Freie Universität Berlin

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Briana Smith, University of Iowa, History

Creative Alternatives: Experimental Art Scenes and Cultural Politics in Berlin, 1976–1999

My dissertation examines artists and artist groups in East and West Berlin experimenting with performance art, installation, and art in public space in the decades surrounding German reunification in 1989/90. My project explores how these artists used interactive visual displays to launch social and political critiques and forge alternative agendas under different political regimes. I analyze artists’ output, their relationship to state-supported cultural institutions and funding sources, and the growing presence of international artists in Berlin’s experimental art scenes through the German Academic Exchange Service’s Berliner Künstlerprogramm and the Artists in Residency program at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien. This will allow me to determine how experimental artists operated under a liberal democratic (and heavily subsidized) system in West Berlin and under state socialism in East Berlin, and how they contributed to the ongoing debates over Berlin’s cultural politics in the 1990s. By extending my research beyond reunification, my dissertation will demonstrate how artists used their rising authority as a creative class to exercise leverage in the struggle over urban space in Berlin’s new city center and, in turn, contributed to the city’s long anticipated renewal as an international arts capital.