Gunter Brus, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsche, Carolee Schneemann
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Eyedrum, Atlanta, GA

6/64 Mama und Papa by Kurt Kren, 4 minutes, 1964
Mama and Papa, Muehl's twelfth Material Action, took place in the Perinet Cellar in Vienna on August 4, 1964, with Kurt Kren filming. Muehl, dressed up in suit and tie for the occasion, covers a woman's body in various commonplace substances - eggs, jelly, colored powders. A grotesque parody of the domestic impulse follows. Kren obligingly provides an extended visual allegory of ejaculation. Also: watch for the explosion of the feather-filled balloon!

7/64 Leda mit der Schwan by Kurt Kren, 3 minutes, 1964
Based on a poem by Yeats, Leda and the Swan took place only sixteen days after Mama and Papa, in the same venue. Muehl published a score for the action, consisting of a description of the actions taken, such as:
"leonardo grates a large cucumber over leda with a grater, squashes 10 tomatoes and cracks 5 eggs on her. he places a bottle containing a rose between her legs. he scatters bread-crumbs and coffee powder over her. leda sets her upper body upright and draws in one leg. leonardo places a large, uninflated plastic swan between her legs," and so on. This is one of the most densely constructed of all of Kren's Actionist films.

Zock-Exercises by Otto Muehl, 12 minutes, 1967
Muehl's own films are naturally more straightforwardly documentative than are Kren's. This is to good effect in this film, one of the best of all the Actionist documents. "Zock" was a collaborative project consisting of manifestos, films, and performances. The "Zock Manifesto" was basically a call for widespread anarchy and a vision of society driven by Dada disgust and Burroughsian humor: "ZOCK will destroy without exception all institutions that are more than one minute old...ZOCK has no dread of chaos, rather it fears forgetting to annihilate something."

Despite Muehl's nihilism, the Zock exercises show that connections can be made between his work and traditions of various earlier twentieth-century art movements. The first "exercise" in the film consists of a very painterly progression of substances being poured onto and rinsed off of an ear, which is sticking through a canvas so that the head of the person belonging to the ear cannot be seen. The ear itself is disturbingly redolent of any number of surrealist exercises, including Un Chien Andalou, Dali and Bunuel's landmark surrealist film. The next two Zock exercises involve passive actors and have sadomasochistic overtones - though the actors acquiesce to their various ritual dousings and bondages with such equanimity that discomfort and shock seem beside the point. In the last of the four sections of the film, Muehl and two other actors create a living naked tableaux that brings to mind slapstick comedy more than anything, topped off by Muehl's mischievous grin to the camera at film's end.

9/64 O Christmas Tree
by Kurt Kren, 3 minutes, 1964
A partial list of items and substances used in this Material Action, from Muehl's published score: christmas tree, candles, sparklers, meat, eggs, bread, rolls, milk cartons, condoms, cotton, wool, raisins, apples, eggs, nuts, smoked herring, oil, beetroot juice, custard, pink powder, colour copper vitriol, jam, tomato juice, aluminum foil, blue ink, green and red paint, paste, flour, bread-crumbs, plastic dentures, peas and sauerkraut. Penises also abound - covered in substances, sprayed clean, poking through surfaces, packed in suitcases and wearing trick nose and glasses. The order of events in the film, with the actors being doused with the above substances, then rinsed, then doused and rinsed repetitively - is quite different from the order in Muehl's score.

8/64 Ana- Aktion Brus by Kurt Kren, 3 minutes, 1964
Brus, Muehl, and Nitsch all started as painters, and all attempted to relocate the act of painting from the canvas to the body and the three-dimensional world. Ana, named for Brus' wife and described by him as "ultimately...a classic white canvas extended into the third dimension," took place inside Muehl's flat in Vienna, again with Kren filming. Brus devised a twofold plot for the action. In the first part, he wrapped his body in white cloth and rolled across the floor as the cloths came off. The second part of the plot was to be a body painting, but Brus began instead to frantically cover the walls with paint (later lamenting this "abstract art work at the eleventh hour"). The atmosphere was tense, with arguments between the photographers present, and discord between Muehl and Kren. Muehl also mocked Brus during the event for his "relapse" into conventional painting. No such problems with Kren's film of the event, which dissolves into total black-and-white abstraction near the end - a bridge between Jackson Pollock and the later work of Stan Brakhage.

