Günter Brus

Run-through of an Action


Not on display

Günter Brus born 1938
Original title
Ablauf einer Aktion
17 works on paper, ink and graphite
Frame: 400 × 1220 mm x 17
Purchased 1983

Display caption

These sketches represent Brus’s detailed plans for a 56 minute performance, listing props, sound effects and specific body positions and movements. Restrained by leather thongs fastened to his ankles, the performer moves intermittently about a room. He reacts to noises including loud bangs, ticking, and a high-pitched sustained sound. At one point he writhes and screams hysterically. He stabs into a wrapped parcel, releasing silver liquid. Originally planned for the Galerie Nächst St Stephen in Vienna, the performance was cancelled by the gallery’s director on the grounds of being ‘too monolithic’.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Günter Brus born 1938

T03695 Run-through of an Action 1966

Blue ballpoint pen on sixteen sheets of paper and pencil on one sheet of notepaper [13], eight sheets 198 x 207 (7 3/4 x 8 1/8) five sheets 210 x 198 (8 1/4 x 7 3/4) two sheets 210 x 200 (8 1/4 x 7 7/8) one sheet 190 x 210 (7 1/2 x 8 1/8) one sheet 200 x 207 (7 7/8 x 8 1/8); eight sheets inscribed 'Brus' and four inscribed 'Brus 66'; various other inscriptions (see below)
Purchased from Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Edition Hundertmark, Cologne 1971, who sold it to Galerie Kalb, Munich mid 1970s, from whom bt immediately by Dr Zambo, Vienna
Exh: Westkunst: Zeitgenössische Kunst seit 1939, Museen der Stadt Köln, Cologne, May-Aug. 1985 (759, repr. p.304); Brus-Muehl-Nitsch-Schwarzkogler: Photos, Zeichnungen, Partituren, Bilder 1960-1970, Galerie Heike Curtze, Düsseldorf, Nov. 1982-Jan. 1983 (137, six sheets repr. p.14)
Repr: Von der Aktionsmalerei zum Aktionismus Wien 1960-1965: Günter Brus, Adolf Frohner, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, Alfons Schilling, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, exh.cat., Museum Fridericianum, Kassel 1988, p.30

Brus's actions dating from the mid-sixties grew out of his association with the 'Viennese Action' group. This consisted of himself, Otto Muehl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Brus continued his actions throughout the 1960s. His last one, entitled Zerreiáprobe, took place in 1970. Many of these actions were quite shocking for the viewers, involving nakedness, animal innards, blood, suggestions of electrical energy and being tied up or linked up to electrical wires. In an interview with David Plunkett, Brus was asked about his actions:

[DP] How did you view your actions? As a ritual, a means of communication to break taboos and thus find expanded means of communication or as a vehicle for expressing certain ideas? [GB] 'Ritual' would be the most acceptable, if one could strip from it the religious connotations. Breaking taboos almost became a style in my work (Günter Brus: Augensternstunden, exh.cat., Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1984, p.19).

Many of the actions carried out were documented on film or in photographs, as well as in series of drawings, such as those made for T03695. Brus confirms the importance of drawings in the development of his actions, when, in answer to a question from Plunkett he says, 'incidentally, I always drew during the 'Action Phase'; all parts and designs were conceived in drawings' (ibid., p.57). In a letter to the compiler dated 10 June 1988 Brus writes 'the drawings were always made before the actions, other drawings were not made. However, there were frequent departures from the original concept made during the actual performance'. (Unless otherwise indicated, all other quotations from the artist come from this letter).

In the 'Action with Diana' 1967 (Diana is the artist's daughter, born in 1966), the arena for the action, a corner of a room, is similar to that envisaged for the action described in T03695 (repr., ibid., pls.20-1 in col.). The seventeen sheets that make up this set of drawings use words, diagrams and images to describe an action by Brus lasting fifty six minutes. Each sheet of paper, which has twin holes punched in its left-hand margin, suggesting that it has been removed from a file or manual, is in the artist's hand. Brus writes, 'the sheets were sorted into a file ... although I do not remember the exact ordering of the drawing'. (Instead, the artist suggested a 'plausible order' slightly different to the sequence below [letter to the compiler, cited above]. Below, however, the drawings are discussed in the sequence following which they have been framed.) The action, though planned to take place at the nächst St Stephen gallery in Vienna, was cancelled shortly before by the then director of the gallery, Monsignor Otto Mauer, on the grounds that is was 'too monolithic'. No photographs, therefore, exist (in contrast to other Brus actions).

The first two sheets describe the various stages of the action in twelve brief, numbered paragraphs. The third sheet outlines the character of the noises and sounds to be used during the performance and lists the various accessories, such as string, wire, a knife, a pillow and a plastic package. The fourth sheet consists of observations by Brus. Sheets five to seven inclusive are in diagrammatic form: number five outlines the gradual retreat during the action from the outer sector (the chosen space is divided into three concentric areas) into the corner: references to accompanying sounds and body movements are also added. Number six contains a scheme of the sounds in relation to the passage of time during the action (described in greater detail below). The action is once more outlined in sheet seven, although this time in more ordered tabular form and including greater detail about the body movements involved and a number of comments as to the artist's reaction to the sharp bang K5 ('K' is short of Knall or 'bang'); information about the time taken for the entire performance is also added atthe top right corner. The next sheet is mostly blank and contains two corrections, one crossed out. The other suggests that the sustained loud noises at K4 might be only a half a minute in duration instead of the whole minute originally intended. The remaining sheets visualise how Brus intended to perform the action and some, more schematically drawn, depict the space within which the action takes place. Body positions and the spatial disposition of his props are illustrated, along with details of how the props are to be handled. Floor diagrams show the field of action and show details of various parts of the body central to the action.

