Kraft / Petz
The ideal of art as tue Expression of an individual artist - preferably a genius - who produces material artefacts, an ideal which culminated in tue modern age, was undermined during tue Avantgarde movement at tue beginning of tue 20th century. From these beginnings, artist collectives started forming in tue ‘50s, in which tue individual artist was replaced as author by tue group. At tue same time, increasingly actionist tendencies could be observed. This formation of groups reached a climax in tue ‘70s. At tue end of tue ‘70s and in tue ‘80s, more and more pairs of artists emerged. * Contrary to earlier artist pairs, who were lovers or married couples but did not share an artistic output, tue new pairs collaborated, and demonstrated through their names – usually a combination of tue two single names – their joint authorship. They often, but not necessarily exclusively, lived together in a hetero- or homosexual relationship.
Kurt Petz was still at college when he was invited to show at tue exhibition “sub art”. At that time, he was concerned with conceptual and light-kinetic projects. Before Kurt Petz and Verena Kraft started working together as tue artist pair Kraft/Petz and turned mainly to performance, they had founded tue group A.R.T. in Munich together with Angelika Bader and Dietmar Tanterl. The group’s name nudged art close to tue names of firms or institutions and transformed it into an abbreviation of something which was, so to speak, still waiting to be named. The issuing of an “A.R.T. IDENTITY-CARD” in which tue four artists, under tue heading “MISSION”, declared themselves to be tue “INITIATOR”, was also aimed at a new and re-definition of the artist’s status. As initiators, Kraft/Petz curated projects like “Tonight” and “Kunst im Abbruch”. Such new definitions were part of a (post)avantgarde debate, which fundamentally questioned both art as an institution and the traditional status of the artist. In 1979, the year A.R.T. was founded, the Künstlerhaus Hamburg mounted a show with the title “Eremit? Forscher? Sozialarbeiter? Das veränderte Selbstverständnis von Künstlern.”
The group A.R.T. dissolved into two pairs. By 1980, Angelika Bader and Dietmar Tanterl had left A.R.T. In the following years, Kraft/Petz used A.R.T.’s studio in Knöbelstraße behind the Ethnographic Museum as a work, exhibition and performance space. As an artist pair, they formed a life-work relationship, and consequently, when one ended in 2008, the other one ended too. Looking back, the formation of artist pairs coincided with the newly enlivened gender debate – the grand political paradigms which aligned themselves to society as a whole, and the critique of capitalism, had mostly receded. Some male artists now declared their partners - who had already been collaborating with them - to be their co-authors, like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Anna and Bernhard J. Blume and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The most radical of these relationships in performance was that of Ulay & Marina Abramovic.
In contrast, in the work of Kraft/Petz, neither their relationship as a couple nor the gender question is a subject. However, the reception of their performances makes clear what role the gender debate played in the ‘80s. Petz’s and Kraft’s activities within a performance, assuming gender equality, were, as far as possible, distributed symmetrically. But viewers who were versed in questions of gender tended to suspect gender-specific mechanisms of oppression – Kraft/Petz referred to this in discussions. For example, when Verena Kraft handled the Flex, the suspicion was expressed that the man was making her work for him. Conversely, when Kurt Petz took up the Flex, this tool with its male connotations was interpreted as excluding the female. This also clearly exemplifies how the eye of the spectator is involved in the construction of power relationships.
Form 1981 onwards, performances were at the centre of Kraft/Petz’s artistic work. Otherwise, they were engaged in happenings in the public realm, installations and objects. Their last performance “Discovery of the Temperature” took place in 1994 in Cairo. By the early ‘90s they were increasingly moving towards photography, which also highlighted their interest in processes. They discovered that Cibachrome prints, which are generally thought to be light resistant, can be changed through strong and long exposure to light. In various series, they exposed photographic prints to strong light, in order to expose not only the negative, but also the print, to a specific form of double exposure. Kraft/Petz developed what is normally seen as destruction, namely the bleaching of photos, into an artistic procedure. Referring back to Lucio Fontana, they produced photographic monochromes that transformed Fontana’s cut canvasses into light paintings. In their Guernica series, the silhouettes of types of aircraft used by the German Wehrmacht during the bombardment of the city become threatening signs of light over the hills outside the city, burnt into the landscape. When Kraft/Petz used not only light, but also pigments, at the end of the ‘90s, they in a way approached the terrain of classical painting. But their pigments are unusual - a moment of destruction and transformation is burnt into them through fire and heat. This is ash – ash from briquettes, from cakes, from wood, from human and animal bones.
