World Wide Literature

Actionism — Drawing the Parallels

It is impossible for me to deal with Austrian actionism without referring to my own fate as a remigré. As one who had to flee Austria, or rather Ostmark, in 1939 or share the fate of those who chose to stay or could not leave, I have a aversion to the gratuitous stifling of life, wanton brutality and the degradation of man as well as the desecration of religious cult objects. After I had returned to Austria in 1963, I was confronted with a closed-door policy as a writer. When I published my satire on actionism, Da-Da Ga-Ga Ca-Ca, in 1972, the key was turned in the lock. [1] I quote the sociologist Michael Ley: ’Only an ostracised outsider discerned what really lay concealed behind the fraudulent phrase ’anti-fascist art’: the affirmation of totalitarian violence and not ist censure’. [2]

In art and literature it becomes more and more difficult to separate the sheep from the goats, valid artists from charlatans. It’s all a matter of opinion. But public actions such as self-mutilation, the flagellation of self and others, the drinking of blood and urine, the eating of feces, the scalding of live birds with boiling wax, copulation to the accompanyment of urination, fecal production, self-mutilation and the decapitation of animals and lastly self-immolation (Rudolf Schwarzkogler) are actions that I for one had to take a stand on.

These actions are engaged in and supported by the Austrian cultural elite, la crème de la crème, and meet the approval of those in power as well as those aspiring to power. Some of the promoters are very skillful and well-versed in the art of sophistry. Those who are not proponents or fellow-travelers have been cowed and usually keep mum.

The Nazis destroyed human values as well as humans. They attempted to cancel art and literature out, replacing it with an antisceptic and illustrative depiction of the glories of motherhood and military heroism, as well as family, farming and factory scenes. Basically National-Socialist art, or non-art, consisted of a sham portrayal of the patriotic love of mother earth and the fatherland.

The scurrilous, sado-masochistic, anti-humanistic, murderous elements in the anti-Semitic tracts, cartoons and propaganda films are rarely to be found in official National-Socialist art. Thus the lie of illustrative Nazi non-art was doublefold. The lie was intended to reflect a movement and society that were ’wholesome.’ It does not bring to the fore what National-Socialism was really about. Actionist art, or anti-art if you will, provides what is missing. It is indeed more honest. And one could make a plea for it being representative of the society in which it is entrenched. It is revealing that those who have literally defecated on the state have achieved the highest status as state artists.

With the exception of the Kristallnacht, the pogrom of November 9, 1938, barbarous acts took place away from public view or in subjugated countries. The Nazis wanted to be know as brave warriors, not the mass murderers of helpless civilians. While behaving dishonerably, they wanted to convey an honorable image. Thus, after World War II right up to the present, the official Nazi line is to deny the Holocoust by promulgating the so-called ’Auschwitz lie’. And they still stick to this while they engage in terror against refugees, members of minority groups and those who aid them in present-day Germany and Austria.

Although advocates of cruelty themsleves, the Nazis condemn the cruelty of those who engage in public extravaganzas. The latter and their advocates declare that they do what they do in order to combat fascism. Thus those who feel queasy about these acts are usually afraid of being labelled as fascists if they speak out. And speaking out can have ist consequences since it means countering power and influence. Regretfully, in this topsy-turvy situation, those who utter criticism of public cruelty are not to be found on the left, but rather on the right.

It stood to reason that a man who publicly copulated while wallowing in excrement was suited to direct a commune and be the guardian of children. There he reigned for almost two decades and the highest places; Bruno Kreisky: ’my friend the great painter, perhaps the best we have in Austria.’ [3] Here’s a quotation by the leader of the commune. ’Everthing is worthy of presentation ... That includes rape and murder.’ [4] When members of the commune rebelled it was the yellow press of the right that brought him down. Liberal elements either defended him or stayed on the sidelines. After he was brought to trial and convicted of the molestation, corporal abuse and rape of children, he was honored by a highly-funded commemorative exhibit of his work. His advocates and apologists referred to the commune as a ’failed experiment’.

That is how the system works.

However it should be stated that Otto Mühl tripped up. Usually rolling in faces ultimately means rolling in dough with no problems.

Apparently, I have stood alone in drawing parallels between National Socialism and actionism. The price was ostracism, or Austrocism, as an author. The National Socialists degraded, humiliated, tortured and murdered humans. The actionists degrade, humiliate and abuse themselves and others. They kill animals as an ersatz. The Nazis desecrated religious cult objects as do the actionists. The cross has replaced the Star of David. And now an actionist has expressed his wish to substitute human cadavers for animals. [5] That means we have almost come full swing.