Brus writes that the decisive element in this action was its 'especially pronounced musical structure. The planned action [for which the drawings of T03695 were made] is similar, formally, to the 'Action in a Circle', which took place in 1966 in the Perinetkeller, Vienna.

The written description of the action on sheets one and two of T03695 translates as follows:

Run-through of the Action:
1. After the noise has started I rise from the position already adopted previously (head at the edge of the circle - feet towards the corner) [this is illustrated in sheet nine, one of the most highly worked of the drawings]. I crawl on all fours to the left wall, bump into it and crawl across to the right wall. Hit my head against the pillow (about three times [illustrated in sheet ten]). Return to the left wall and again to the right wall (pillow eight times), and then to the left wall etc. The ticking sound [one of the noises intended for the action; explained below] ends this part.
2. I get back into the position adopted at the beginning.
3. K1 engenders strangulated cries and then these are terminated exactly at K2.
Movement, vehement.
4. After short repose I move my right hand with extended fingers towards the wire [illustrated in sheets 14 and 15] without actually making contact.
5. After the ticking sound, I start once more the pendulating movement between the left and right walls (pillow - head). In the middle the third bang, to which I do not react.
[continuing on sheet two]
6. The ticking sound [notated by Brus as 'T'] brings the pendulating movement to an end. I move back into the resting position.
7. The fourth bang, very loud in fact, induces me to rear up instinctively - hysterical screaming, writhing etc. giving the effect of an attack. This ends after exactly one minute.
8. Resting in the position I end up in.
9. The ticking sound. I touch the plastic button on the pillow with my head. Ticking continues.
10. I crawl to the other side and touch the button on the wall with my head [this action is indicated by arrows in sheet 16].
11. When the bang occurs: hefty reaction in the form of a sudden recoil.
12. Retreat to the corner, resting position, crouched, until T6 [illustrated in sheet 17]. Addition [to point seven]: I take the knife and fall upon the packet, stabbing into it (silver liquid!).

The sheets depicting the artist and his position in the arena, which do not correspond directly to various stages of the action outlined above, represent the division of the space chosen for the performance. The space extends outwards from the corner of a room in the shape of an arc. As depicted on sheet nine, the artist's ankles are fastened to leather thongs attached to the corner. The measurement used to establish the penetration into the room is determined by the length of the artist's body plus the extension permitted by the anchored leather thongs. Sheets 11-13 illustrate this space. Sheet 12 establishes the space as the quarter section of a circle, while sheet 13 focuses on this section and integrates the most important props into the image (this sheet is also the only one of the 17 drawn in pencil). Sheet 11 subdivides the section into concentric units: the stretched thong determines the arc of the third sector (closest to the corner), the second sector is 'vague (about the length of the legs)' (inscription on sheet 11), while the outer limit of the space is the line of circumferance drawn by the head. Only the arm can extend beyond this field of action (which the artist planned to do 'never, or once, or seldom', pointing to the flexibility intrinsic to the artist's concept). As illustrated in sheets 13-16, the wire represents the only contact,with the space outside the prescribed arena (this is explicitly stated on sheet 15).

On sheet three, the types and qualities of sound are logged, as well as the props needed for the performance. The text runs as follows:

1. From the beginning to the 46th minute a regular, high-pitched, sustained sound, distinctly audible but not too loud (about voice-level). Fading away after the 46th minute (K5), into silence by the 61st minute!
2. K1, K2, K3, K5. Extremely loud, short, piercing noises like a bang. K4. Extremely loud noise, substained for 1 minute.
3. T; Ticking sounds, a little louder than the sustained sound. After every T; change in the action! T6 finishes the performance.


1. Two thongs (fastened to the ankles and to the corner).
2. Wire connected to the magnetophone [a magnetic tape recorder]) symbolic link with the outside world. Split as the end.
3. Wrapped parcel (plastic bag with liquid silver paint? lemon?)
4. Knife (in working place, not dangerous)
5. Head pillow

6. 1. Disc on the wall (left) slightly protruding if possible, plastic
7. 2. Disc on the wall (right) diameter approximately 5cm.

On sheet four Brus details a number of points about the action in the second sector and the sounds involved:

2. Sector: The reaction to K5 is the only interruption of the pendulum movement. This sector represents a reduction, which should at first appear very monotonous to the viewer. K5 and the reaction that follows (very vigorous) throws the now accustomed rhythm suddenly out of kilter: the shock-effect is especially marked because two extremes follow one another. After this escapade the former pendulum movement begins again and ends when the sound fades away (slowly and regularly)
[long arrow pointing to right] here is the transition to the III sector, which is mainly represented in a motionless crouched position (the duration to be set during the performance).

In sheet five, Brus co-ordinates the spatial and tonal continuity, notating also the outlines of his body movements. In sheet six, also in tabular form, the timing of the sounds is carefully plotted along four separate though related lines. In sheet seven, the body movements are noted in greater detail along with remainders of how these movements should be enacted. The lines G1 and G2 ('G' for Geräusche or 'noises'), already present in the previous sheet, represent the plotting of the sounds and body movements respectively, along a continuous line. These are punctuated by the periodic 'T' or 'K' noises. The time between each sound is logged in minutes.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.497-9

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