Spheres of action Art and politicsIn the anglophone context of the last thirty years, the phrase ʻcritical theoryʼ has been used in two quite different ways. On the one hand it refers to the project of the Frankfurt School, in its various formulations, over a ﬁfty-year period from the early 1930s (from early Horkheimer through to ʻmiddle periodʼ Habermas). On the other hand it has come to denote a far broader but nonetheless discrete tradition, with its roots in Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Saussure, and its primary manifestations in France in the period from the late 1950s to the end of the 1990s, with Barthes, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard as its main representatives. In the ﬁrst case, the phrase is both selfdesignating and the object of explicit theoretical reﬂection. In the latter case, however, it was the result of the reception of a theoretically heterogeneous tradition into the literary departments of the Anglo-American academy, where ʻcriticismʼ was an established professional activity. Consequently, while the conceptual emphasis in the reception of the Frankfurt School has been on criticism or critique (Kritik) – the main opposition being between ʻTraditional and Critical Theoryʼ (Horkheimer, 1937) – the emphasis in the reception of the French tradition was placed heavily on ʻtheoryʼ, the main opposition being between theoretical and aor anti-theoretical (historically, aesthetic) interpretative practices. Yet ʻtheoryʼ, here, is not a name for an alien philosophy (in the way in which ʻcritical theoryʼ was initially an alias for a certain philosophical reception of Marxism) but a purportedly post-philosophical pursuit, occupying the place, but not the mode, of a Heideggerian ʻthinkingʼ.
What these two bodies of thought share is a suspicion of the self-sufﬁciency of philosophy, an orientation towards interand trans-disciplinarity, an openness to the general text of writing, and a critical attitude towards the institutions of Western capitalist societies. Where they differ is in their relations to the philosophies of Hegel and Heidegger. The former is self-consciously post-Hegelian and anti-Heideggerian, while the latter is insistently anti-Hegelian and generically post-Heideggerian. As Jean-Luc Nancy put it at the end of the 1980s: ʻ“French” thought today proceeds in part from a “German” rupture with a certain philosophical “France” (which is also a rupture with a certain “Germanity”).ʼ It was this displaced Germanicism of French thought that was the object of attack in Habermasʼs polemic The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985) – a book that appeared in the wake of the extraordinary success in Germany of Sloterdijkʼs Critique of Cynical Reason (1983).
The philosophically ʻGermanicʼ character of much French critical theory is thus well established. Less attention has been paid to the inﬂuence of French thought – including that which proceeds from ʻa German rupture with a certain philosophical Franceʼ – on the German critical tradition. Yet some of the most productive developments within the orbit of Frankfurt critical theory have been driven by a reﬂective intensity in the relationship to intellectual and artistic events in France. (This is true not only of Benjamin, but also of aspects of early Horkheimer and Adornoʼs mature thought too.) More recently, there is a ʻpost-Frankfurtianʼ German thought of the 1980s and 1990s that has been profoundly inﬂuenced by currents of French theory of the 1960s and 1970s: French Nietzscheanism, structuralism, Barthes, Foucault, situationism, Deleuze/Guattari and Baudrillard. This problematizes the nationalism of German philosophy in a quite different way from Habermasʼs identiﬁcation with American pragmatism and his concern to reformulate normative issues within the terms of post-analytical philosophy. It is notable that these currents have all been concerned in some way with aesthetic aspects of political action and the political meaning of art; and that they have been able to ﬂow more freely, in Germany, in the art school than the philosophy department.
The papers that follow* are by a trio of thinkers from Karlsruhe, whose writings are marked by different aspects of the French thought of the 1960s: vitalism, structuralism and deconstruction, in Sloterdijk, Weibel and Groys, respectively.
