A Short and Violent Movement in 20th Century Art
July 14, 2012 3:36 AM   Subscribe

35 full-length Viennese Actionist films 1957-1969. *NSFW* (Extreme graphic & scatological situations.) "The term Viennese Actionism describes a short and violent movement in 20th century art that can be regarded as part of the many independent efforts of the 1960s to develop 'action art' (Fluxus, Happening, Performance, Body Art, etc.)." Previously: 1, 2.
Its main participants were Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. As "actionists", they were active between 1960 and 1971. Most have continued their artistic work independently from the early 1970s onwards.

Documentation of the work of these four artists suggests that there was no consciously developed sense of a movement or any cultivation of membership status in a "actionist" group. Rather, this name was one applied to various collaborative configurations among these four artists. Malcolm Green has quoted Hermann Nitsch's comment, "Vienna Actionism never was a group. A number of artists reacted to particular situations that they all encountered, within a particular time period, and with similar means and results."
posted by Skygazer (29 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I found this film entitled Satisfaction By Otto Muehl very good. It has various very bizarre interactions and a good classical music score. (NSFW)
posted by Skygazer at 3:50 AM on July 14, 2012


If they made Psychotic Party before they made Triumph of the Will, World War II would never have happened.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:38 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always wondered if/when the actionists would make it onto here. I've often thought of posting this link myself, but dithered, suspicious that it'd end up being deleted.

Some of the anxieties I had about them stem from Otto Muehl's conviction for child sexual abuse in the '90's, and whether this abuse might be recorded in some of the films that he shot.

However, Muehl is but a single artist, and his conviction shouldn't preclude examination of the work of the others or the movement as a whole.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:40 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> If they made Psychotic Party before they made Triumph of the Will , World War II would never have happened.

Whoa! That film is a Vincent D'Onofrio Grotesque!

It's the unholy Connor Kent step-clone of John Waters, David Lynch and some East German Charismatic cult.

I now have more information about Otto Muehl than I care to be responsible for.

If Hitler had seen Psychotic Party, he would have killed himself in grade-school.
posted by vhsiv at 5:13 AM on July 14, 2012


Yeah, that Muehl, quite the charmer he was. Yeesh. Watched about three of his films, have no interest in seeing more.

Just personal taste, of course.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:41 AM on July 14, 2012


I found this film entitled Satisfaction By Otto Muehl very good. It has various very bizarre interactions and a good classical music score. (NSFW)

I liked the cat shooting across the set early on, and then showing back up to look at what the odd people were doing.
posted by Forktine at 6:17 AM on July 14, 2012


The Aristocrats!
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:54 AM on July 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Uh.... I'm pretty sure I just saw a baby touching a penis in that Satisfaction film. Even if no contact was involved, the man had his penis exposed within about 1 foot of an infant sitting in its mother's lap. Not exactly what I was prepared to see this morning. Considering the current cultural climate, as interesting as I find these films, I think questions might need to be asked about how appropriate it is to link directly to that.

I think I heard someone knocking on the door... brb (?)
posted by PigAlien at 8:33 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I randomly watched Stille Nacht (1969), so you don't have to. A man and woman are naked on stage with a Christmas tree as Silent Night plays in the background. Some naked men place the naked woman on a table. Then they bring out a pig, and the pig is slaughtered on stage in a manner indifferent to its obvious suffering. Then they butcher the pig and rip out its entrails, which are then draped all over the naked woman. Then the man stands on a ladder and urinates all over the pig entrail covered woman. ... 3.7 on IMDb. Tell your friends!

Otto Muehl sounds like the kind of human that had experience making the world worse for other people and animals:

In 1943, Muehl had to serve in the German Wehrmacht. There he registered for officer training. He was promoted to lieutenant and in 1944 he took part on infantry battles in the course of the Ardennes Offensive

"Had to" is weasel-speak for Nazi scum. But what about his post-war philanthropy?:

In 1991, Muehl was convicted of "sexual abuse of minors, rape and forced abortion" [at his authoritarian commmune], and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. He was released in 1997, after serving seven years, and set up a smaller commune in Portugal.
posted by dgaicun at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


My considered review then will simply be this sound clip from the hit motion picture Brüno (In theaters a while ago!)
posted by dgaicun at 8:48 AM on July 14, 2012


No animals were harmed in the making of this... um, well, nevermind.
posted by PigAlien at 8:56 AM on July 14, 2012


Years back I remember seeing (in I think Edinburgh's modern art gallery) a artwork that was a collection of stills from an Actionist film and thinking it was about the most weird fucked-up thing I'd ever seen combining Lynch, Cronenberg and childhood nightmares after watching old Universal and Hammer horror films.

