Beyond their radical questioning of art and language, the Viennese avant-gardes showed a patent disregard for traditional artistic genres and formats and gravitated towards the utilization of the body (their own and other people’s) and towards experiments with new media. The Wiener Aktionismus [Viennese Performance Art], with its lexicon of dispositifs and myths of Präsenz / Situation / Ritual / Material / Aktion / Abreaktion / Sexualität / Exzess / Orgie / Destruktion / Ekel [nausea]/ Schmerz [pain], etc., trumped the dimensions of other happenings at the time and the first stirrings of international Body Art and left an ambivalent agenda to reflection and theory formation.
At the same time Valie Export initiated with her performances a feminist discourse to reflect on the gaze, viewing habits, the female body and gender relations. Her Expanded-Cinema performances, which she realized together with Peter Weibel, transcended all traditional formats and screening techniques and expanded the dispositifs of the cinema and its apparatus through recourse to the body and additional performative means and by assigning an active role to audiences in public space.
In 1968 the “oscillations of rebellion” reached Vienna and culminated in “Kunst & Revolution” [Art & Revolution], a performance in one of the lecture halls of Vienna University that had been billed as a political discussion meeting; two of the participants were subsequently put on trial and sentenced, the performance having generated a regular media frenzy. From then on, utilization of the body was confined to the gesamtkunstwerk of performance-oriented communes and to a politics directed towards the own body in the context of body psychotherapy and of praxis-theory bricolages of the nascent subculture scene. In 1976 the various camps of art and counter-culture were reunited for the last time, when the Arena, Vienna’s municipal abattoir that had been scheduled for demolition, was occupied by squatters. 1976 was also the year in which Punk made its first appearance in London and Jean-François Lyotard and Charles Jencks introduced the concept of post-modernism. Does this year also have to be viewed as the definitive end of the Viennese avant-gardes?
Performances, Body Art happenings and media installations leave traces: concept texts, photos and film documents that have acquired their own materiality, fulfil certain aesthetic criteria and are omnipresent in today’s museums and exhibition catalogues. At the same time the Viennese avant-gardes have left behind, through the theory and practice of Expanded Cinema and the use of new dispositifs, figures of thought whose potential has by no means been exhausted even today, namely installation, Context Art and hypertext, with an entirely new lexicon on the topics of hybridity, complexity, non-linearity, emergence, learning aptitude, self-organisation, chaos, robustness, symbiosis, diversity – and countless “Small Worlds”.