After World War II a thorough purge of National Socialism failed to take place. According to legend the post-bellum literary leftovers were displaced by an anti-fascist literary movement in the fifties. The actionists composed part of that movement. Those who had served a barbarous regime were replaced by those who favored the public practice of barbarism. And they have held sway ever since. The Nazis and their advocates condemn the actionists and their advocates. The Nazis deny the barbaric truth of the Third Reich but condemn the barbarism of the actionists. Thus the apologists for National Socialism and political reactionaries can assume a holier-than-thou stance and score easy points against the ’anti-fascists’. Those who may not favor the sado-masochistic extravagancas of the actionists are inhibited concerning their views since they fear being linked to the unsavory elements that purport to oppose them. I quote Michael Ley: ’The ’anti-fascist’ label seemed to insure immunity from any criticism and every critic was classified as a ’fascist’’. [6]

Alfred Worm, editor-in-chief of the weekly News : ’We have learned Hermann Nitsch. We have begun to understand him ... . We think more deeply. Only those who live in the past (The Third Reich) do not understand him.’ [7]

In a totalitarian society state art stands beyond criticism. Conformity in the arts means that the game is up.

At this writing an official Austrian exhibit commemorating prominent Austrians who were forced to emigrate is running at 565 Fifth Avenue in New York. The organizer of the exhibit and co-author of the accompanying book, The Cultural Exodus from Vienna  [8] is Peter Weibel, who is the co-author of Wien, a book documenting and glorifying actionism. Among the highlights of the latter publication are photos of co-author Valie Export engaging in fellatio with Weibel. Also featured is the depiction of an event in Cologne organized by Weibel and Export in which bullwhips, coils of barbed wire, beer bottles and ether were used to injure actionists and members of the audience. [9] One of the most revolting aspects of the book is the juxtapositioning of photos of murdered children with photos of Hermann Nitsch actions with innards. Thus murder too is Show Biz. [10]

It is self-evident that an article by ’Staberl’ (Pointer), star-columnist of the Kronen-Zeitung, an Austrian tabloid not known to favor liberal causes, appeard on the subject of the exhibit. The exhibit was a great windfall for Staberl and he used it to serve his purposes. [11]

Staberl and his ilk are the other side of the coin.

In my view, the good work of the scholars who contributed to the book and exhibit has been deprecated and the exiled notables have been compromised rather than commemorated by the participation of ’Cultural Commissar’ Weibel. My inclusion occured without my knowledge.

Those who have been victims of barbarism can only be honored by the foes of barbarism. Moral force is the requisite for fighting inhumanity.

The crimes of the Third Reich are unparalleled. However drawing parallels between those who practice and advocate inhumanity is unavoidable. Actionism is an outgrowth of National Socialism. Neo-Nazis and actionists are not really at odds but merely in competition. That is the best way for them to serve each other’s interests. They were spawned by the same antecedent.

© by Herbert Kuhner, 1995.

[1Die Pestsäule, Nr.1, Sept. 1972, Pages 69-74; Herbert Kuhner, Der Ausschluß: Memoiren eines Neunundreißigers, Edition 39/ Verlag Der Apfel, Vienna, 1988, p.40-46.

[2Michael Ley: Die Würdigung blieb aus, Illustierte Neue Welt, April 1995, Vienna, p.21.

[3Andreas Schlothauer: Die Diktatur der freien Sexualität: AOO, Mühl-Kommune, Friedrichshof, Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik; Vienna 1992, p.139.

[4Josef Dvorak: Die Faschisten von heute: Antwort an Hermann Nitsch, Neues Forum, Heft 246, Juni 1974, Wien, Page 44; Otto Mühl, ZOCK, Aspekte einer Totalrevolution 66/71 München 1971; Supervisuel 6, Otto Mühl will Menschen schlachten, Zürich 1970.

[5Mojca Kumerdej: Hermann Nitsch o smrti in Zivljenu, Delo Ljubljana, 3. Oktobra 1992.

[6Michael Ley : Die Würdigung blieb aus, Illustrierte Neue Welt, April 1995, p.21.

[7Alfred Worm, ORF (Austrian Radio), Club 2, Feb. 7, 1995.

[8Friedrich Stadler, Peter Weibel: The Cultural Exodus from Austria, Springer Verlag, Vienna — New York, 1995.

[9Peter Weibel, Valie Export: Wien: Bildkompendium Wiener Aktionismus und Film, Kohlkunst Verlag, Frankfurt, 1970, p.233 & 237.

[10Ibid., p.97-114.

[11Neue Kronen-Zeitung, Staberl (Richard Nimmerrichter): Installationen aus dem Naziland, Vienna, June 4, 1995, p.8.

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