© image taken from: https://www.blmk.de/programm/der-grosse-schwof-teil-i-feste-feiern-im-osten/#english%20version

OPENING: Der große Schwof / Feste feiern im Osten. Der Staat und seine Rebellen

Tina Bara, Christiane Eisler, Gerhard Gäbler, Harald Hirsch, Jürgen Hohmuth, Bertram Kober, Werner Lieberknecht, Ute Mahler, Olaf Martens, Roger Melis, Florian Merkel, Barbara Metselaar Berthold, Andreas Rost, Jens Rötzsch, Maria Sewcz, Gabriele Stötzer

The exhibition is dedicated to a very specific topic in GDR history. It looks at festivals and the way to celebrate them. The focus is primarily on the 1980s. These are the years in which the facades crumbled, many people left the country and a new, self-confident generation of people questioned their own existence. During this time, festivals and celebrations played a major role and were essential – something that is highly relevant in closed societies. In total, more than 300 photographs by 31 artists will be shown in the Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus and in the Rathaushalle Frankfurt (Oder), which deal with this important topic both privately and publicly. The individual chapters are crazy, boring, extraordinarily beautiful or as dull as normal everyday life can be. They are as heterogeneous as life and life experiences in this lost country. The presentations in Cottbus and Frankfurt (Oder) go beyond all clichés about the gray East. a most surprising piece of everyday culture – lively, colorful and surprisingly diverse.

In the exhibition rooms in the Dieselkraftwerk Cottbus, ironic observations on the sidelines of official state events such as May 1st or at sports festivals and FDJ Whitsun meetings are juxtaposed with images of student carnivals, underground parties, uninhibited farewell parties, gatherings in anarchist clubs or wild parties in the punk scene. Officially organized pageants during the reunification period meet the legendary fashion shows “Chic, Charmant, Permanent” or the absurd spectacle of a cabaret group.

In the Rathaushalle Frankfurt (Oder), the exhibition examines festivals in the village and in the city. Whether in the countryside or in urban areas – people partied (schwoften) everywhere. People met spontaneously and more or less organized, in private or unofficial groups or in niches often created specifically for this purpose. Beyond the constraints of everyday life and prescribed ideology, this “other” life largely escaped official control and opened up beneficial freedom. In addition to the public holidays and the associated annual rituals, a lively subculture of entertainment developed, located in clubs, bars, cafés, pubs and in private environments. The spectrum ranges from a party in the allotment area to village weddings, youth dedication celebrations, to encounters with rock fans, lonely night owls, carnival visitors and dance enthusiasts in both the village disco and the trendy bar.

The images at the two exhibition locations clearly show the diversity that was possible despite difficult political conditions – irretrievable moments of life and togetherness. But the comprehensive picture show is not only a reminiscence of the culture of celebrating festivals in the past, it is also dedicated to East German photography as a medium and artistic image form that makes society’s self-image directly and currently present.

The exhibition was curated by Petra Göllnitz and was shown at the Kunstsammlung Jena from July to mid-October 2023. After the presentation at the BLMK, the show will have its last stop for the time being in the Kunsthalle Rostock in summer 2024. A catalog with 240 pages and around 270 illustrations was published for the exhibition. In addition to the numerous illustrations and two introductory texts, all artists are presented with their own statements/text quotations and short biographies.