And then I did a little bit more research into it when I was planning a novel set in the modern art world... and thought, yeah, this is probably a bit too much...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:10 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've ... Enjoyed isn't the right word ... The work of Hermann Nitsch ever since reading about him in Apocalypse Culture. It's not for everyone.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:41 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Can't speak for other jurisdictions than the UK, but I wouldn't want to be caught with Satisfaction on my hard disk - that'd be my career gone and life fucked up. (My country puts you on trial if you make a bad joke on Twitter. It has no sense of humour or proportion.)

This is mightily wrong - much more wrong than the movie qua movie - but it's hard to get much positive support at the moment for uncomfortable freedoms.
posted by Devonian at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2012


Well, none of that was as fundamentally creepy as the man in the cat thing,
posted by Decani at 10:58 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kurt Kren used to live a garage apartment behind me. He was a fixture in Houston's punk/art scene in the 80's, after moving to Texas from Austria.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2012


Yeesh! Not sure because of poor film quality, but I think I saw a severed penis in a box! I didn't dare watch more after that.
posted by PipRuss at 11:17 AM on July 14, 2012


Thanks for the summaries, dgaicun and co - I mean that, 'cause that is NOT what I need to see this lovely morning. Still, if you *just can't get enough of this guy*: An Actionist Begins to Sing: An Interview with Otto Mühl

I find these films largely off-putting, but I'm not sure why I still find *some* of this stuff so impressive, if moreso in concept. Sometimes the idea of the piece/performance is more attractive than the artifact itself, no? I'm often a fan of grotesquery (even brutality) in visual art and literature, but does anyone else want to speculate where the tipping point lies? Is it that these actions were carried out in real life? Animal suffering? Bodily waste? A lack of compartmentalization between "art performance" and "everyday abuse and cruelty?" All of the above?


On a tangent, maybe we (MeFites) should all just take turns posting links from the Ubuweb treasure trove....
posted by Mrrranda at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


PeterMcDermott: I always wondered if/when the actionists would make it onto here. I've often thought of posting this link myself, but dithered, suspicious that it'd end up being deleted.


But the movement's already been referred to quite a bit in passing comments here (quite a few from you I could see in the searched) and there's at least a couple of other posts in regards to them. This collection of films here seems like the perfect jumping off point. I'm not always open to this stuff. I had a friend (gone now) who was a huge in collecting ephemera and artifacts from it, and he got to it through the Throbbing Gristle/Coum Transmissions connection, which was really a total rip-off of the Vienna Actionists, as many things do that involve that opportunistic narcissistic charlatan ecstasy-damaged talentless sociopathic dimwit Genesis P-Orridge, tend to be. He was also personally used by Mr. P-Orridge...(but that's a story for another time).

To be honest, I wasn't aware of Otto Muehl's troubling life philosophies and incarceration. I simply linked to Satisfaction, because it seemed like a pretty good cross-section of the absurdity and style of the Vienna Actionist. And a good starting point for anyone not familiar with the movement itself.

Art like this can open one's spirit and mind into new areas of understanding and growth, if one's not offended by it or too focussed on judging the people.

And I can see the case being where someone is entirely in the wrong place to be exposed to this much chaos and extremity, and in such a case, people need to take care to not expose themselves to it.

Otto Muehl is a repellent figure to be sure now that I'm seeing his Wikipedia entry, but it would be wrong to have him color and discredit the whole movement.

Sometimes the idea of the piece/performance is more attractive than the artifact itself, no?

Absolutely, Mrrranda. The fact that it is an artifact and a documentation, of a movement from the 60s in Vienna, and in part an excavation of sorts, makes this incredibly seductive: The over-exposed flickering nature of the film (real film!), and the classical music accompaniment, and the strangeness of what's taking place, and the layers of meaning in such an artifact are all heady things.

Not the least of which is also the seminal aspect of this movement in regards to other art movements that have a connection to it such as punk rock or even the films of Jodorowsky, or the books of J.G. Ballard or William Burroughs, or the first true wave of Industrial Music (SPK, TG et al..) or No Wave music, or the Butthole Surfers and the spoken word art of people like Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins, or a machine robot performance group like Survival Research Laboratories...

And I know there's a whole wave of newer artists and bands who have seminal affinity to these guys, but their names escape me right now...
posted by Skygazer at 2:34 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Correction: Burroughs pre-dates the Vienna Actionists.

Also, please pardon the lack of proof-reading in my comment above...I hit the post button too quickly.

posted by Skygazer at 2:37 PM on July 14, 2012


*One final usability note, and that is that, I can't watch most of these Vienna Actionists performances for more than a few minutes, before needing to fast forward or move on to another aspect of the performance. Some of the material is too brain-deadening, or bizarre to watch for too long. It can also be at times not only the actual beating of a dead horse, but the metaphorical such beating of a dead horse as well. And becomes insufferable and too disturbing.

