“Every expressive manifestation of his was covered by a beauty that extended far into sadism. The cruelty of his actions was beautiful. He was the aesthete among us.” —Hermann Nitsch on Rudolph Schwarzkogler
Rudolf Schwarzkogler was one of a number of Viennese artists, including Hermann Nitsch, Guënter Brus, and Otto Muehl, who in the early 1960s began to mount “actions”—planned yet seemingly spontaneous live events in which the body was used as material. Known as the Viennese Actionists, they positioned their work within the context of a conservative postwar Austria suppressing its traumatic past. The actions included live defecation, blood play, urination, and self-mutilation (both staged and real), all of which communicated their contempt for the reactionary climate of their time. Reviled by some and applauded by others, they exploited taboos related to the body, testing society’s complacent acceptance of traditional values and behaviors. Schwarzkogler made six actions in the 1960s, all documented in a portfolio from which this selection was chosen. They were customarily performed in front of the camera before a small group of invited friends.