a shortened excerpt from the catalogue of the exhibition
|otto muehl leben / kunst / werk |
aktion utopie malerei 1960 – 2004
verlag walther könig köln 2004
In 1970 Otto Muehl was forty-five years old and took a fundamentally critical position with regard to art and the social role of the artist. The radical step away from art towards an alternative way of living did not simply mean a new beginning for his artistic existence but also the re-organization of his social life. After he had gone through a divorce and friends had not accepted his invitation to establish a live-in artist community, Otto Muehl allowed young people who needed somewhere to stay to live with him. By 1971 a solid core of about ten people had formed.
It only took a short time for the "Muehl commune" to become a fixed item of discussion in the anarchist and art scene, especially after Muehl’s spectacular actions along with participants in Germany. Within two years the group had developed into a self-assured community which had the intention of amalgamating art and life and wanted to realize a counter-model of society in a utopian social laboratory.
The content of the commune had already been formulated by Muehl in 1970 in the Zock Manifesto – the radical liberation of sexuality from the clutches of its own clichés, the abolition of the division between the public and the private, rejection of middle-class professional roles, overcoming art with an actionistic approach to group life, making culture and not consuming it, no television, no cinema, pub or theatre visits. There is no sense in changing society, you have to make your own.
At the end of 1971 Herbert Stumpfl and Otmar Bauer founded their own groups (in Taborstrasse and Postgasse) which, although autonomous, were also offshoots of the Praterstrasse commune. By the end of the following year there were already over forty people living in the three groups in the city of Vienna.
In June 1972 Otto Muehl began individual analytical sessions with some of the communards and also offered parallel group analysis which was concerned with the liberation from sexual compulsions. The analytical sessions resulted from Muehl’s own experiences with psychoanalysis and in particular his training analysis with Josef Dvorak. At the beginning the analyses were based on the classical Freudian model but they quickly developed into a body therapy derived from Wilhelm Reich who can be seen as its mentor. His Charakteranalyse (Character Analysis) became a standard work of commune literature.
At the center of Muehl’s 120 square meter apartment at Praterstrasse 32 there was a raised bed under which were boxes with socks, underwear, shirts and vests. Each morning meant fishing clothes for the day out of them. Colorful materials were popular with dungarees over the top. The idea came up to wear pacifiers in public in order to demonstrate that "we have withdrawn from the adult world."
In autumn 1972 Friedrichshof, lying in the middle of Parndorf Heide in Burgenland, was purchased.
In spring of 1973, after Otto Muehl had returned from an action in the USA, his girlfriend Elke moved out. After the first shock he confronted the group with the decision to forego entering into pair bond relationships and to make this a general, enforceable principle. Since every love relationship was projective in nature, the ideal partner and true love unfulfilled wishes from childhood, sexual relationships should be on the basis of a free market of desire from now on. In June Otto Muehl declared everything to be communal property.
Under the influence of Reich’s writings, Otto Muehl developed verbal analysis a step further to action analysis. It was no longer what the analysand said that was analyzed, but what they did. The analysand became an actionist. Communication with the therapist became a role game into which actionistic elements flowed. Action analysis meant an autonomous space in which to break through both social and commune-internal adaptations, to liberate nature from degenerate culture, spontaneous impulse from compulsion. Regression as an answer to social repression – crawling around on all fours, birthing experiences, living through pre-and post-natal states, return to archaic forms of consciousness.
Friedrichshof remained the common meeting point for all group members. In the spring of 1973 there were already a number of people living permanently at Friedrichshof and they grew a modest amount of vegetables and maize and kept some small animals. A raised bed was built, a room fitted out with mattresses, an electric generator acquired and the old well was renovated to supply water.
A new name was found for it, the AA Kommune (Action Analytic Commune). The first children were born. By the end of the year there was already a children’s group for six children. The evenings increasingly became artistic group events – communal painting, dance evenings and, after the acquisition of film equipment, the first commune actionist films. Actions analysis developed further to Selbstdarstellung (DS, self-representation) in the group. Stimulated by a film about pygmies and the way they treated insanity, the short, energetic discharge of energies amid the drumming group members served to reduce tension – ecstasy as knowledge and as a consciousness-building principle. The actor was no longer dependent on the analysis, but became active by themselves. The analysis became the public. The point of the selbstdarstellung was to express your own emotions in the form of a spontaneous dance, song or speech.
1975 saw a change in commune development towards an increasing amount of external work and propaganda. The public relations work was carried out by the AA-Verlag (AA Publishing House). From 1974 to 1978 the commune newspaper, AA Nachrichten (AA News), appeared. In summer a commune course was held for those from outside. At the beginning of July a surprising number of people arrived, around seventy, who then formed the core of the German and Swiss AA groups (Berlin and Geneva) taking Friedrichshof as their model.
During these first guest courses, selbstdarstellung took on a new form, that of a performance in front of a large audience. The evenings became indescribable celebrations – emotional slapsticks, representations of relationship conflicts as Greek tragedies, ecstatic dances, existential breakdowns. Often it was not till the end of the evening that release came with the jump into the middle. Art found its place in its cathartic function and in making everything that was holy to the bourgeoisie ridiculous – marriage, state, religion, their own home and hearth.
