to reap and to mow
I am to be a farmer’s boy
I am to be a farmer’s boy

Today it’s January the 6th. The ancient game of Haxey Hood. As a social action the Haxey Hood doesn’t know itself in the heat of the moment, breaking the boundaries of properties and the law. The coat is red dipped in blood. I don’t know why in blood, but there could be a drop spilled. The original hood was likely to have been the head of a sacrificed bull. I like to believe it went back to the twelfth century. I like to believe it went back that far. 

At four o’clock in the afternoon things took on a serious turn as the darkness closed in. The Hood, a two foot long piece of rope encased in leather was thrown by the Lord of the Hood himself. The crowd, between 200 or 300 has gathered so close to him that he could hardly move his arms. When it was thrown, as many man as could got both hands to it and held it, others then clasped around the waist till all had direct or indirect contact with the Hood. 

The struggle intensified as darkness closed in. Fragmented film images are all that remain of the ritual. They describe more of the alienated position of the observer rather then the ritual itself, but a key to meaning lies in the imaginary space created by those who are seen and those who are seeing. The ritual rose to a climax as observers and participants lost their sight in total darkness. Suddenly it was gone. At the road it was met by waiting police. And under harsh streetlights, it subsided in a shadow of its recent self, a ghost from the pre-industrial past. 


Like ritual, performance takes place in real-time. It is not the interpretation of the work of another person. And like ritual, it doesn’t require the use of interpretive skills. A pre-industrial ritual unconsciously acts out a concept of utopian democracy, where all become one. Contemporary performance incorporates a concept of utopian democracy, but rarely expresses it in reality. 

The performance that I witnessed of Warpechowski, was the first performances that I have ever seen. The bit that sticks in my mind was one particular, the stage when he arranged labels around the room, Catholicism, and History, and Philosophy, and Communism, and Religion on it and then began to whip himself, to flagellate himself with a cat o’ nine tales. Within oneself a feeling of repulsion, but nevertheless the message was coming across when you saw him take a beaker of a central table from which a four-inch nail was sticking out, when you saw him hovering with his hand above that nail you suddenly got this terrible glimpse of you knew exactly what he was going to do. He pushed the nail through his hand. I got up out of that room and walked outside, my heart began to beat heavily, what was going through my mind I couldn’t take it out of my mind and was almost witnessing a rerun of what happened, I had to get up, and get out of that room very fast, I suddenly thought I got a heart attack. I walked behind the theatre, where there were lots of rubbish bins and then I fainted. I came to and suddenly found myself lying on the ground feeling very ill, but at least I had erased the memory from my mind. Because of the pure dominance of that physical act, the performance was almost completely created in my mind subsequently. 

Warpechowski has produced his performance in December last year in Łódź. He sat in front of a small table, in the middle of the table there was a very sharp piece of metal. And then he suddenly put his hand on the top of this iron and let it go through. Then he took, with his left hand, this peacock feather and he made such movements. And then he removed his hand and went immediately to have a bandage. In contemporary art there are very often moments when an artist does not take the things he does sufficiently earnestly. And he wanted to try himself. And it was possible to do only when it involved risk, personal risk, physical risk. To give an artistic and social meaning to what an artist does the performance of an act should be brought to the public. The public should know about it, only then it has meaning. 

Excitement, fever, alertness, a state of complete ignorance, splendid but fearful time passing up to the moment that I begin. I can still change it, reject it. I am entering and from this very moment on I am free. Free. I know I can do everything. Nothing hurts me. I don’t hear anything. I am alone. The end. A feeling of exhaustion and happiness. Afterwards I begin to define what has happened. It is only partly the result of my participation. I have experienced it 80 times, moments of happiness on the brink of despair. When I think about it, I am afraid, but I know that on a certain day, in a certain place, at a certain time, I’ll be ready. 

We are not trying to change the system, we are trying to change the way the system works. If you look at the institutions which we had in the past and how they should work according to the laws, what we are trying to do is, we are trying to return to the real meaning of our law and the sense of existence of the institutions. 

I want to buy cigarettes. I want to buy soap. I want to buy milk. I want to buy butter. It is impossible. One kilo of sugar is nothing per month. But now it is possible to buy it on the black market. One kilo of butter costs about 80 zloty, and on the black market it costs about 700 zloty. I should buy, because it is impossible for me to eat money. And I am hungry, I must eat, not money but food. 

I saw Bereś perform in the city square in Krakow in late November 1981. People were queueing for food at all hours. There was little or no traffic, only the massive presence of hundreds of people standing in line walking through the square, and the sound of suffering feet breaking the silence. Bereś pushed a handcar made  in wood into the square. He had a slab of wood sticking up from it on which were fixed five bundles of kindling sticks, each one labelled with a word. He wrote one of the five words, freedom, in a circle on the ground. And then took one of the bundles of kindling sticks and lit a fire in the circle. And as he slowly repeated the action four times hundreds of people gathered. They were tightly packed leaving small clearance around the fires each with a thin wisp of smoke rising into the air. 

I can see the context, the everyday ritual of shopping, the search for food, the long waiting in queues. It was rush hour, a rush hour taking place in silence. This work was one of the last manifestations of spirit before we experienced three weeks later the manifestation of power, there and all over Poland. 