I, find also, that it works well as an indirect background experience to, let's say, surfing around the web reading the latest about the absurdity taking place in the presidential election. This type of art, certainly can give a new perspective on the human condition.

It quickly strips down the experience of living to it's absolute most basic aspects, and as such can be psychologically disturbing.

Taking the material with a grain of salt, helps and perhaps with the idea of it being the departure point for thinking or metaphysical and teleological questioning and not as an end unto itself.

Like many concentrated things...a little dab a do ya...

In other words..YMMV and if it's too oppressive and disturbing, by all means do not watch this material.

posted by Skygazer at 3:42 PM on July 14, 2012


But the movement's already been referred to quite a bit in passing comments here (quite a few from you I could see in the searched)

Yeah, I'm somewhat fascinated by them. I knew I'd referred to them in comments, but I'd missed the FPP's.

FWIW, I agree with your assessment of Genesis P. Orridge. Though I was never that interested in the whole Throbbing Gristle thing, Cosi Fani Tutti always seemed to me to be the one with the talent.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:49 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I try to view myself as having a pretty open mind, but I'm having a really hard time finding Muehl's work just... necessary. I can appreciate and respect something without liking it, but in this case I'm not sure the world would be worse off if he had never existed. I watched a couple of his videos, and there was just something off about it. Then I saw a woman, holding a toddler, while performing a sex act on an adult male. That crossed a line for me.
Then I came here and read some comments, which pointed out that he was convicted of abusing minors. I knew there was something off about his other videos with children. All of it just gave me a weird vibe.
Another line was crossed when they slaughtered that pig. That's just not okay, in my book. No art is more important than a life. It was slaughtered pretty inhumanely, too. Also, the naked men carrying out a passed out naked woman, slaughtering a pig, then covering her in entrails and urinating on her is too rapey for me.

I was only able to bring myself to watch one other video by a different artist. I thought it was ok. Pretty interesting. I probably would have liked it more if the quality was better, at times it was hard to understand. It was unsettling, but not uncomfortably so.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:48 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a curious fact of people that they'll happily have an animal slaughtered for dinner, or a jacket, or a science experiment, but not for an art project. Why is that, I wonder?

Not saying this to be snarky---I'm not a vegetarian, and I find the Actionists hard to take (though fascinating). But it's interesting.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:53 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"It's a curious fact of people that they'll happily have an animal slaughtered for dinner, or a jacket, or a science experiment, but not for an art project. Why is that, I wonder?"

Slaughtering for art? Hmm. Interest isn't the same thing as validation. For example: DeSade.

I might do things for food or shelter that I wouldn't do for amusement. Hunt animals, for example. Which illustrates your comment, I guess. Anyhow, I watched Satisfaction, and one other film in this selection. I was struck mostly by seeing a bunch of attractive people having a good time--it was clear that the individuals didn't bring those darker things (lurking in their minds' cellars) to the party. It seems that my selections may not have been representative of the broader scope of these films.

I'm glad I missed the pig slaughter. Do you suppose it makes a difference whether the viewer has ever been a subsistence hunter, or soldier? I don't have a problem with hunters in general, but trophy hunters are sort of...well, not my favorite people. I'm trying to parse out a revelation--or resonant feature of he psyche--that this sort of art might inspire. Maybe you'd have to be there to get it.

Covering the woman with pig guts and urinating on her is an act with symbolism that resides in a place I don't think I'd like to visit. It's troubling, even, that I can understand the way a situation can carry a person along to the point where he might participate in something that he would otherwise find disgusting. I'm guessing, however, that this wasn't the theme of the pig-film. I'm pretty sure that when they brought in the pig I would put my clothes on and leave. Symbolically, I guess you could just close the browser. Back to square one. You don't really know until you smell the blood, and watch the life fade away.

This is the sort of thing that people can't help but be curious about. Killing, dying, witnessing. But it's also the sort of thing you are glad to know, but wish you hadn't had to find out.

So, art? Maybe so. Let's call it performance art. But I can tell you for certain that you won't find out what you wanted to know by killing the pig. This is a very good place to say: be careful what you ask for.
posted by mule98J at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The slaughter isn't the problem. I am a vegetarian, but I understand that people eat meat and that slaughter goes along with it. To be honest, I'm more-or-less OK with that. But a slaughter that seems designed to cause the animal as much suffering as possible, and that wastes the meat besides? No, that's not the same. Sorry.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:10 AM on July 15, 2012


For those who want to see it, or more importantly avoid it, the pig slaughter takes place in the Muehl piece entitle Stille Nacht (1969).