10/65-67 Self Destruction by Kurt Kren, 5 minutes, 1965
Brus considered his "self-painting, derived from abstract painting" as the "ABC of my selfpresentationallanguage." In this appalling film, he is covered in buckets of white paint, virtually glued to the floor. Sharp objects - razor blades, scissors, knives, corkscrew - threaten from all sides and eventually attach themselves to his face. Mannequin parts hint at the danger of this environment. An endless array of horrifying expressions and gestures reinforces a sense of primordial claustrophobia and entrapment.

10b/65 Silber-Action Brus by Kurt Kren, 2.5 minutes, 1965
Frenetic in contrast to the catatonia of Self-Destruction, the Silver action is the most mysterious of Kren's actionist films. Figures - probably Brus and his wife Anni - are covered in cloth and later dressed in formal outfits - top hat and nun's habit. Familiar Brus motifs reappear: black paint on white walls, bicycle wheels, piles of cloth on the floor. Whereas in previous films Kren rapidly juxtaposed disparate images to draw almost subconscious connections between them, here he rapidly juxtaposes handheld shots of the same image - a composition featuring the bicycle wheel, or the pile of cloths - retaining density and speed while achieving a more repetitious and haunting quality.

An Introduction to the O.M. Theatre, Stephen E. Gebhardt, 10 minutes
Underrepresented in the 1960s films, Hermann Nitsch eventually became the most celebrated of the Actionists, due in part to the continued controversy of his large-scale works involving bloody animal sacrifices and grandiose Catholic imagery. In Stephen Gebhardt's film, Nitsch can be heard explicating his actions and their motivations, while on screen the progressive defilement of a large, bloody animal carcass serves as a catalyst for the release of primal urges.

12/66 Cosinus Alpha
by Kurt Kren, 10 minutes, 1966
Two women engage in various forms of sexual interplay, with Muehl's active direction - moving one of the women's legs back and forth as if conducting. During one very intimate moment, it shocks to see his hand come into the frame to adjust the angle of one of the women's arms. Meanwhile, a soltary penis is adorned with a rose, eggs, and sausages in ritual fashion, as if on a plate or in a picture frame. Colored powders rain down on the women, bringing to mind the orgy scene in Jack Smith's film Flaming Creatures, in which dust and chunks of plaster fall down from above onto the revelers. By now, Muehl was making his own films as well, and was soon to break with Kren, perhaps because he was more interested in documenting his activities than in running them through the chaos distillation of Kren's filmmaking technique.

16/67 September 20 by Kurt Kren, 7 minutes, 1967
September 20: one of the great film titles of all time and a momentous date for Actionism. In his book Film as a Subversive Art, Amos Vogel remarks that the more universal the experience, the less it can be shown on film. Eating, drinking, pissing and shitting are experienced by all of us, and our primal sense of the bodily rhythm of these experiences is brilliantly upended via astonishing camera angles and very subversive editing.

Meat Joy by Carolee Schneemann, 5 minutes, 1964
Schneemann began performing her communal, eroticized large-scale works in New York at about the same time as the Actionists did in Vienna, though on viewing this footage from Meat Joy, her most famous piece, the differences between Schneemann and the Actionists could not be more apparent. Here we see the participants locked in joyously erotic embraces, even smiling, to an accompaniment of popular songs of the day, such as "My Boy Lollipop." The soundtrack also includes instructions for the piece, read in overlapping French and English. The result was an exhilirating manifesto for sexual and bodily liberation - a specifically American counterpart to the scorched earth of the Actionists.

Thanks for assistance with tonight's screening: Jeff Hunt, Danny Koehler, Adam Overton, Brian Parks, Nat Slaughter, Blake Williams

For more on the Actionists, check out Brus Muehl Nitsch Schwarzkogler: Writings of the Vienna Actionists, edited by Malcolm Green and published by Atlas Press, London 1999. For more on Carolee Schneemann, check out Imaging Her Erotics, published by MIT Press 2002 and More Than Meat Joy, edited by Bruce McPherson and published by Documentext, 1979.

Program notes: 2003 Andy Ditzler

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Andy Ditzler  10/21/2016