Rethinking Form

Between deconstruction and construction, such key categories of aesthetic theory as “artwork” and “form” were severely put to the test by the Viennese avant-gardes. To begin with, “rethinking form” sounds like a contradiction in terms in view of the avant-gardes’ attacks on formalities and formalisms. The Viennese group was focussed – beyond any consideration of the issue of form – on the strict deconstruction of the relationship between language and reality; Performance Art (“Aktionismus”) gave precedence to the phantasm of spontaneity, the creative act, the breaking of taboos and rules at the expense of form.

Before long however geometry asserted itself as a dominant factor in sound poetry, systematization began to make itself felt in material pictures (collage, assemblage and montage art), and a quest for new forms became apparent in Art Informel and in Gestural Abstract Art. In painting, artists acquired increasing relevance who were working along Parisian constructivist lines and the desire for “realities” was in evidence more and more. In music, experiments with serial techniques were followed by autonomous developments. A good example of what was achieved by “rethinking form” is the development of musical graphic notation.

The absence of a clear canon of forms and formats kept the scene open for a motley crowd of heterogeneous motifs: precisely defined cuts and scores rubbed shoulders with “paint blotches”; the hermeticism of sound poems and theoretical texts shared the limelight with trends to embed artistic activity in everyday situations or in situations with cultic connotations; the radicalization of the material clashed with media-reflective observations. It was avant-garde film that proved the most successful approach to combining analytical, serial, constructive and “chaotic” motifs: in Expanded Cinema the Viennese avant-gardes’ trajectories that originated in the visual arts, in performance art, language critique and media reflection come together most convincingly.

The Symposium panel “Arbeit an der Form” [Rethinking Form] functioned as the opposite pole to the treatment of the avant-gardes’ manifestations on the meta level of transgressions of category and of sociopolitical implications. The agenda included analyses of the differences, the asynchronicities and contradictions within the Viennese avant-gardes, and comparisons with developments in Paris and New York as well as more recent concepts of form, such as the one used in systems theory and concepts related to performance, rhetoric, work-less communicative acts and directives.

One of the aims of the Symposium was the interdisciplinary groundwork for a new textual and methodological field. This field is to cut across both the canonized descriptions of the Viennese avant-gardes and the media and forms they made use of.

Have the manifestations of the Viennese avant-gardes maintained an artistic character and/or status despite their attacks on the concept of form?

What function did form have in the manifestations of the Viennese avant-gardes?

Is it possible to reconstruct lines connecting the Viennese avant-gardes to Pop, Trash, Punk, Techno or to postmodern strategies?

How much is to be gained from positing and developing the thesis of a “policy of form”?

How can the (usually unsubstantiated) allegation that there is a link between “Wiener Aktionismus” [Viennese Performance Art] and psychoanalysis be operationalized?

Is it possible to draw up a more concrete map of the performance strategies of the Viennese avant-gardes?

Abstract Dieter Bogner Das Wesen der Dinge liegt im Intervall in German

Lecture Thomas Schäfer Notation – Form – Material. Anmerkungen zu Roman Haubenstock-Ramatis Komponieren der 1960er Jahre in German

Abstract Thomas Eder Von den Formen zu den Inhalten. Oswald Wieners Weg von der „verbesserung von mitteleuropa“ zu Introspektion, Vorstellungsbildern und Denkpsychologie – Paradigma oder Sonderfall der Nachkriegsavantgarden? in German

Abstract Bernhard Steger Das utopische Potential des Bauens. Konrad Wachsmann und die österreichische Nachkriegsavantgarde in German