MIXED MEDIA (IV)
EXHIBITION Apr 28 — Aug 31, 2018
On the occasion of Gallery Weekend Berlin 2018, Kicken Berlin presents a new installment of its exhibition series Mixed Media under the title About the Body. Following explorations of portraiture, abstraction, and architecture, this fourth exhibition also invites photography to enter into productive dialogue with other artistic media. The body as the medium of subjective experience and social protest, as it was employed from the early twentieth century into the 1960s, is the show’s central focus. One of the most radical artistic movements was Viennese Actionism (Wiener Aktionismus) of the 1960s as exemplified by proponents such as Günter Brus, Kurt Kren, Otto Muehl, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. The Actionists understood their own bodies as the bearers of direct, often drastic statements on political situations and hardened social structures as shaped by the baggage of nationalism in postwar Austria. Immediacy and communal experience were key: the artists consciously disposed of both artistic and social conventions in order to release creative potential. Action and performance redefined traditional artistic media and expanded them into sensuous experience in time and space. “[U]sing truth as an immediate mode of creation,” as Hermann Nitsch wrote in 1964, leads to uncompromising “totalaktion,” or “total action.” His calculated breaks with taboo – public displays of nudity, sexuality, bodily excretions, gestural-spatial painting actions, and even self-mutilation – often resulted in intervention by state law enforcement. Günter Brus, after the 1968 action “Kunst und Revolution” (Art and Revolution), was prosecuted for “disruption of order in a public place and violation of public decency” and thus fled to Berlin. In addition to the body, like in Brus’s work, everyday objects, garbage, mud, paint, and food became objects of ecstatic Materialaktionen (material actions), a radical deconstruction of art historical traditions (Muehl, Nitsch). Brus, Nitsch and Muehl had their roots in Informel abstract painting, which they then transitioned into gestural actions. Rudolf Schwarzkogler, on the other hand, staged himself and his actors without an audience in ritual-filled bodily actions and precisely defined aesthetic spaces. Kurt Kren conceived of his actions cinematically. Viennese Actionism was part of a larger international artistic movement of the twentieth century that tested the boundaries between the individual, society, and artistic form. An early branch traces back to Viennese Modernism at the turn of the century with protagonists such as Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, to whom actionists Brus and Muehl vividly responded. With their radical conception of the body and drastic consideration of conditio humana, which left few taboos untouched, the two epochs reveal their similarities in their revolutionary outlooks and contrarian spirits. Further artistic parallels are evident in the subjective fragmentation –and thus alienation– of the body in Dada and New Vision collage practice, such as in Hannah Höch and László Moholy-Nagy collages, which are combined with images by Otto Muehl’s actions. The surreal relationship of body and staging as exemplified in Czech avant-garde artist Václav Zykmund’s action scenes responds to the often grotesque imagery of the corporeal, the distorted and exposed human being. Man Ray’s double-face self-portrait highlights the multifaceted character of Surrealism in the literal sense, which does not deny a witty spirit. From the first decades of the twentieth century on, photographers like Rudolf Koppitz used a rich vocabulary of gestures from movement and dance studies to express a symbolist understanding of man in nature. Again, dance is also a means to render the sculptural, even uncanny aspects of bodily phenomena, such as in manifestations by dancers Valeska Gert or Marianne Vogelsang. Also on display is a digital video screening of short films by Kurt Kren and Günter Brus of several early actions by Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler.
Anton Josef Trčka