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Rude & Playful Shadows: Collective Performances of Cinema in Cold War Europe


“Rude & Playful Shadows: Collective Performances of Cinema in Cold War Europe” is a historical examination, which engages rigorous discursive and performance-based analysis of underground film screening events that crossed the West/East divide and brought together an international group of artists and filmmakers during some of the “hottest” years of the Cold War period. At its center, the study investigates the practices of two pioneering filmmakers, Austrian Kurt Kren (b. Vienna, 1929; d. Vienna, 1998) and German Birgit Hein (b. Berlin, 1942). Tracking their aesthetic, ideological, and spatial reconfigurations of the cinematic apparatus—their “performances of cinema”—in Austria and former West Germany, the dissertation demonstrates how Kren and Hein were progenitors of influential new viewing practices that operated in the tacit geopolitical interstices between nation-states and underground cultures. Contemporary art, film, and media scholarship tends to move in one of two directions: either toward aesthetic inquiries into the appearance of moving images and other

time-based arts in the visual art museum since the 1990s, or toward the politics of global media

distribution in the digital age. “Rude & Playful Shadows,” alternatively, takes two steps back,

seeing these strands of inquiry as interlocked sets of historical conditions. Practices such as those

of Kren and Hein, this study contends, were vital to the formation of contemporary arts curatorial

models. Importantly, if not paradoxically, they also remain crucial models for conceptualizing

noncommercial and anti-institutional underground circulation and the kinds of convenings such

movement fosters.

Each chapter of the study looks at different screening event forms in which Kren and Hein

partook, considering how these forms developed under different sets of materials circumstances

and in response to different sets of political aspirations. Through its analysis of these event forms

and practices of “eventing,” “Rude & Playful Shadows” sheds new light on pre-histories of

today’s transnational time-based media networks, offering critical revision of the conventions for

reading allied histories of art and film, film and performance, performance and art.

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