Being the Woman They Wanted Her to Be: Cornelia Schleime Performs Her Stasi File

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Conventional wisdom holds that the Stasi policed East German artists because of their potential dissident and ideological production. In contrast, Cornelia Schleime’s Stasi Series (1993) reveals the secret police’s preoccupation with her domesticity as a sign of her rebellion. For the photo-text series, the artist assigns fourteen excerpts of her Stasi file to as many self-portrait photographs. The images and texts inform each other, providing a biographical sketch of Schleime’s life in two temporalities (the 1980s and 1993) and from two seemingly incommensurate perspectives (the Stasi and her own). The Stasi files document in careful detail Schleime’s private life in the years that immediately preceded her 1984 emigration. Although the truth of these texts is suspect, the artist does not completely discredit them. Rather, she unites her file to her 1993 present by performing its contents in photographs that exhibit both mockery and resignation. This article considers how the artist’s use of her archive reveals as much about the limitations of her Stasi source as it does about her unique perspective as both subject and interpreter. It examines Schleime’s project in relation to contemporary archival and surveillance-oriented art practices to demonstrate how the Stasi Series adds to their concerns over information and power, memory and document, observation and self-representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-247
Number of pages21
JournalThird Text
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 29 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Third Text.


  • archive
  • Cornelia Schleime
  • East Germany
  • German Democratic Republic
  • performance
  • photography
  • Sara Blaylock
  • self-portrait
  • Stasi
  • surveillance


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