Die Auto-Perforations-Artisten (F.A.Q.)

Curated by Stephan Koal

The exhibition at KVOST is dedicated to the work of the Auto-Perforations Artisten. The group of artists, founded at the HfbK Dresden, has been active since 1982 and consisted of Micha Brendel (*1959), Else Gabriel (*1962), Rainer Görß (*1960), and Via Lewandowsky (*1963). This is the group's first institutional solo exhibition in Berlin.

Auto-Perforations-Artisten is a specific art form that combines performances, installations, music, and actions. It developed in opposition to the prevailing dogmatically prescribed state culture and the art production of the GDR, which was oriented towards Socialist Realism. At the center of the work of the Auto-Perforations-Artisten was their own body, which was exhausted to the point of self-violation. 

KVOST presents Super 8 films, photographs, and video recordings of performances as well as texts and concepts of the group as contemporary testimonies. It also includes documents detailing the surveillance and targeted measures taken by the State Security to suppress the group. The exhibition contrasts the accusations and allegations they contain with the actual actions of the artists. Additionally, a remake of the installation Umkleide, which was part of the exhibition Menetekel, will be exhibited for the first time since the beginning of 1989.

Menetekel was created for the Galerie Nord in Dresden as an associative parcours between comedy and tristesse and reflected the increasingly absurd everyday life in the late GDR. The artworks included cattle’s lower legs from the slaughterhouse, glued to broken glass and placed in the rooms like remnants of a herd heading for the exit. On the walls, wallpaper surfaces mounted behind glass in a museum-like manner, carefully removed from an abandoned old apartment. A heavy-duty electromagnet, controlled by a timer, clatteringly dragged a sheet of metal up from a cushion and dropped it again. 

The installation Umkleide plays with the ubiquitous “red light irradiation” in the GDR, instructions and slogans with which the superiority of socialism was upheld right to the very end, in an obvious contrast to reality. The ensemble was completed by a small generator that produced a continuous sinus tone at a level that children and dogs would find almost painful, but which older people are often no longer consciously aware of. The exhibition caused a political uproar and was temporarily closed by the City Council’s Culture department for “hygienic reasons“.

As an art form, performance was provocative in the GDR because, on the one hand, it offered the advantage of not having to fully disclose its content and meaning until the moment of its presentation, and, on the other, it left hardly anything material behind. This was one of the methods that enabled the Auto-Perforations-Artisten to realize performances and exhibitions within the repressive structures of the GDR.  

 The titles of the actions, such as Langsam Nässen (1985), Spitze des Fleischbergs (1986), Midgard-Heldenhalden und Schaltkreismythologien (1989) or Von Ost nach Nord (01.07.1989), contained provocations that were recognizable to the public without being directly politically offensive.

By playing with ambiguities and the unsettling radicalism in their treatment of their bodies, as well as their uncompromising attitude towards the established GDR art scene, the group quickly attracted a great deal of attention. Their enormous impact on the art scene in Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig is also thanks to some fearless and curious art scholars, above all Christoph Tannert. Today, the Auto-Perforations-Artisten are among the most important performance groups of the 1980s. 

The actions of the core group of Auto-Perforations-Artisten were often expanded through collaborations with artist friends. Collaborators included, for example, the musicians Norbert Grandl, Gottfried Rösler, and Ulf Wrede, the author Durs Grünbein, the dance educator Hanne Wandtke, but also fellow students of the HfbK Dresden such as Karina Alisch, Peter Dittmer and Viola Schöpe. 

The exhibition is the second part of a series at KVOST, which presents a group of artists who shaped the GDR for three consecutive years. The first part of this series was the exhibition of the Chemnitz artist group Clara Mosch in 2023.

With kind support of the Berlin Commissioner for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.