Intermediality as a Means of Challenging Social and Political Realities: Experiences in West Berlin and Dresden in the 1980s


Intermediality as a Means of Challenging Social and Political Realities: Experiences in West Berlin and Dresden in the 1980s

This workshop included lectures by Christoph Tannert, Marie Arleth Skov and Aneta Panek as well as a reading workshop.

See the article by Marie Arleth Skov that resulted from her lecture: (first edition at (pdf)).




Christoph Tannert

“The Reality of Agitation/The Reality of That Which Serves No Purpose: The Dresden Autoperforationsartisten Group”

In the late 1970s, a number of artists in the GDR who were born after 1950 in East Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and Halle/Saale, began, individually, to reject all formalist expressions of illustrative propaganda in the field of the visual arts. Furthermore, they found it difficult to apply themselves to the “propagation of the socialist consciousness of the working class viewpoint”. Their scepticism ultimately resurfaced, to the dismay of the party ideologists. The ultra-Communist agitprops held little interest for the majority of this generation. Some of these artists had an awareness of tradition and painted “intelligently”, although there was no indication of a profound change. Other realities were in the throes of development. While in Dresden, the Autoperforationsartisten group introduced a broad “self reflexive rhizomatic-Dadaist” programme in 1987 ranging from the integration of the body in art to the total absence of mental input, which took place at around the same time as events that were similar in terms of transcending borders and which continued until the dissolution of the GDR. These events led to the possibility of aesthetic liberation: liberation of the artist-individual who had been caught in the grip of ideological orthodoxy, liberation from the stifling conceptions of Realism, from the affectations of “popular tradition and social Connections” and from a belief in art's capacity to have a meaningful impact on society. A main feature of the work of the Autoperforationsartisten group is the connection they established between literature, music, performance and Super 8 film. Although these artists never stopped drawing, taking photographs and painting pictures, they played a decisive role by contributing to the transformation of art in the GDR, progressing from an “aura-filled” understanding of artworks towards a performative conception of art. According to the ideologies of the GDR, it was always a matter of imaging human beings as moving, living entities, and therefore of being able to imagine the world in its dimension of “self-motion” (Selbstbewegung, as used by Lenin). Art nonetheless remained restricted to a static conception of artistic production within a theoretical framework that was dominated by the aesthetic theory of Hegel. What were the Autoperforationsartisten group and other rebellious, non-conformist groups, such as the punk movements, emerging from the Socialist gutter looking for? For them, it was first a question of mobilising an imaginary process that belonged to them and using it against the restrictive law of representational figuration. It was also a matter of initiating a break with conventions, pushing the limits of ideological boundaries, leading an aesthetic rebellion and the conquest of new realities. As individuals belonging to real parallel worlds, as well as improbable additions to the colossal official productions of the GDR, the Autoperforationsartisten group embodies the birth of an art scene that is little-known and which appears today as tragically futile. Art cannot change a society, but it can represent, in an unusual or offbeat way, what is happening in that society. The Autoperforationsartisten group was fully aware of this, before they were relegated to the backstage of what was to become a national art monument, in the “bushes scorched by the urine of passersby”.


Marie Arleth Skov

“Fiction and Reality in the Work of the Artists Group Die Tödliche Doris (The Deadly Doris)”

This presentation seeks to analyse and determine the relationship between fiction and reality in the work of the artists' group Die Tödliche Doris, which included varying members working under the label of the fictional character “Doris” in West Berlin in the 1980s. Their work is characterised by a conceptual, often ironic approach that eschewed straightforward representation. The artists often used the raw documentary format, while acting in an ostensibly unconventional or eccentric way. Regarding the aesthetics of reception, they appear to simultaneously challenge and deceive their audiences. Even the fictitious character of "Doris" is a de-constructed and absent phenomenon. The concepts and methods of Die Tödliche Doris – carried out in diverse media, ranging from installations, photography, performance, and mail art to painting – often echo those of earlier art movements: the subversive corporeality of Viennese Actionism, the rawness of Art Brut, the anarchic Fluxus movements, or absurd Dada word games. This presentation investigates the group's conception of, and attitude to, veracity, using as case studies the Super 8 films Das Leben des Sid Vicious (The Life of Sid Vicious) from 1981, and Berliner Küchenmusik (Berlin Kitchen Music) from 1982. Both films are on the borderline between fiction and reality: Das Leben des Sid Vicious is an obvious sham documentary on the life and death of the (in)famous bass guitarist from the Sex Pistols, who is played by a 2-year-old boy wearing a swastika T-shirt. The film blends theatrical eccentricity and a bad-taste horror movie style with a surprisingly touching vulnerability. In Berliner Küchenmusik, the deadpan closeness to everyday realism of a woman tidying her kitchen is broken by irritating, surreal and bizarre elements escalating in tune with the song Schuldstruktur (Structure of Guilt) playing in the background. Central theses in the analysis of these two cases are: a) The notion of reality/fiction in the work of Die Tödliche Doris is comparable to (yet not identical with) that of earlier avant-garde groups; b) The blurring of true/false, private/public perceptions and the fragmentation of re-presentation and presentation are calculated and can be considered as postmodern; c) The concept of “theatricality” (as defined by Erika Fischer-Lichte) is useful in the analysis of the performative work of Die Tödliche Doris. Furthermore, this presentation takes into consideration the social and cultural situation around 1980, with the island of West Berlin sitting at the heart of the Cold War conflict and filled with violent potential, while at the same time strangely cut off from reality, providing a gloomy yet unreal backdrop to contemporary subculture.