*These papers were presented at ʻSpheres of Action – Art and Politicsʼ, Tate Britain, London, 12 December 2005, organized by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University. List of Weibelʼs images appears on p. 56.Traditionally, the neo-avant-garde after 1945 is discredited as a purely formalist movement, blinding out the political content of the avant-garde of the 1920s. However, assuming that the avant-garde movements from 1950 to 1970 share the same epistemic ﬁeld as the cultural theories of their time, from semiotics to psychoanalysis, we can apply these theories to those art movements, to produce a new interpretation of the period. When we do this, we discover that the neo-avant-garde was in fact a political art, not on the level of representation, but on the level of the dispositif. It transformed our traditional concept of the image, destroying it and deserting it, extending it into space and time, and redeﬁning it as an arena of action. It thereby expanded our conception of art and art activities, in daily life, on the streets, beyond the studios and museums. There was a political revolution of the neo-avant-garde at the level of the display, the dispositif, the tool, negating traditional media of memory and representation, because after Stalinism, Fascism and Hitlerism, it became difﬁcult to believe in the means of traditional culture. To understand this revolution we have to change the dominant model of representation. We have to understand that the neoavant-garde exchanged the transformation of formal systems of representation for the transformation of the means and materials of representation – and the criticism of artistic representation as such. In addition, we have to expand our tools of interpretation and experimentation to include psychoanalytic methods, models and modes of social deconstruction. When we do this, the neo-avant-garde appears as a re-presentation of processes of social and psychic repression, and Viennese Actionism appears in its full, exemplary force.
One model of representation, of the past but also of reality, is the Wunderblock, the ʻmystic writing padʼ. In ʻA Note upon the “Mystic Writing-Pad”ʼ (1925), Freud developed a concept of the unconscious by referring to a childʼs toy consisting of a thin sheet of clear plastic covering a thick waxed board. The user can write or draw on it with any pointed instrument, pressing through the sheet of plastic, making traces in the surface below. As soon as the sheet is lifted up, the image above disappears, while traces of it remain on the wax surface underneath. Freud suggests that the way the Wunderblock records is similar to the way in which the psyche records its material. The psychic system receives sense impressions from the outside world, but remains unmarked by those impressions, which then pass through it to a deeper layer where they are recorded as unconscious memory. The writing technique of pressing through a sheet of plastic to make traces on the surface below mirrors Freudʼs differentiation between the surface-character of the conscious and the unconscious as a ﬁeld of traces beneath. The pressing technique is a linguistic allusion to the concept of the repressed. Pressing through the sheet of plastic creates the repressed and dislocates information from the conscious to the unconscious level. The Wunderblock illuminates the mechanism by which the repressed becomes the prototype of the unconscious.
This writing of the unconscious, this pressing of the repressed, was the model for Lacanʼs famous phrase ʻthe unconscious is structured like a languageʼ. But it also has afﬁnities with the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, because the Wunderblock enables us not only to discover the writing of the unconscious but also to make explicit repressed meanings in the writing. The Wunderblock is a means of representation, a representation of the unconscious and the repressed, that corresponds to Derridaʼs idea that we have to deconstruct writing in order to gather hidden meanings that are deeper than the evident meaning of a text. Both Freud and Derrida look at the text as a pure trace. The concept of the text as a trace, and the trace Re-presentation of the repressed The political revolution of the neo-avant-garde
as representation of the repressed and unconscious, makes a shift from an external representation to an internal one, from the representation of reality to the representation of the psyche. The text is the means to discover the unconscious, the unconscious of a text and the unconscious of the psyche.
This is precisely what Ludwig Wittgenstein reproached psychoanalysis with, in 1946: ʻWhat Freud says about the unconscious sounds like science but in fact is just a means of representation.ʼ Freudʼs theory of the unconscious and the repressed, as the cornerstone of psychoanalysis, expands the concept of representation. Since psychoanalysis, the concept of representation means more than just representation of the visual on the level of iconography. ʻWhy does meaning express itself in the dream?ʼ asked Michel Foucault in 1954. The answer is clearly that there exist mechanisms of the mind and the soul that prohibit certain meanings from expressing themselves in ordinary language or in conscious terms. Repression is Freudʼs term for the mechanism that turns away desires that are unacceptable to the ego and the superego. Those unruly desires are repressed, made inaccessible to our thinking. The unconscious and later the ʻidʼ are the terms Freud uses for this realm of inaccessibility. Our repressed desires appear to us disguised as dreams, symptoms and in other seemingly incoherent, uncontrolled actions. The repressed returns disguised. In that way, dreams, symptoms and the rest are also systems of representations. The disguise is another way of representation. Representation is not only what is visible and evident; disguise and erasure can also be mechanisms of representation. The traces that are left after the erasing of the writing, even if barely visible, are still telling us their secrets, revealing the truth, the causes and reasons for repressions.
