When I received an invitation to the group show North at the Kunsthalle in Vienna there was a great deal in the newspapers about Jörg Haider and Austria ‘s new right-wing extremist government. An email posing the question: “Would you have exhibited in Nazi Germany?” was circulated in the art world. Artist, gallery owners, museum curators and collectors where exhorted not to work with Austrian institutions.
I made my first trip to Vienna in March 2000 in order to decide whether I should participate in the exhibition. My desire to investigate the art gallery’s relationship to the new government was met with openness and interest by the gallery staff. I decided that what had happened in Austria over the past five years is not an isolated Austrian problem. Haider is a symptom of the political situation all over Europe and an urgent issue for us all. The Haider goverment thinks that contemporary art is rubbish and has reduced state expenditure on culture. They have tried several times to get the director of the Kunsthalle to remove dirty things from exhibitions. He has refused. I Also talked to artists who said, come here and work, do something, don’t back off. I decided to participate in North and began to plan a new project. The meeting with the gallery staff led to my hearing about Mike Garner, a translator living in Finland . Garner was to translate the catalogue texts from Swedish to English, but he refused to take money from an Austrian institution. He agreed to do the job only if the money went to an Austrian organisation that was actively fighting against racism. I contacted him and asked if he would participate in my project.
I arrived in Vienna for the second time in May 2000, intending to contact more people who had acted in protest against the new government. It was scary to be in a foreign country and know that every fourth person had voted for the neo-Nazis. But I also knew that resistance existed I had seen it with my own eyes in March. When I was 20 years old, I stopped going on marches. But in Vienna , I couldn’t not demonstrate. Demonstrations are rare in Austria there’s no tradition of demonstrating there but after the election, many different extra-parliamentary resistance groups formed and the largest demonstrations attracted more than 100.000 participants.
The Austrian media are more or less organs for the government and don’t even report the larger manifestations. But I was not interested in contacting those who were behind these demonstrations; I wanted to get hold of people who did small, almost invisible things, actions that are not important for newspaper and TV journalists, and undertaken by people who are neither heroes or victims and who don’t reckon getting any bonus or fame for their deeds they only do what the feel they must. Politically, I think they are as important as Amnesty International, for example. Perhaps their strength lies precisely in the fact that their reach is not especially long and they don’t get media attention.
It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. A girl at the Kunsthalle suggested I talk to Dieter, who later became my assistant. He had been active in the resistance movement from the start, and like many others he took a video camera to demonstrations and kept the tapes in a secret place. It took only a few hours in his company before I understood about coding telephone conversations and chats on the net and choosing the right meeting places.
I hung around Heldenplatz a lot. Normally one is not allowed to walk on the grass, and the place is mostly frequented by tourists, but now it was occupied by activists. I met Ada and her boyfriend Jeff at Heldenplatz. They organise Volkstanz, which is a kind of non-political demonstration starting from Heldenplatz two days a week. Behind their truck, where various Djs stand playing records, 50 500 people dance through the town and out into the suburbs. No slogans. Dance against the racist, sexists, anti-social right-wing government in Austira, Ada said in my interview with her.
The 15 people who participated in my project got 3 5 minutes in front of Dieter’s video camera to describe what they did and why. Not everyone was open about what they did and some didn’t want to be recognised. They also had to come up with something visual that was connected with their actions, which was taped as a kind of advertisement for their actions.
I heard that some students at the art college in Vienna had occupied their assembly hall in protest against their principal’s voting for Haider. After a couple of weeks a TV company arrived and asked if they could borrow the assembly hall for a few hours to shoot a scene for a detective series. The students allowed themselves to be bribed. When the TV team and the actors arrived the students nicked some of their equipment, which meant that the shot took twice as long as planned and the TV company had to cough up more money. The students used the money to get friends released who had been jailed in connection with a large demonstration outside the TV building.
However, instead of talking about this action they wanted to do something new for my project. They asked Dieter and me to a party. Ascam instructed us and a dozen students how to make Molotov cocktails and at night we went to a quarry to learn how to ignite and throw them. It was made as an instruction film. The advertising bit for this action advertised a 24 hour Shell station, with a person bying two cans of petrol and a beer.