Younger artists in Poland are highly sensitized for cultural developments in the capitalist world, about which they have made themselves very well informed. It highlights the dilemma some of them face as being committed to the socialist ethic and all that it represents, while recognizing the impetus of the cultural dynamic which serves the west. 

Poland is a country where the man is a god. It is associated with a culture of patriarchy, and together with it our social behaviour. 

(Polish: In every situation where I’m naked, I want to demonstrate my complete alienation, and the fact that I am removed from this male dominated place.)

In the words of the dissident intellectual Adam Michnik the real Poland has shown itself to be a giant with legs of steel, but hand of clay facing a regime with feet of clay, but hands of steel. Todosijević, Yugoslavia, 1979. Between East and West, them and us, then and now, clay and steel. 


On Saint Valentine’s Day last year, 1971, Knížák was sentenced to two years imprisonment by a court in Prague. The charges against him were based on those first sighted on the occasion of Hans Sohm’s detainment. 

1. Through their form and content the artworks of Milan Knížák are intended to discredit the image of Czechoslovakia abroad. (People are walking and balancing across a bar above the ground.) 

2. Photographic representations of 

Knížáks ceremonies are considered pornography in the eyes of the law in Czechoslovakia. 

3. In its totality the work of Milan Knížák is undesirable within the framework of Czechoslovakian present cultural policy. 

The Czech minister Husák made a public announcement countering the political overtones contained in the many protests raised against the sentence Milan Knížák’s case was not a political one but an internal question of pornography. 

Put your hand on your head. Cross your fingers together. Now turn your hands around. Arms up. In a moment light will shine in your eyes. Move against the pillar. Move against the pillar. Move against the pillar. Up against it. 

Temporary Unlinking. Industrialization. Temporary Unlinking. Are you finished in the bathroom dear? Are you finished in the bathroom dear? Are you finished in the bathroom? Dear? Dear? 

I first saw Bereś perform at an artist workshop in Miastko, a small village near the vicinity of Gdańsk in North Poland. It was three weeks after Solidarność and the government had signed an agreement to form an independent Trade Union. The work was called Political Mess, which was written in paint in the centre of a long strip of canvas laid on the floor. Bereś was naked. He began by painting the soles of his feet, and then slowly walked from one end of the canvas leaving his footprint behind. When he reached the centre inscribed with the words Political Mess, he painted his knees and then continued moving to the other end. 

(Polish: When he reached the words Political Mess he painted his knees and crawled to the end of the canvas. Members of the artists’ union and the communist party PZPR were seated rigidly at one and of the canvas. The naked Bereś slowly approached them on his knees. He stood up before them and handed one of them the paint and brush. He then returned to the centre of the canvas where he lit a fire over the words Political Mess, burning the canvas into separate halves.) 

The circumstances surrounding this work bring into focus the issue of the reproduction of all performance behaviour, which passes in time and leaves no material evidence. Meaning evolves through layers of mediation. The reconstruction of this work Political Mess was filmed in private, released from social pressure. And the memory of the work was spoken by a witness, one of the crowds present at the original performance. 

Representatives of the official artists’ scene and members of the communist party were seated in prominent positions at that end of the canvas. The naked Bereś slowly and deliberately approached them on his knees. As he came before them, he stood up and quietly handed the dish of paint and brush to the official nearest to him. He then returned to the centre of canvas where he lit a fire over the words Political Mess burning the canvas into separate halves. 

Without a witness the work does not attain artistic or social reality. Without a witness the work has no existence. 

It is simple. Things are not what they seem to be. On the face of it past experience does not seem to provide an adequate basis for analysis. In fact there may be no distinctions to be made between one thing and something else, one action and another, one day and the next. I noticed the changes in your face, the fluctuations of your stamina. You look tired. It is you I am looking at, it is yourself. I am the same as I have always been, but you are different, dumb even, like an animal. It is all the same when memory serves no purpose. Contradictory messages get scrambled somewhere between the mind and the body. That is where I am. In confusion where dreams and dreaming are deformed, that is where you are. They say; there will be no disasters, disasters will be leached out. There will be no catastrophes. They said so, they were clear about that. Dissension will not take place, there will be no dissension. There will be no disasters, there are no arguments. We are being accounted for. They say; everything is as is, being just so for the best possible reasons in the best of possible worlds. 

In Britain there still exist communal rituals, which resist intrusion. For intrusion produces self-consciousness. And self-consciousness destroys the very essence of the ritual. In 1346 a French man-of-war appeared at Stepper Point. The women of Padstow dressed in red cloaks marched out along the cliffs to the beating of drums with a great horse at their head. The sailors seeing what appeared to be an army headed by the devil, the snapping biting beast of Padstow, upped anchor and sailed away.

The Hobbyhorse is a wild horse, a black demon symbol of male fertility. They are found throughout Europe and parts of Asia. In Bulgaria, within living memory, men were warned by priests that if they would die inside the horse costume, they would not be buried in consecrated ground. Haxey Hood and the Padstow Hobbyhorse represent drama in one of its early forms, when the divisions between action and audience have not yet been institutionalized. Some contemporary performance actions have used similar forms. They point to political views which challenge the interest of those who regulate the institutions of society in their own image. 

Nur Denken, Neu Aktion