The following years were marked by expansion. Because of the courses more and more people moved in and, within four years, the community had increased from fifty to about five hundred members. At the beginning of the Eighties a total of 650 communards lived on Friedrichshof and in the European city groups. This vehement influx was based on the activities of the BV (Bewusstseinsverbreitung, consciousness dissemination) and Otto Muehl’s actionistic style of communication.
At the beginning of 1976 the first AA Congress took place. An international community of property, free sexuality on an international basis as well as joint work and production were decided. Central to the congress were the oft night-long selbstdarstellungen which developed into group presentations during this period. From now on the commune called itself the AAO – Aktionsanalytische Organisation (Action-analytical Organization). There then followed an intensive phase of lecture tours through Europe and the USA as a consequence of which more city groups were formed – in Paris, Munich, Kiel, Hamburg, Bremen, Heidelberg, Krefeld, Frankfurt and even, for a time, in Boston.
In spring 1976 Otto Muehl traced the development of actions analysis/selbstdarstellung in the AA Parabel and committed the fundamental social rules of the group to paper in AA Prinzipien. One evening, on the basis of the twelve "parable" stages which demonstrate the course of an actions analysis, a selective line-up of all those present took place according to the emotional stage in the analysis they were at. This was the foundation stone for the subsequent "structure," the hierarchical ordering of all members which meant a kind of achievement grading of the individual’s state of social consciousness. People in the highest grades automatically belonged to the leadership.
In summer 1976 Materialselbstdarstellung was invented. Otto Muehl took up his actionist theme and created a new kind of action theater, a combination of material action and action analysis. Other actionistic elements slipped into selbstdarstellung too – psycho-motor noise actions, breathing and screaming actions, musical and gestural elements, staged and spontaneous theater.
At the end of the year group leaders were sent out to the various groups for the first time. At the same time increased organizational demands made the introduction of an executive committee including financial planning, accountancy and central organization departments necessary. In the groups limited companies were formed. The companies were run as communal businesses.
In 1977 new groups were formed in Toulouse, Lyon, Oslo, London, Nuremberg, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Vienna. An international office of organization was introduced. In addition to selbstdarstellung evenings, Realitätsabende (reality evenings) were introduced in order to give members an overview of developments. At the same time Bewusstseinsarbeitsgruppen, (BAGs, consciousness work groups) were founded – hierarchically ordered small groups of around ten people in which internal ranking order was fixed by direct voting. The 1st BAG, with Otto Muehl at its head, had the entire therapeutic, pedagogical and economic leadership in it. Alongside this central, consciousness-moderating structure eco BAGs, mother BAGs, educational BAGs and other groups were formed.
In summer Bruno Kreisky, Austrian Federal Chancellor at the time, received a commune delegation since it still enjoyed the reputation for being a radical, socialist way of living amongst left-wing politicians.
At the fall congress which took place in Nuremberg, the "pudding congress" (the meeting was held with the leitmotif of emotional softening) it was decided that the unprofitable internal businesses would be given up and that, as far as job orientation was concerned, that would be more towards the outside. Many began to study again and worked once again in "nuclear family" professions in other areas as well the spirit of the commune moved away from its original aims. In 1978 the idea of community property was overthrown and for some time private property was introduced. In principle work was only undertaken for payment. The AAO was disbanded.
Despite the poor economic situation, the extension of Friedrichshof continued undeterred – a new residential building was erected with its own fire department, telephone, sauna, offices, health station etc. The trend towards completing studies and getting specialist qualifications continued. The climax of this "private property phase" was in 1979 when the 1st BAG moved into the new apartment house. At the time there were about thirty city communes in Europe living according to the Friedrichshof example and supervised by group leaders. Gruppenpalaver (group palavers) were introduced in which the members relationships were discussed and where the dreaded structural elections also took place.
A self-administered children’s house was built in which children lived with minders but without parents. In 1980 the Friedrichshof private school with four classes was opened and soon obtained official permission and the legal status of a primary and high school. At the same time the group for handicapped children was formed, centered around Muehl’s daughter Lili who suffered from cerebral palsy.
The core of the commune remained free sexuality. In the meantime, the problem of the nightly change was solved by the women having a fixed room and the men being nomadic, looking for a partner and thus a place to sleep. Sexpalavern (sex palavers) were introduced which were concerned with the exchange of experiences and the loosening of sexual mores. To be involved in a fixed-pair relationship was a serious accusation. Nevertheless, it was not really possible to control the new pair relationships that were continuously forming. Many of those who did not want to give up their relationship kept it secret or left the group together.