Representation must be read as a system of symptoms. Then the question that Jean-Paul Sartre posed about ʻthe knowledge that is ignorant of itselfʼ can be answered positively. We can represent the unconscious, the individual unconscious, but also the social unconscious. We can represent knowledge that is ignorant of itself, disguised as dreams, symptoms – and as art. To paraphrase Foucault: why does meaning express itself in art and not in science? The answer is that society itself turns our unacceptable desires, insights, facts and knowledge away from us. There is some knowledge in our society that is repressed by the society itself. Disguised as art, this social unconscious, this repressed, can return to the mind and to reality. Naturally, Freudʼs concept of the repressed is an attack on the Cartesian conception of a rational mind and subject and therefore also a rational reality. This is why art is always blamed for being irrational, while science is deﬁned as rational. But art is also a rational way to deal with the irrational, the unconscious, the repressed. The popular misunderstanding that art is the expression of drives, of uncontrolled drives, is untrue. Just the opposite is the case. Disguised as art, the repressed, the knowledge ignorant of itself, expresses itself. Art is not only a mechanism of representation of reality but also a mechanism of representation of the repressed.
An iconic understanding of visual representations is a limited tool, because it is more or less a retinal representation. As a model of the unconscious and the repressed, the Wunderblock shows us that there are more traces of reality and that the mechanisms of representation are more complex than just the representation of external reality. The dynamic interaction of internal and external mechanisms of representation, reﬂected in the dynamic interaction of the conscious and the unconscious, shows us that mapping reality includes mapping the mind, and that it is not enough to deﬁne a representation isomorphically. This is the meaning of Magritteʼs famous painting, ʻThis Is Not a Pipeʼ (1928/29), and the reason it is so attractive to philosophers, like Foucault. If we stick to the conception of a purely visual representation, then we would have to deny the possibility that music and painting can have a political dimension, as Sartre did, when he proposed in What is Literature? (1946) that only literature, a complicated text, can have a political dimension, but not music or painting, not the visual arts.
Besides the Wunderblock, psychoanalytic theory offers other mechanisms of representation of the repressed to help us construct an aesthetics of symptoms. Among them are the highly effective defence mechanisms of sublimation, displacement and reaction formation. Reaction formation is one of the most powerful concepts for understanding the text of the neo-avant-garde.
Reaction formation belongs to the category of defence mechanisms of the ego – Ich, the ʻIʼ. According to Freudʼs theory, the ego is situated between biology (represented by the id – Es, the ʻitʼ) and society (represented by the superego). According to Freudʼs famous formula Wo Es war soll Ich werden (Where ʻitʼ was ʻIʼ shall be), it is the aim of the psychic processes to replace the unconscious restraints of biology by the conscious actions of a sovereign ego. But during this process conﬂicting demands are made upon the ego and therefore this ego feels threatened, it feels anxiety. And the ego starts to develop defence mechanisms against these demands, be they from society or biology. It unconsciously blocks demands or transforms them into a less threatening form. Among others, Anna Freud in ʻThe Ego and the Defence Mechanismʼ (1946) developed a better understanding of these mechanisms and provided us with a list of strategies: denial, repression, regression, rationalization, displacement, projection, introjection, sublimation and reaction formation.
Denial is the case if a person simply refuses to experience a situation or has blocked this situation from awareness. Repression, on the other hand, is ʻmotivated forgettingʼ. A situation or event or person which is or was too dangerous for the ego cannot be recalled or remembered, but this threatening situation is unconsciously effective. Repression is the most famous defence strategy. The repression of a traumatic event, as we know, will always return but in a different, masked way. Regression happens when we are faced with stress, troubled or frightened. The ego turns back to previous behaviours, more childish or primitive, such as sucking the thumb. We return to a state when we felt saved and secure, as in childhood. Rationalization is a way to make an impulse less threatening by explaining it in a rational manner, excuses that have a tendency to deny the facts. Acts, thoughts and emotions, the real psychic conditions of which are denied, are legitimized as logically coherent. Displacement is the redirection of an impulse to a symbolic substitute. Some people may have difﬁculties with love and substitute cats and dogs for human beings. Projection is another technique for displacing unacceptable desires or features onto other people (Anna Freud called it ʻdisplacement outwardʼ). A man who has sexual feelings about his friend but cannot acknowledge these feelings to himself increasingly complains about the presence of homosexuality in society. Introjection or identiﬁcation is an opposite technique. It not only defends the ego against threatening demands, but supports the integration of the ego into society. It even helps develop our superego. A child that feels lonely tries to act like a mother in order to lessen the fear. Teenagers with a troubled identity imitate their favourite star to establish their own identity. With this example we can understand why Freud saw defence mechanisms as necessary. He even suggested that there is a positive defence, which he called sublimation, which is the transformation of an unacceptable impulse into a form that is not only socially acceptable but even productive. Sublimation was for Freud the source of creation. A person with latent aggression may sublimate it into sport. Freud thought of most creative activities as sublimations, predominantly of the sex drive. Reaction formation is comparable to sublimation, because it is a mechanism that also transforms an unacceptable impulse into its opposite, to become socially acceptable. A child abused by its father is naturally unable to accept this traumatic experience and therefore turns even more to the abusing father, which appears rationally inexplicable.