The thing that is disturbing to me is the way it unfolds like a nightmare. From Christmas caroling around a tall decorated xmas tree and what seems to have the air of an xmas party to what seems to be a psychotic re-interpretation of Mary, and Joseph and the Manger Scene which is sacred to x-tains especially Catholics, and as one who was pretty intensely steeped in that religion as a child, it's amazingly transgressive.

The symbolism they enact seems pretty obvious to me and psychologically brutal in fact. And even to a great extent (and again this might be my own upbringing) breathtakingly reckless and insensitive. It's the one act I think I'd have a hard time watching in person.

The thing about transgressive art is that it seeks to de-program instilled perceptions and even in a way free people of their repressiveness, and fear, but I'm afraid, that scene for a sensitive individual already walking a fine line between their faith and feeling some sense of connection to something, or anything, it might do more damage than good.

People need stories and myths. They need a narrative and a context to make reality have a sense of cohesion and integrity, so I guess I would say I see both sides of this. I'm glad the Vienna Aktionists made the art they made and even enjoy some of it, but there's definitely a need for the viewer of such spectacles, to know when to turn away when necessary if this stuff causes hurt or damage.

posted by Skygazer at 2:59 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Skygazer,

I can't argue that transgressive art is powerful. You can see by my riff off a second-hand characterization (of the pig film) that its ripples are both subtle and pervasive, as well as (perhaps) even hammer-like.

Writers understand that words are magic--so are pictures--because they evoke thoughts, which beget deeds. Sometimes an analogy or a parody sends a better message than a straight-forward explanation.

Deprogramming. Hmm. In this case, maybe knocking a paradigm off the rails and throwing grenades at it before setting it on fire. I will now think about the differences among stories, myths, and religions in a slightly different way. I guess, as you say, much depends on the discretion of the viewer. Yet, art doesn't stand outside reality--the performance is not the message, just the vehicle. A canvass is just a canvass, painted or not. If it's dangerous, it's because of how the artist arranged the paint. An actress performs a role--she is the canvass.

But the slaughter of the pig moves art in a direction that transcends the the movie--is it supposed to transcend the movie's message?--or is it part of the message? Even without the religious context, I was stirred by the characterization of the pig scene. Not in a pleasant way, but that's not an issue. I kicked over my own rocks, so to speak, and dealt with the things that crawled out. The makers of the movie wouldn't have access to those personal images.

I can see how killing the pig, in the religious context that you described, might create a powerful statement. I guess the pig sacrifice works even better than if one of the actors had volunteered to be disemboweled for his art. The trick is to keep the viewer from looking away. Gotta take him right to the edge of the pit and let him look down, maybe hold his hand so he can lean over and get a eyeful.

I'm pretty sure I was right when I gave up hunting after I got out of the army. I made another good call when I passed on seeing the pig film, too. That's two for two.
posted by mule98J at 6:09 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Writers understand that words are magic--so are pictures--because they evoke thoughts, which beget deeds. Sometimes an analogy or a parody sends a better message than a straight-forward explanation

That is a heady and powerful realization. Stuff that gets realized on the page and articulated can be made to happen. It's an incredible tool for oneself.

But the slaughter of the pig moves art in a direction that transcends the the movie--is it supposed to transcend the movie's message?--or is it part of the message?

Well, that's the thing. It's about that blurring of the lines, that gives it it's power. The pig is a proxy for what I'm taking was the nude woman playing Mary (?), and a proxy for both birth and perhaps a parody of the "Immaculate Conception" (these are my interpretations of course, but it seems pretty straight forward).

I guess the pig sacrifice works even better than if one of the actors had volunteered to be disemboweled for his art. The trick is to keep the viewer from looking away.

That's the power of a lot of the Aktionist performances and the power of a spectacle. It's taking art right to that place, where it's no longer insulated by the frame. The canvas begins to hold real life. And real death...and the canvas no longer contains and makes safe whatever is happening in the imagination. The nudity (especially that of the women) and extremity all work to hold the gaze. Not too many men who can look away from a young nude woman.

I'm pretty sure I was right when I gave up hunting after I got out of the army. I made another good call when I passed on seeing the pig film, too. That's two for two.

I think I see what you're saying here and it's pretty powerful. The lines get blurred very quickly I imagine if you've seen a war zone as a soldier and then you're hunting at home. I would think that's about a certain growth and wisdom. Or maybe a touch of PTSD.

It's interesting though how for example people who've slaughtered animals for food, no problem, and I'm thinking of my mother here who grew up on a farm, also really feel for them, and won't tolerate someone being cruel to an animal or hurting it or destroying it without any sense or purpose...

I think a lot of people who grew up around farm animals have that innate respect and compassion for them.
posted by Skygazer at 3:00 PM on July 16, 2012


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