In this article, I explore two case-studies, from Central and Eastern Europe, of artists using participatory art practices in the 1960s and 1970s to open up a free space for interaction to gain greater contact with their viewers, as a mode of survival in an otherwise heavily policed and surveilled environment. In this context that type of contact and interaction would have otherwise been impossible, outside of the realm of art. In Czechoslovakia, participatory art enabled contact with the passerby that would have been challenging in the political climate of the 1960s and 1970s, while in Yugoslavia, these activities rehearsed the policy of self-management promoted by Tito’s government, to counteract the hegemony of art institutions in relation to experimental art. I provide a comparative study of artists in both contexts, and the methods they used to interact with a wider public, in order to highlight the different socio-political contexts across the region, usually viewed as uniform in its implementation of state-sponsored socialism. I also use this approach to underscore the different strategies of participatory art and its varied meanings. As a result of the different socio-historical and socio-political circumstances that artists in Eastern Europe encountered, they developed their own forms of participatory art, in a region where participation had a very real power in offering individuals an albeit fleeting agency and release from the surveillance and restrictions that were part of everyday existence under communist rule.
- Participatory art
- socially engaged art
- Central and Eastern Europe performance art