Art historian's research uncovers cultural links between East and West

An Aberdeen art historian has demonstrated that throughout the Cold War artists on both side of the Iron Curtain remained closely connected, despite the commonly held notion that there was deep division between East and West.

Dr Amy Bryzgel from the University of Aberdeen has spent the last three years conducting interviews in former communist, socialist and Soviet countries, and her research also contributes to a new understanding of a contemporary art form in Eastern Europe. She looked at performance art - artwork that visual artists create with their bodies, usually involving an action instead of a finished painting. It was not recognised as an official art form so in order to construct its history, Dr Bryzgel had to travel to the region and gather the oral histories of how it developed, what happened and when. To conduct the research, she met with and interviewed nearly 250 arts practitioners in the region, and her findings form part of a new book, which will be the first comprehensive academic study of the development of performance art in the region.

Dr Bryzgel, whose work is supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Fellowship, said her study demonstrates the manner in which artists in Eastern and Western Europe were in fact closely connected throughout the Cold War, despite the commonly held notion that the Iron Curtain divided East and West. “We know that most artists in Eastern Europe were aware of the developments taking place in Western Europe and North America; but what is less known, and less discussed, is that artists from the West also travelled to Eastern Europe – not only to share their work, but to learn from the artists there, whose work was equally innovative and experimental,” said Dr Bryzgel.

“What my research shows is that performance art in Central and Eastern Europe developed in parallel with that of the West, and is not, as previously thought, simply derivative. Given the large migrant communities from Eastern Europe in the UK, I hope that my research will contribute to a greater understanding of the art and culture of that region here in the UK, and also the manner in which artists from Eastern Europe have always been interconnected with the art and culture of Western Europe and the UK.”

Dr Bryzgel, who was also supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, and by grants from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, recently shared her findings at the Scottish Crucible, a highly selective professional and personal leadership and development programme for Early Career researchers in Scotland.

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