Defence mechanisms are processes by which the ego adapts to the reality principle. The study of defence mechanisms is thus extremely useful for the understanding of cultural productions and the uncovering of the socially unconscious. Reaction formation, described by Anna Freud as ʻbelieving the oppositeʼ, is a way of turning reality into its opposite. Adolescents often speak about the opposite sex as being annoying in order to hide their overwhelming desire. Aggression can be transformed into exaggerated tenderness. But reaction formation can also mix with the techniques of displacement or projection. A human being can project their own unacceptable activities onto others, but they can also project other unacceptable activities onto themselves, in a kind of inverse displacement. This projection or displacement happens in a binary code, as positive or negative reaction. Reaction formation is one of the most powerful codes in the encounter of a subject with the social system. In some cases it is more suitable than sublimation for explaining the mechanisms of cultural creativity.
The reduction of representation to purely visual representations of reality is a conceit of modernity. Modern art tried to reduce techniques of representation in the visual arts to the surface of the plastic sheet.
Greenbergʼs modernism was obsessed with the idea of the surface. Until the invention of photography the main visual form of representation of reality was painting. Painting experienced a crisis when, with the advent of photography around 1840, it was doubled by another technique of visual representation which could imitate reality even better. Modern art is the result of this crisis of representation, which started as a crisis of painting at the very moment when painting lost its monopoly of visual representation. Since before photography there was no visual system of representation other than the painted image, and the painted image reigned over thousands of years. People got used to the idea of comprehensively identifying painting with art itself – identifying the representational system of art, exclusively, with the representational system of painting. But this was wrong because painting was just one visual system of representation. The so-called crisis of representation forced painting to leave visual representation to photography and move to abstraction – that is, the denial of representation. Given that people wrongly believed in the equation ʻart is painting is visual representationʼ, it is understandable they would think that the loss of the monopoly of painting was the end of painting; and that the end of painting was the end of art; and the end of art, the end of representa-tion. This delineation follows the logic of modernity. The crisis of representation is just an expression of the loss of the monopoly of representation by painting, because after photography, ﬁlm, television, video and the computer could also produce images, even moving images, and transmit images in real time. Modern art may thus be seen as a questionable delineation of the transformation of systems of representation through the advent of the technical image. The outcome of this so-called crisis of representation was modern art.
As the cornerstone of modern art in the ﬁrst half of the twentieth century, abstract art followed the logic of self-dissolution in three steps: (1) shifting accents (paint was analysed, and the retinal impression of colour was emphasized, in Impresionism); (2) declaring independence and autonomy (paint left behind the loss of local object-bound colours and gave colour an absolute status without referential ties to the world of objects, in symbolism and suprematism); (3) substitution (paint as a material (Faktura) was replaced by other materials – white colour by aluminium, the tissue of canvas by wood – in Russian constructivism). In abstract art not only was the representation of an object omitted but colour and form could also be omitted in a monochrome painting. The monochrome, or even paint-less, easel painting could be cut (Fontana), the surface of the canvas could be replaced by the surface of a skin (Metzger), and naked bodies covered with paint could cover the canvas (Yves Klein). Painting could become an arena of action. The action could take place on the canvas, in front of the canvas or even without the canvas. This is what Rodchenko, who painted ʻBlack on Blackʼ in 1918, called the ʻend of representationʼ, on the occasion of his execution of the ﬁrst three monochromes in art history in 1921: I have brought painting to its logical end and have shown three paintings: one red, one blue and one yellow. I have done this in the knowledge that:
everything is over. These are the primary colours.
Each surface is a mere surface and there shall be no more representation. Each surface is ﬁlled to the border with one singular colour.