See the article by Marie Arleth Skov that resulted from her lecture: (first edition at (pdf)).


Aneta Panek

“Ingenious Dillettantes – Night Patrol – Punk in Poland. Subversive strategies in experimental cinema inspired by West Berlin Underground in the 80s”

In the beginning of the 80s, experimental filmmakers from underground scenes from all over the world gathered in West Berlin, a dream city with a flourishing subculture. They invented a nihilistic cinema, in the spirit of “no future”, post-punk and new wave, using the super 8 technique, easily affordable and available at every flea market. They were attacking American capitalism, as well as the Soviet and east-European communism, with the city divided by the wall as a background. This anarchic and undisciplined movement brought to life a unique style, dreamlike, narcotic and electrifying, exploring the imagery of the city. Emerged from the Berlin underground avant-gardes and from the night club life, this radiant cinema combined a spirit of decadence and an aesthetics of decline with the radical post-punk music of bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten, Tödliche Doris, Mona Mur and Malaria, as well as the emerging synthetic music and free jazz, it referred to the collage and to the experimental montage techniques in the cinema. The famous movement of Ingenious Dillettantes arose from this encounter between filmmakers, artists and musicians. In the early 80s Berlin attracted artists such as Nick Cave, David Bowie, Lou Reed, but also Ewa Partum, Ryszard Waśko, or the Polish punk band Tilt. A peculiar alchemy appeared, favorable to all kinds of visual and musical experiments, announcing the first video-clips and capturing the energies of the reality of the moment. A style emerged, an expression of a certain state of mind, reflecting a deep disillusion with the political and social conditions. A similar attitude reigned in the same time in Poland under the martial law, but it always remained connected with a belief in a possibility of creating another reality. By analyzing how the post-punk formulated its own identity and its particular aesthetics of subversion in West Berlin, a study of referential precedents lead to futurism and dada, but link it also to critical manifestations of the Situationist International, and to the Solidarność trade union in Poland. This attitude of no-future and this intransigent demand of freedom seem to be important components of different movies produced around the post-punk scene in the 80s in West Berlin or under its influence, by artists coming from different backgrounds and places. This is about tracing connections, encounters, coincidences and a certain utopia; a punk attitude common to West Berlin in the 80s, to Solidarność and to Robakowski's fascination with Moscow.


Reading workshop


Conceived by Clara Pacquet.

  • Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, “Kulturindustrie. Aufklärung als Massenbetrug”, in id., Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente, Frankfurt, 1969, p. 28-176
  • Guy Debord, chapters “I. La séparation achevée”, “II. La marchandise comme spectacle ”and “VIII. La négation et la consommation dans la culture”, in id., La société du spectacle, Paris, Buchet/Chastel, 1969
  • Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces. Une histoire secrète du vingtième siècle, Paris, Folio, 1998 [1989]

Further texts:

  • Guy Debord, “Contre le cinéma”, in Écrits cinématographiques complètes, Paris, Gallimard, 1994
  • Christian Metz, “Le signifiant imaginaire - Psychanalyse et cinéma”, in Communications, 23, 1975, p. 3-55
  • Jean-Louis Baudry, “Le dispositif”, in Communications, 23, 1975, p. 56-72

Texts presented by Constanze Fritzsch:

  • ALLEZ! ARREST! – Autoperforationsartistik. “Nach Beuys”, exhib. cat., Galerie Eigen + Art, Leipzig, 1988
  • Christoph Tannert, “Rede zur 'Ausstellungseröffnung Ode Terrazzo'”, in exhib. cat., Micha Brendel. Else Gabriel. Rainer Görss. Via Lewandowsky. Ordnung durch Störung. Autoperforations-Artistik, Dresden, Hochschule für Bildende Künste, 2006
  • Karl-Siegbert Rehberg, “Verkörperungs-Konkurrenzen. Aktionskunst in der DDR zwischen Revolte und ‚Kristallisation”, in Christian Janecke (ed.), Performance und Bild. Performance als Bild, Berlin, Philo&Philo Fine Arts, 2004
  • Constanze von Marlin, “Hyänen mit Kojoten vergleichen. Überlegungen zur Auto-Perforations-Artistik”, in exhib. cat., Micha Brendel. Else Gabriel. Rainer Görss. Via Lewandowsky. Ordnung durch Störung. Autoperforations-Artistik, Dresden, Hochschule für Bildende Künste, 2006
  • Ansichten über einen Raum I. 1983-1991. Eine Dokumentation, exhib. cat., Erholungshaus der Bayer AG, Leverkusen, 1991

Person in charge

Mathilde Arnoux

Dr. habil. Mathilde Arnoux

Research Director / Head of French Publications (Series Passages and Passerelles)
Phone +33 (0)1 42 60 41 24

Dr. Clara Pacquet

Research fellow