Painting not only occupies a central point towards the end of the joint work of Kurt Petz and Verena Kraft, but is also a point of reference during a number of their early performances. They took painting as one of their themes, reflecting upon it in a way that was critical of institutions and in a sense, translated it into their own bodies. Of special importance is concrete painting, in the widest sense of the term, as practised with great sincerity by Günter Fruhtrunk **. The concretic approach treats colour as colour and form as form. Here, they do not imply more than themselves, neither symbolically nor mimetically, but show themselves as what they are, and they mean themselves. When Kraft/Petz performed “Zur freien Verfügung I” in Fruhtrunk’s studio – they had studied with him at the Munich Academy – not only did a connection emerge with concrete painting, but at the same time painting was pushed programmatically towards performance: Kraft/Petz presented colours on round and square canvasses to one another. As with concrete painting, this was about the presentation and interaction of colours. Except that here, colour did not show itself, but was being shown. Here, the basic principle of concrete painting, which relates to forms and colours, was carried further and transferred to the artists. They did not disappear behind the work but themselves became carriers of colour, so that the work lasted only as long as the artists performed.
This approach was radicalized in other performances by Kraft/Petz. They attached paint brushes to their heads and hands and changed into living brushes (“Der Wille”). They tied vessels containing pigments to their bodies und crawled through the corridors of an art fair (“Die Anwesenheit der Künstler”). With palettes on their back, they moved behind or on top of each other like palette beatles up the stairs of a gallery (“Die Größe”). They immersed their whole bodies, including their heads, in tubs full of various paints so that even their eyes were stuck with paint. The use of bodies as paint brushes was already being used in early examples of Japanese actionism in the ‘50s. Inasmuch as physical action comes to the fore, here, as in later painting performances, an image emerges as gestural trail and indexical sign which refers to the act of production. Kraft/ Petz’s performances on the other hand, did not flow into painting. During the demonstrative construction of identity of the artist and the work, of the artist’s body and the painting tool, painting is not created as a material object. Instead, the performance somehow produces tableaux vivants in which painting as art is critically reflected.
Already in their first joint endeavours, Kraft/Petz were engaged in critical reflections on art and on the position of the artist – this underpinned their decision to turn to performance. In “Künstler nehmen Platz”, they attended several opera performances as members of the audience, made anonymous and blind by a bar across their eyes. In “Neue Straßennamen”, they changed some street signs near the Kunstakademie and re-named them after young, unknown artists. The intervention led to protests by residents and ended for Kraft/Petz in a police station. As members of A.R.T, they sealed 35 galleries and museums in Munich. This gesture, comparable to the sealing of galleries in Sao Paulo by the Brazilian artists’ group 3NOS3 in the same year, continued the avantgardistic critique of institutions of the sixties: galleries are seen as institutions in which art is turned into a commodity. Museums are seen as places which remove art from life, and which perpetuate posthumous reputations but to a large extent ignore living artists.
In general, the emergence in the late ‘60s of per- formance in a narrow sense can be understood as the response to the critique of institutions, grounded in avantgarde thinking. Performance connects work and artist and cannot be sold as a commodity, apart from its documentation. Performance is - at least in its by now classical sense – unique and cannot be reproduced. It brings the artist’s body into play and insists on the here and now. An additional, significant factor is its duration and a kind of deceleration which is frequently associated with it.
