Reclaimed Avant-garde project was initiated in 2017 by the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute. The project has involved collaboration between scholars and theatre centres from the countries of Central-Eastern Europe. The international research group has created an open platform for a broadening exchange of knowledge and a deepening analysis of the intercultural heritage of the avant-garde. The first stage of the work was devoted to scenography as a realm where the innovation of the Central-Eastern European theatre avant-garde was especially strong. The analysis focused on scenography, conceived not only as the art of creating the visual milieu of a performance, but, more broadly, as the theatrical and theatre-inspired art of composing a space for artistic and social action.
The Reclaimed Avant-garde project has already included the publications of Awangarda Teatralna w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej. Wybór tekstów źródłowych [The Theatrical Avant-garde in Central-Eastern Europe: A Selection of Source Texts], and Reclaimed Avant-garde: Spaces and Stages of Avant-garde Theatre in Central-Eastern Europe (a collection of articles that, as the title suggests, explore innovative alternatives in theatre scenography and space conceived and created by artists of the Central-Eastern Europe interwar avant-garde).
In 2018, the international research group began work on a Lexicon of the Central-Eastern European Avant-garde.
The Reclaimed Avant-garde project aims to document and present the achievements of the theatre avant-garde of Central-Eastern Europe. The historical avant-garde was largely understood as a group of phenomena and artistic projects that emerged in Europe between World War I and World War II, and specifically, we set forth a definition of Central European avant-garde to be a set of phenomena that developed under different historical, political, and cultural circumstances, and simultaneously remained in a strong and complex relationship with two great avant-garde centres: Russia and Germany. The starting point is the assumption that the influence of the German and Russian theatre avant-garde overshadowed the achievements of the theatre avant-garde in the countries located between Germany and Russia – those from the Baltic countries to the Balkans and the Caucasus. Meanwhile, the culture of these countries has produced original, unique designs and solutions, which to some extent processed the inspiration flowing between East and West, but were invariably guided by the search for their own theatrical style.
It is of great importance, here, that following World War I, the vast majority of countries in the aforementioned regions found themselves in an entirely new political situation: regaining or gaining independence, or by changing the shape of their own existing state power (e.g. Hungary). As a result, avant-garde projects, in a way unheard of to this extent in other parts of Europe, were closely linked with the search for forms of collective identity and shape of modern national culture; in many cases they were also associated with the creation of new forms of statehood. In the avant-garde explorations of Central and Eastern Europe, theatre art was considered to be closely related to social life, therefore was tasked with its re-formation, and linked to a search for new shapes of space, interpersonal relations, aesthetics of everyday life, and so on.
Our goal is to present the specifics of Central-Eastern European theatre avant-garde within these contexts. The Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute, starting in 2017, initiated the platform for researchers of Central-Eastern European theatre to enable the exchange of knowledge and free discussion. Reclaimed Avant-garde also sets out to situate Polish culture within a network other than a stereotypical East-West dimension, and points to the numerous, strong, and often neglected links with theatre culture in Central and Eastern Europe. We strive to document the achievements of the Polish and Central European theatre avant-garde as an element of the important, though forgotten, heritage of national and European culture. Demonstrating the Polish theatre avant-garde’s links to specific artistic movements within Central and Eastern Europe, the project not only revisits the neglected achievements of Polish culture, but also re-contextualizes and proposes a new understanding of the connection between Polish culture and the cultures of the region. Situating the Polish theatre avant-garde within contexts of the Central-Eastern European avant-garde, and creating a lexicon of Central-European avant-garde theatre will serve as a basis for future research of an analytical and interpretative nature, thereby providing inspiration for contemporary theatre artists.
The research focuses on the ideas, projects, and achievements of the Polish theatre avant-garde which was seen as part of the historical interwar theatre avant-garde of Central-Eastern Europe. The basis of the project is to understand the latter as an internally diverse, yet relatively coherent and autonomous set of phenomena which developed – in contrast to the Western European avant-garde – under different historical, geopolitical, and cultural circumstances. The initial assumption and the basic hypothesis from which the idea for the project stems, concerns the specificity of the avant-garde of the countries stretching between Germany and Russia – from the Baltic countries to the Balkans (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia) and the Caucasus (Georgia). When referring collectively to these countries as Central and Eastern Europe, we refer not so much to a specific geographical and cultural term, but to the hypothesis regarding a common sense of being in a specific cultural situation of “in-betweenness” – between East and West; beyond, and in its complex, complicated, and problematic relationship with the great centres of European culture, combined with a simultaneous and lasting sense of also belonging to it. The history of these countries, marked by the instability of state systems, the changing borders, and multi- and inter- culturalism, meant that for a long time the new states remained mearly as specific projects leaning into the future. The end of World War I and the resulting changes on the map of Europe meant that the inhabitants of the new states faced the challenge of implementing such projects. Contrary to stereotypical belief, the Central-Eastern European avant-garde did not compose a series of experiments detached from reality, but was a radical search for answers in a dynamically changing reality, a desire to develop the shape and the form of future life.