These sentences correspond with a placard unveiled by Heartﬁeld and Grosz at the 1920 Dada exhibition in Berlin: ʻArt is dead. Long live Tatlinʼs new machine art.ʼ
This formalist view from inside the evolution of modern art is complemented from the outside. The evolution of art corresponds with the evolution of society, and both had reasons to transform the systems of representation. Art had formalist reasons and society imposed these formalist reasons on art for reasons of its own, which were mechanisms of repression. The problem of repression and representation is the problem of the taboo. When something is happening that cannot be accepted, whether by the ego or the superego, whether by the individual or an institution, whether by a subject or a system, then this event is so deeply repressed and so totally denied that it is not possible to speak about it or to hear of it. But, as we know, the repressed has to return even in a disguised form. This is the way to understand the classic formula speculum artibus. Art is a mirror of society, not only on an iconic level, but also disguised as a symptom. This encounter of the two different systems of representation, the representation of reality and the representation of the repressed, expresses itself most clearly in the zone of taboo.
The greatest taboo of modernity is the Holocaust.
It is completely unacceptable for the modern mind, for the Cartesian subject after the Enlightenment, that in highly civilized Europe the Holocaust was possible. After two world wars and the Holocaust, it became clear that representation had to end. This was expressed most famously by Adorno, in 1949 in his essay ʻCultural Criticism and Societyʼ:
Cultural criticism ﬁnds itself faced with the ﬁnal stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today.
The Holocaust researcher Raul Hilberg follows the same line in The Politics of Memory (1996). Asking himself how Hitlerʼs Germany could be represented, he cannot imagine an adequate visual representation and refers instead to a real enactment to enable the return of the repressed:
a can of Zyklon gas . . with which the Jews were killed in Auschwitz and Maydanek. I would have liked to see a single can mounted on a pedestal in a small room, with no other objects between the walls, as the epitome of Adolf Hitlerʼs Germany, just as a vase of Euphronios was shown at one time by itself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the supreme artifacts of Greek antiquity.
To move beyond this crisis of representation we have to change our concept of representation.
We can see this necessity when we compare a sculpture by Polyclitus with a sculpture by Arno Breker. We easily accept the idea that the rise of Greek art corresponds to the rise of democracy. The aesthetic canon and the social canon were mutually determining. The representation of citizens in a shared aesthetic ideal of equality corresponded to the representation of the citizen in the shared social ideal of equality. We easily believe in the parallelism between the emergence of Greek democracy and Greek classicism, between the political and the aesthetic form. This seems to be the meaning of speculum artibus. A beautiful art, an ideal body with perfect proportions, is mirroring a beautiful society. The political ideal corresponds to an aesthetic ideal. But we have to remember that Greece was a class society (reportedly, 20,000 free citizens and 400,000 slaves). The ideal body was only the expression of a certain class, the rise and emancipation of the Greek citizen against the former aristocracy. Art and society are interwoven, but not in a purely isomorphic visual form.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, imitating Greek architecture and ideal forms was an attempt to pretend, through the mirror of art, that a social order existed, an order of equality and democracy, that did not actually exist – just the opposite, in fact, a barbarian order of exploitation. The twentieth-century totalitarian systems (National Socialism, Fascism, Stalinism) proclaimed the ideas of Greek classicism and democracy to hide the fact that the social opposite was the case, to hide and disguise the repression. So when we compare Polyclitus and Breker we can see that art is not a visual mirror of society, or we would have to accept that Greece was a barbarian society like Hitlerʼs Germany and Stalinʼs Russia.
My proposal is to use the psychoanalytic model of representation of the repressed to understand what art is actually mirroring. In the ﬁrst phase of modern art, artists like Picasso and Bacon tried to show in distorted images of the body – completely different from the ideal body of Polyclitus – the distortion of reality. From Picasso to Bacon, art still followed the classical logic of visual representation. A destroyed city like Guernica is mapped by a destroyed representation. Yet cubism, decades before Guernica, had destroyed perspective as a mode of representation. The destruction of classical representation systems by Picasso has nothing to do with Guernica. The public love Guernica by a sheer misunderstanding because here the formal destruction of representation systems and the destruction of reality coincidentally correspond. We could also say that the destroyed faces painted by Picasso and Bacon mirror the destruction of human values in two world wars. But when we look at the work of Frankl and music, we see that the victims of the Holocaust can still be represented without distortion of the visual system of representation. The real crisis of representation happened through the neo-avant-garde of the postwar period, when not only the systems of representations were destroyed but the tools of representation as well. From Rainer to Fontana to Gutaj to Metzger we see destroyed canvases; from the Vienna Group to Fluxus we see destroyed instruments of cultures like pianos; from Happenings to John Latham we see destroyed books, canvases and ﬁlms.