I won’t describe everyone we filmed, but I will mention some. Daniel made a plastic case for a passport. The colour is exactly the same as the Austrian passport. But the eagle on the front is reversed, and it says. I didn’t vote for our government in six different languages. He has sold more than 1000 of these to friends and acquaintances. Sangam and Daniela composed a very nasty song about FPÖ and ÖVP politicians. They go round town singing it. Had they been of age they surely would have been arrested. The Vienna Opera sends out people dressed up as Mozart, who go about passing out flyers and selling tickets. Ari copied their costumes, but the text on his flyer went like this:
Are you interested in Austrian culture and history? Not only Mozart and Klimt belong to Austrian culture. Racism also belongs to its past and present, and the text continued with a sharp analysis. One man made a false FPÖ homepage, it was done so that everyone looking for FPÖ who lack the Ö on their keyboard and write FPO or FPOE land there. The party was described in absurdum and linked to the absolutely worst neo-Nazi organizations.
Have you ever wondered about who made the ant-nuclear power insignia? Everywhre in Vienna one saw a blue-white-blac symbol as a badge, streamer, on stickers that means the FPÖ/ÖVP coalition is wrong. Johanna and Ingeborg came up with this symbol. In the film Ingeborg, who is going to spend a weed in Carinthien, Haider’s stronghold, wonders wheter she dares to wear a badge while there.
The principle for Videofit-Up has been taken from another prank I heard about. One needs a false ID card and then one goes and hires a porno film. One edits in one’s own material more fun porn than the usual and then returns the remixed film to the shop. In the gallery space at Kunsthalle my assistants and I set up a workshop. Every evening two feature films were copied from Austrian TV, and the day after we reedited them: 10 minutes after the film’s start and 10 minutes before its end we put in a couple of advertising films, also copied from TV. Then in the middle of the film we cut in a description of some of the 15 protest actions and between the advertising films in the beginning and the end, we also cut in the advertising bits for these actions. The remixed tapes were put in boxes and labelled with the feature film’s title, length and date. The following evening the tapes were taken by me and my assistants in white carrier bags and left in various places in town on park benches, café tables, subway seats as if they were left behind, forgotten by someone. The bag with the film was eventually taken care of by someone or it landed in the rubbish dump. My hope was that’s its finder watches the video. A total of 250 Videofit-Up tapes were procuced and distributed.
The Videofit-Up method is uncertain ad rests on probabilities. The project experiments with the desire to care in various dimensions. Caring is a situational interplay between knowledge and gut feeling in contrast to common sense, which is based more on a need for self-control and regulation, to direct others or establish oneself than on truly caring about others. The relations between people, between countries and nations, are in an expanding state of dependence and independence, isolation and contact, peaceful co-existance and aggressive conflicts. The threads of responsibility or accountability are melded together and cause a somewhat paralysing and liberating collision between historical, national and cultural identity. For some, responsibility stops at their own front door, and for others, it stretches over national borders. What makes us feel, think and act? How are relations with people in one’s immediate environment and with what happens there and with people and events in other places in the world? What do we think are our desires, right and duties to intervene and get involved? What should be done? What is the right thing to do in a specific situation? Why do I get the urge to litter the clean streets of Vienna and not the filthy, binless streets of east London ?
The 15 films and advertising snippents were not shown in the art gallery. Instead we showed a film of a situation that Dieter and I landed in when we were out doing research. Before a demonstration, a man with a megaphone cropped up in Heldenplatz and shouted out that the evening before the police had shot to death a young man in conjunction with a raid of a club in an immigrant area. The anarchists began to march on their way towards the police station, shrieking murderers, murderers, murderers. Dieter and I followed along, filming. Suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of policemen, ordinary as well as special forces. The films show how the police corps caused more blood to flow than was necessary. Rumours about the film spread and led to a trial where the police were charged with assault. There was a great difference between our film and the pictures shown on the news taken by the TV team, who arrived when most of the trouble was over.