9 October 2008
THE VIENNESE AKTIONISTS (1963-2003), 60 min.
"I slowly climbed up a ladder and urinated on the woman and the pig’s heart in the bed below. At that point, a woman’s libber lost control. She rushed the ladder on which I stood and screamed: ‘You pig, you filthy swine!’ I had 1kg of flour and dusted her down with it. A white fog. She screamed again, ‘You swine!’ and she was gone, vanished. In the meantime, someone attempted to pelt me with potatoes.” The passing of time has done nothing to dull the visceral, transgressive impact of the work of Otto Muehl, Gunter Brus, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, the four artists most readily associated with Viennese Aktionism. Treating human bodies as canvasses that might be splattered, smeared or engorged with a wide range of substances and fluids, they staged a series of experimental performances and blood-rites, as ecstatic as they were perverse, alienating as well as alienated, that sought to provoke, liberate and exorcise their fellow city-dwellers whom they saw as being still in thrall to the tyrannies of Nazified instrumental reason. Their work, according to Amos Vogel, is infused with the “stench of concentration camps, collective guilt, unbridled aggression, hallucinatory violence that ... has the dimensions of an atavistic generalized myth of evil.”
The work of the Aktionists proved to be not uncontroversial. Members were attacked, arrested, jailed, and even forced into exile. They were viewed, in a phrase associated with Throbbing Gristle (a band heavily influenced by the Aktionists’ aesthetic principles and performance strategies), as “wreckers of civilization”. And yet, although documentation of their immolatory, libidinal ceremonies has been notoriously hard to track down, their body of work has held a persistent fascination for scholars interested in the unmooring of performance from its theatrical traditions, in creative Reichianism, and in the kinds of fissile psychotics later showcased at the famous ‘Destruction In Art’ symposium in London in 1966. Its influence on artists, from the The Living Theater’s Julian Beck to renowned body artists such as Ron Athey and Franko B, is also widely acknowledged. The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture is very pleased to be presenting a selection of films by Gunter Brus and Hermann Nitsch, among them WIENER SPAZIERGANG (1965), KUNST AND REVOLUTION (1968) and DAS ORGIEN MYSTERIEN THEATER (1963-2003). Collectively they form, in the words of writer Stephen Barber, “an active detritus with the enduring potential to overturn and transform whatever it comes into contact with.”
The films will be presented by Aaron Levy is the Executive Director of Slought Foundation. As a Senior Curator, his projects topically intervene in contemporary debates around art, architecture, geopolitics, and critical theory. He teaches in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania and his publications include ‘Evasions of Power: On the Architecture of Adjustment’ (2009) and ‘Blood Orgies: Hermann Nitsch in America’.