Pants Wear Skirts
Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt 1984-1994
»As a group we felt bold, we felt we were something special. We enjoyed not being as boring as the rest of East Germany,« says Gabriele Stötzer, referring to Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt/Erfurt Women Artists' Group.
Democratic collectivity, a focus on processuality, social experimentation with communal forms of living and expression, a feminist stance for self-healing and a political edge: Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt (Erfurt Women Artists’ Group) brought all of this together in Super 8 films, performances, texts, fashion-object shows, manifestos, experimental music and graphics. Women joining together with the sole aim of making art – without compromise, without academic training, without fear of oneself or one’s circumstances in a repressive dictatorship – was a unique phenomenon. The still restrictive conditions of early-1980s East Germany fired the women’s self-empowerment, their unbridled and unconditional creativity.
For the first time on such a large scale, Pants Wear Skirts. The Erfurt Women Artists' Group 1984-1994 presents original materials and costumes from the archives of the group’s members. Founded by Gabriele Stötzer in 1984, Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt was active for a decade, living out a passionate and creative alternative to the ideologically shaped conditions of everyday life in East Germany. Using the means of art, the rebellious women’s collective fought to achieve a degree of autonomy rarely seen under the conditions of an authoritarian system. Unlike many similar subversive groups, a culture of solidarity and artistic priorities ensured its long life. The group displayed the heterotopic quality characteristic of subcultures at the time, operating independently of institutions and building a broad informal network within the cultural and political opposition. It was flexible in its choice of locations for performances, and in its use of names.
Although many cultural figures were leaving for West Germany at the time due to political repression, these women artists all refused to leave the GDR. The group drew its creative and spiritual inspiration from the »genius loci« of the city of Erfurt, especially its medieval history. Additional space for their activities was provided by the countercultural infrastructure of the Protestant Church in Thuringia that also supported punks and peace activists. In this milieu, the women played a pioneering role with their deliberate focus on female identity, physicality and gender-based criticism of the system. Initially, the women met to discuss nonconformist and feminist literature, esoteric knowledge and questions of sexual liberation, but they soon began making collective actions with a distinctive visual idiom.
The group’s themes are reflected especially clearly in five experimental Super 8 films that also give the exhibition its basic structure. The films made beginning in 1986 and the later live performances with literary and musical elements centre on provocative costumes that function as alter egos. Many of these outfits are presented in the exhibition, for the first time together with objects, photos, printed matter and sound recordings. In keeping with the grassroots democratic structure of the nGbK, this exhibition project was realised by a five-member project group. And it was Gabriele Stötzer herself, who once initiated the Künstlerinnengruppe, who suggested such an approach in 2019. The result was a collective curatorial model whose inspiring group discussions and negotiations recalled the constellation of women artists at the time. The two-year preparation phase included many meetings, conversations and archive visits with the Erfurt activists. How to present such a wealth of material and memories? Both for visitors and for the curators, the films serve as a thread running through the show: their variations of style and content reflect not only the chronology of the group’s work, but also its mental topography.
While Pants Wear Skirts foregrounds artistic aspects, the exhibition also wishes to show how the climate of repression generated innovative and imaginative responses. The group’s practice was shaped as much by the dangers to which it was exposed as by its own trusting social relations.
Curated by Susanne Altmann, Kata Krasznahorkai, Christin Müller, Franziska Schmidt, Sonia Voss
Monika Andres, Tely Büchner, Elke Carl, Monique Förster, Gabriele Göbel, Ina Heyner, Angelika Hummel, Verena Kyselka, Claudia Morca Bogenhardt, Bettina Neumann, Ingrid Plöttner, Marlies Schmidt, Gabriele Stötzer, Harriet Wollert