This is one of a series of approximately fifty-eight black and white photographs which constitute Schwarzkogler’s 2nd Action. It depicts an anonymous hand holding a hypodermic syringe to a bandaged head as though it is about to inject into it. The character’s other arm, covered with a white sleeve, appears to support the head, or hold it in place, from behind. The bandaged head, seen frontally, leans forward with its chin resting on a large white ball. A loop of rubber tubing emerges from the position of the mouth. The gauze bandages, wrapped crudely around the head, extend to the neck and part of the shoulders.
Schwarzkogler is one of four Viennese artists who grouped themselves under the title Wiener Aktionsgruppe, or the ‘Vienna Action Group’, in 1965. Hermann Nitsch (born 1938), Otto Mühl (born 1925) and Günter Brus (born 1938) created ritualistic performances or Actions aimed at releasing repressed desires and bringing about a state of cathartic awareness through acts which often subverted traditional authorities and broke taboos. The Actions were initially conceived in relation to the activity of painting. Paint and organic substitutes for paint, such as blood and food, are common materials used in combination with the artists’ and performers’ bodies. Despite individual differences, the members of the group frequently collaborated and performed in each others’ Actions. Ludwig Hoffenreich, a well known Viennese press photographer, documented Actions by all members of the group during the 1960s and 70s. Schwarzkogler was particularly attracted to the work of early Austrian Expressionists such as Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), the more recent French artist Yves Klein (1928-62) and the Viennese artist Arnulf Rainer (born 1929). He created a total of six Actions, five in 1965 and one in 1966. Although the first, Wedding, was performed in front of an audience, Schwarzkogler found it so distracting that he staged all subsequent actions purely for the camera. His use of a clinical white background and his careful arrangement of the constituents of each photograph distinguish his work from that of the other Actionists, for whom the experience of public performance was the principal goal. An extreme aesthetic simplicity, complemented by photographing in black and white rather than in colour, and the repetition of props and themes, confer a formal clarity on his images. Elements recurring in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th Actions include razor blades, fish, a white chicken, a black mirror, cosmetic utensils, white bandages - wrapped around a male body and covering a large white ball – and other medical equipment such as scissors, scalpels, glass bottles and plastic tubing.
Schwarzkogler’s father was a medical doctor and his mother a cosmetician. He studied at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (The Pedagogical and Experimental Institute for Graphics) in Vienna (1957-61), where he met the artist Heinz Cibulka (born 1943) and later Nitsch, who introduced him to Brus and Mühl. Cibulka served as the principal model for Schwarzkogler’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th Actions, all of which took place in Cibulka’s apartment on Kaiserstrasse in Vienna. In these Actions, such oppositions as evisceration and stuffing, castration and bandaging appear in ambiguous relation to each other. Mutilation, injection, the ingestion of fluids from bottles, claustrophobic wrapping and blinding all confuse the relationship between healing and pain. In the 2nd Action, the artist appears as a utensil-wielding ‘doctor’ acting on a passive ‘patient’. The photographs show a man in a dark suit successively making a hole in the white ball, cutting open a fish, emptying its entrails, injecting it and wrapping it in bandages. Cibulka, naked, appears blindfolded and partially bandaged and herrings are taped to his chest. In the following images his head is completely wrapped and he is connected to the ball by a plastic tube. After showing the injection of the head and release of dark fluid onto the white ball, the action shifts to castration. Cibulka’s bandaged penis, supported by the white ball, is replaced with a large fish, its mouth stuffed with white wadding and then propped open with a razor blaze. Finally Schwarzkogler’s arms re-enter the frame to cut the fish with a knife and inject it with the syringe.
Schwarzkogler’s 2nd, 3rd and 5th Actions were photographed exclusively by Ludwig Hoffenreich (died 1975). Many of the photographs were printed posthumously in portfolios created collaboratively by Archiv Conz and the Krinzinger Gallery, Vienna, in 1973, 1975 and 1980. This is a unique print created in the early 1970s. Schwarzkogler’s partner, Edith Adam (1943-1996), and Hoffenreich followed the artist’s detailed instructions to determine the cropping of the print from its original square format.
Directions: Rudolf Schwarzkogler, exhibition brochure, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. 1996.
Eva Badura-Triska, Hubert Klocker, Rudolf Schwarzkogler: Leben und Werk, exhibition catalogue, Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna 1993, reproduced p.190.
Viennese Actionism Vol.1 1960-1965: From Action Painting to Actionism, exhibition catalogue, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Kunstumseum Winterthur and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh 1988.
Viennese Actionism Vol.2 1960-1971: The Shattered Mirror, ed. Hubert Klocker, exhibition catalogue, Graphische Sammulung Albertina, Vienna and Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1989.