Actions 1978-2015 – an attempt at a typology
... 1992. Austria. Schlosspark Eybesfeld. As part of the Steirisches festival in Graz, my action “The Flight of Zechariah” takes place. It is an enormous project, in which the action plays the most important role, but without the particular overall idea the action simply would not work. In a special place on the colossal territory of the castle, computer disks were buried (101 in total) with fragments from the biblical book of the Prophet Zechariah (you have almost a prophet before you). The invited audience – 101 people – were positioned on the spots where the disks were buried. Then I flew over them in a two-seater airplane with an elderly Austrian pilot at the controls. So - what was that? Perhaps we could call it an Archive Land Event, or an “event to summon the spirit of the prophet Zechariah”?
In 1997, as part of that very same festival in Graz, I created a kind of event that I called “Murder of the Madeleine cake. First Correction to Marcel Proust”. It was like this. In the corner of one of the exhibition rooms, I placed a madeleine cake, on a lacy paper napkin. Opposite this, I placed a huge table with three chairs. In short, I created the Kafkian horror of a trial against the little cake. Then, after long diplomatic negotiations with the Graz police, a wonderfully equipped policeman with a sniper’s rifle came to visit us. And from the attic, through the glass ceiling of the room (having first removed a single pane in preparation) he shot at the poor cake, enacting the given sentence. The Madeleine Cake was killed on 27 September 1997 by Austrian policeman. Interestingly, all this took place one day before the opening. The viewers were, for the most part, technicians and the curator Ferner Fens. So this work, which everywhere was called an action, was… well, let’s say the “Premiere of the “Murder of the Madeleine cake” for the working staff of a museum in Graz”. At the opening itself, a film played, which I had shot and edited overnight. (Curator of this project was Claudia Jolles)
A year before that, for the project “The Funny and Sad Adventures of a Foolish Pastor” (1996-98), I had moved away from the term action from the very beginning, by calling my travels through countries dressed in pastor’s clothing adventures. For example, I battled with the windmill in Campa de Criptana in the Spanich province of La Mancha, I spent a night on an uninhabited island in Japan, I held theological discussions with a sumo wrestler, I visited the grave of Christ in the village of Shingo in the north of Japan, and many other things. All of this falls under the category of adventure as a genre. It’s perfectly clear.
Another series of works, “Pilgrimage with a Flying Video-camera”, from 2002, I realised in Israel. I visited the most touristy places, where there was not a single centrimetre that had not been photographed by tourists, took out my video-camera, switched it on and threw it into the air. The camera made the film itself, without an author, as it wished. The role of the author was to throw and catch the camera that filmed the documentation. It was only that year – a year of intifada, explosions in the cities and the absence of tourists – that I was able to throw the camera three times in the Temple of the Holy Sepulcher, six times in the garden of Gethsemene, two times on the Masada and in other famous places. In this case, the three key words ‘pilgrimage with a flying camera’ should be replaced by one – action.
In 2007, the artists Andrei Monastyrsky, Yuri Leiderman and Vadim Zakharov put together the group “Kapiton”. It was a co-authorship, in which actions, objects and so forth became elements of an active discourse. We attempted (all three being perfectly familiar with each other’s work) to surprise one another with new ideas, a new style of works, unusual presentation, and of course attempted to escape the term “Moscow Conceptualism”. In parts we were successful, in others not. This collaboration requires particular attention. But again, nobody thought of doing actions, everything was a kind of activity, aimed to test our professional consciousness: is it still alive, or is it long dead, having long lost its sensitivity?
Our trips around Germany in 2007 as the “Germany group”, consisting of Sabine Haensgen, Yuri Leiderman and Vadim Zakharov, and with the permanent audience member of Yuri Albert, were called the “Cologne collective flights”. From the very beginning, all the participants wanted to move away from the traditional designation of actionism. The word zalety [flights] is difficult to translate, but was very fitting for our wandering activities. Here are a few examples…
A few words about a group with the strange name “ObamainBerlin” (all one word). It has two participants: Nicholas Nitschke and Vadim Zakharov. For more than six years now we have been systematically trying to escape any designations whatsoever. In order to describe the undertakings that we have realised, we use the words Visitation or Movement, or we use words that have never been considered as terms applicable to contemporary art: love, happiness, unbelievable, astounding and many others. I don’t think that you could call the three or four utterly different activities that follow on one after the other over the course of the day, actions. Here are some examples…
And finally, my series “Film in One Drawing” or “Film in One Painting”. It is a three-part project: Action Film Drawing. I attempt to draw over a film, which is projected over paper or canvas, continuously without stopping. The length of the film determines the length of the making of the drawing or painting. Often, I would put on or drape over myself something that was lying around: plastic bottles, a fishing net, polyethylene film, old masks, little ceramic Chinese statues, a white shirt and tie. All this was of utmost importance to me. I made the recording myself. The process of drawing was meant to be undertaken by a subject, a figure with whom I, as the author, did not identify. These are personal actions done for myself, where Nobody tries to find himself over a particular period of time.
The conclusion that begs to be drawn after considering all of the above is not a reassuring one for art historians: the 38 years of my actionism is not in fact actionism at all. The terms Activity, Zond-works, Stimulation Body Act, Adventures, Visitation and others convey the specific nature of my work, and cannot simply be labelled as actions or performances. I am sure that if we were to look again at the work of many artists, then we would be able to find many new interesting nuances and designations. At the same time, the variety of the activities of artists today resurrects the failing “drive” to search for something that it is impossible to understand completely.