The link with the body and the deceleration, mostly achieved through prolonged physical work, lead to the centre of Kraft/Petz’s performances. As if to earth the body, they dug themselves into the earth with pickaxes. The elementary dimension of “Above and Below” became a physical challenge which could also be understood metaphorically. A recurring motif was that of blindness, whose meaning could take on various shades: the artists, who are not noticed, now do not notice their surroundings - which can itself be understood as an act of critical cultural refusal. As in “Künstler gesucht”, the bar in front of the eyes can refer to censorship and social discrimination – the artist with a red, blue and yellow colour-bar as colour- criminal on the run. At the same time, colour here prevents the artist from seeing; it takes the place of his gaze. But blindness can also be interpreted as the continuation of the topos of the blind seer: the artist’s inner eye in contrast to external perception.
The link to the body in Kraft/Petz’s work informed not only their performances, but also the installations and objects. In the concrete sculpture “Schlaf der Vernunft”, springs were used. They were gilded, but if used would pierce the back. The construction of a loudspeaker sculpture addressed the eye, but also the ear. A deliberately foul smell in the performance “Multiplier l’Evolution”, brought another physical dimension into play.
The premise on which art-reflective works in particular are based is art’s autonomy. In this respect, most of Kraft/Petz’s works are not explicitly political, although this does not exclude a decidedly social thrust. One exception as far as an immediate political connection was concerned, was their strong reaction to the Yugoslav war – a country right in the middle of Europe, a favourite holiday destination, transformed into a theatre of war. As members of a generation that had confronted the previous generation with the historical truth about the Third Reich, Kraft/Petz referred to National Socialism and its crimes in a number of their works. To mention just one: as the competition entry for the “Mahnmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas”, they suggested transforming the plot on which the monument would be erected into an enclave, into Israeli state territory.
In the ‘80s, Kraft/Petz’s performances were seen not only by painters as a provocation, although the first wave of performances by the pioneers had already reached its first peak. At the end of the ‘70s and the beginning of the ‘80s, interest in performances was beginning to grow, not only in Europe, leading to a number of performance festivals. Inasmuch as the logic of performance follows avantgardistic progressive thinking, it suggests the removal and vanquishing of other genres, especially of painting. As became increasingly clear, Kraft/Petz returned to painting, at least in part of their work. But was it really a return? Is not the dissolution of the avantgardistic paradigm already discernable in Kraft/Petz’s work?
Already in their early installation “A.R.T originalisiert museumsstücke”, Kraft/Petz were re-constructing works by Sol Lewitt and Donald Judd – a method used before in her own way by Elaine Sturtevant. Minimalism, just like conceptualism, had already left behind the expressive artistic subject. In an appropriation like the one by Kraft/Petz, the artistic subject is overcome a second time by, in a way, appropriation. Even when the artistic subject and ego are not identical, Petz poses the fundamental question: “Will the idea of the ego-centric artist also contradict the idea of the geo-centric view of the world?” (“Satellite-artist”). One of the late performances by Kraft/Petz shows signs of an early form of re-enactment. In “Tanz der Relikte”, they repeated gestures from other performers and their already historical performances. The bodies of Kraft/Petz here not only became a projection screen for slides, they also took up these images with their own bodies in frozen poses. Here one can build a bridge to the other performances already mentioned.
As if they were trying to revoke the relationship of purpose and means, Kraft/Petz equate the two. In order to escape instrumentalization, they transform themselves into instruments. The challenge in the background is an art which, with its claim of pure autonomy, lays itself, like a shadow of the sublime, across life, and thus separates art from life. With chisel and hammer, Kraft/Petz work vehemently against this separation and against the golden columns of art (“Der Wille”). The hammer used by Petz is made of iron, his chisel of glass. Kraft’s hammer is made of glass, her chisel of iron: both glass chisel and glass hammer break. It could be that the golden column remains undamaged.
* See Kunstforum vol. 106/107. Some artists’ pairs in this sense existed before, for instance the sculptors Matschinsky-Denninghoff, who began their collaboration in 1955, Bernd and Hilla Becher from 1959, Gilbert & George from 1967.
** Their appreciation of Fruhtrunk and the closeness to him is shown not least when they, after his death, together with Sabine Buchmann, mount the exhibition “Kontinuität und Diskontinuität” in his honour in Munich and in the Goethe Institut in Paris.