The case of Yves Klein allows us to demonstrate the limitations of formal interpretations of this kind of work, which help to suppress precisely the content against which Klein revolted. The reason for the denial of representation by Yves Klein, his destruction of canvases through ﬁre-guns and his celebrations of bodily traces on canvases, was the traumatic experience of Hiroshima and the atomic bomb. He was, in a certain sense, a disciple of Adorno and Hilberg. In his youth Klein visited Japan and saw the traces of the victims on the ground. He saw the traces of the burned victims and he realized that he could no longer visually represent the horror of an atomic war in the manner of Picasso – by distorting the visual system of representation but not touching the tools of representation, the canvas, the brush, etc. Together with the heroes of the theatre of the absurd and other neo-avant-gardists after 1945, Klein found it difﬁcult to believe in the traditional means of culture, since culture had not prohibited or prevented the horror. Even worse, the horror was executed in the name of culture. So he decided with many others to destroy not only the mechanisms of representation but also the means of representation, the tools, the dispositifs, in order to expose as a symptom the horror of the atomic war. His cut is the cut of traces similar to those in Derridaʼs theory of traces.
The seemingly clean ZERO-group from Manzoni to Uecker also showed the destruction of the means of representation. The reception of this group of artists after World War II was a misunderstanding and a part of the continuing repression. After the war, people didnʼt want to speak or hear about the war. The war became taboo. But these people saw in the erased white canvases of ZERO their own erased memory. They liked the gesture of erasure in art from Rainer to Rauschenberg because it erased their memory too, their complicity with Fascism. (Fontana even had personal reasons for destroying the means of memory, because he had to hide the fact that he worked for Mussolini and made sculptures for the Fascist movement.) The shooting at canvases with guns by Niki de Saint Phalle or with arrows like Guenther Uecker around 1960, the destruction of screens by the Gutai group, the destruction of canvases with nails by Guenther Uecker or with acid by Gustav Metzger, the burning of books and canvases by John Latham – these all show a deep mistrust in the means of art, in the means of cultural memory and in culture itself. The Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in 1966 in London and actions by Franz Kaltenbeck and Peter Weibel destroying public museum windows anonymously at night, and many other similar actions by artists, show the revolt on the level of means of representation. Viennese Actionism with its rituals of self-mutilation, real or simulated (Brus, Schwarzkogler), of violations and victimizations of others, deﬁlements and contaminations, to spatter with colors, dirt, urine and faeces, are clearly an unconscious reaction formation in art against the conscious puriﬁcation of postwar Austria from its crimes in World War II and its participation in the Holocaust and fascism. After 1945 Austria ofﬁcially denied having been a part of German National Socialism and its crimes. It preferred to see itself as a victim of National Socialism. This famous OpferLüge, the lie of being the victim, was the basis for the foundation of the second Austrian Republic. Since Austria had puriﬁed itself so deeply and heavily, its art did the opposite. It bathed in impurity, in blood and dirt. The mirror of art, as we can now see, is not a simple mirror-function. It is a negative mirror, based on comparability. Representation mechanisms in art represent not only what you see consciously, but also what you donʼt see, even unconsciously. Only the study of reaction formation and similar defence mechanisms of society and its individuals can give you a true representation, a true image.
The re-presentation or, better, the repetition of the repressed traumas of two world wars, the Holocaust and the atomic bomb is the content of the neo-avantgarde by way of a reaction formation and an active differentiation of its reality conditions. The neo-avantgarde is not a purely formal repetition of the historical avant-garde. It is a real postwar art, an art about memory, forgetting, repression, trauma and the return of the repressed. As such, the neo-avant-garde begins the critical exploration of the reconversion of the obscure disaster of World War II into the Year Zero of a grey pseudo-democracy. The radical exemplarity of the ʻpolitics of experienceʼ of Viennese Actionism lies in the opposition of its events/actions – polymorphic machinations of the body-psyche – to any artistic representation closed in on itself.