In 1982, for the first time, the commune leadership was confirmed by a secret ballot. The result of this election was the Zwölferrat (Committee of Twelve) which functioned as the new administrative committee from then on. The uncontested head was Otto Muehl. Crucial for one’s position in the group was, and remained, the structure which, during the next few years, degenerated into a strictly applied instrument of discipline and social control. It was to divide the group into privileged and under-privileged members which led to exaggerated competitive behavior. Under instructions from Muehl’s future wife, Claudia, a democratic movement, the "Gang of Four" attempted to break open the established structures of decision-making but failed ending in Claudia’s removal as "first lady."
In 1983 the acceptance of new members was rigorously stopped because of increasingly vehement accusations and attacks in the media. The commune which, at the time, included some six hundred people, cut itself off from outside. In addition, a wave of people moving out soon began and continued till the end. The number of members shrank to approximately half in a very short time. The reasons were the rigid application of the "structure" that increasingly prevented any spontaneity and honestly about one’s own feelings and the encrusted ideology particularly in connection with love relationships. By means of finance, share and property deals and telephone marketing a profit was produced for the first time.
Friedrichshof grew into a commune village. The extension of the "Lili building," a housing development for about one hundred and fifty people as well as a central heating room with underground collector corridors was finished in a short time and introduced a new era into the social life of Friedrichshof. The "structure" now also affected material advantages. The introduction of Fehlleistungspalavern (mistake palavers) was intended to lead to more joint responsibility but ended in denunciatory episodes.
The relationship to art became stronger due to Otto Muehl’s increasing artistic activities and by Josef Beuys’ visit to Friedrichshof as well. Theo Altenburg became "Art Foreign Minister," initiating not only the invitations to the artists but also the idea of the Collection of Viennese Actionism. The Kunstbüro (Art Office) became a permanent part of the group. In a real wave of production, numerous feature films were shot (Vincent, Picasso). The upturn made Friedrichshof not only attractive to artists, but also to wealthy businessmen and politicians. The commune had become socially acceptable.
From 1985 on there was a "baby boom." A huge housing project was begun, the "Castello," with a large kitchen, huge dining halls and a tower. New lots were purchased, trees were planted, a stable and a bathing lake were built. A wall was built round Friedrichshof.
In June 1985 Otto Muehl’S 60th birthday was celebrated with a big party. With his experience and charisma he was still the undisputed chief of the large commune. In 1986 he married Claudia. The sudden self-legitimation of a marriage by the head of the commune created some confusion in the group.
The business profits were used to purchase El Cabrito, a former agricultural finca at a deserted bay on Gomera. It was intended to realize a "southern paradise" on it: In 1987 El Cabrito was renovated for use as a domicile for children, holidays and retirement.
The first investigations "State vs Otto Muehl" concerning sexual intercourse with minors got underway. The case was pushed by a former member of the commune in conjunction with a minister of a Protestant sect. Muehl himself justified the "act of initiation" as a pedagogical measure designed to integrate girls into free sexuality when they reached puberty.
In a "structure" show organized by Otto Muehl and called, ironically "glasnost," all figures in the leadership who did not tow the line were removed, increasing the resentment of his style of leadership. A new, internal, democratization movement pushed for the abolition of the "structure" and Otto Muehl, under pressure from outside, unwillingly gave way. The reservations with regard to equal rights and the division of power remained. A few months later he tried to re-introduce the "structure" but his position was so weakened that is failed because of resistance.
House searches in Friedrichshof, confiscation of archive material and the vehement threat from the State Prosecutor’s Office changed the group dynamic. Many longed for a traditional role in society – the role of mother, father, a professional role; earning money, starting a family.
Discussions about the property concept led to the formation of a Kooperationsrat (cooperative committee) which was to decide future economic questions independently of the elected leadership. A contract with all members gave each an equal share in the wealth of the community.
The economic resources began to melt away because of the flood of departure money to be paid (each leaver and former member was paid approximately 30.000 DM) as well as a wave of departures amongst the big earners. Nevertheless, in keeping with the general economic boom, the commune had its highest income in 1988 to 1990.
In April 1990 the first "Kooperation" public, general assembly took place in which a secret ballot elected a new leader for all economic and political issues. Because of pre-trial investigations against him, Otto Muehl no longer allowed himself to be nominated. Two cooperatives administered the property, especially the realty at Friedrichshof and on Gomera but also including the art collection.
In a "citizen’s revolution" Otto Muehl and almost the entire administrative leadership was dismissed and replaced by a cooperative board of directors. The fact that the whole experiment would dissolve itself shortly thereafter came as a surprise even to the initiators of the revolt which included a number of ex-communards.
In August a new general meeting was held at which it was resolved to dissolve the commune. The result was the introduction of private property and the transfer of community property to official structures. Proceedings of a nature never before seen in Austria had to decide on the paternity of a great number of children. Cases of hardship were to be dealt with by a commune-founded trust fund. Shortly thereafter the city groups were dissolved as defined units.
In Friedrichshof Otto Muehl attempted to save at least a part of the commune idea from destruction in the B-Familie (B family). A number of the members of the B-Familie still form the core of the group in Portugal today. In June 1991 he was arrested and sentenced to seven years prison for having sexual intercourse with minors. The majority of the communards left Friedrichshof.
© karl iro goldblat