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Marie Röbl


  1. Imprinting and Paratext (Introduction)
  2. Action and Reaction (Photography)
  3. Concept and Compost (Montage)
  4. Journey, Cultures, City and Countryside (Overcoming Limits)


in: Heinz Cibulka . Im Takt von Hell und Dunkel; 2012

In 1974/75, at around thirty years of age, Heinz Cibulka developed that ‘expressive means’ for his fine-art photographic work ‘which would remain valid in the long term’: picture poems (Bildgedichte) consisting of four landscape-format, colour prints arranged in a rectangle. He had already been concentrating more on photographic work since 1970; however, it was not until the picture poems that he found a suitable strategy through which and out of which his rich photographic oeuvre could emerge. The present text focuses on this development and thus on a single aspect of Cibulka’s diverse body of work. However, this emphasis does not imply a medium-specific analysis: the performative works and the objects as well as the poems may often be relegated to the margins, but they never entirely disappear from view.

In addition to discussing the concept of the picture poems, this ‘retrospective’ analysis will attempt to broadly summarize the history of the reception of Cibulka’s photographic position. This suggests itself, as Cibulka from the very beginning attached great significance to the publication as well as the consideration and critique of his work; however, it has subsequently become difficult to find many of the published catalogues. Through a whole series of texts on the biographical and conceptual sources of his work and its pictorial language, he has also personally provided decisive impulses for the reception of his art – and thus created a paratext which also accompanies and serves to guide the present text.1

Cibulka has described his formation as an artist in numerous articles and interviews.2 After completing his training as a graphic designer (1957–1961), he initially sought to become a painter, while exploring modernism and its avant-gardes in the fine arts, cinematography, and literature. In Vienna during the sixties, he gained access through personal contacts to specific fields of contemporary art: Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Hermann Nitsch, and Peter Kubelka were those three artists who played the most decisive roles. Cibulka had known Schwarzkogler since they both studied together at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, a renowned Viennese vocational secondary school for the graphic arts. From 1964 until Schwarzkogler’s death in 1969, Cibulka remained in close contact with his colleague, who was three years his senior; it was through him that he met the other Vienna Actionists (Wiener Aktionisten).3

In 1965, Cibulka began to serving as a ‘model’ during Schwarzkogler’s first four actions; for approximately a decade, he also served as a ‘passive actor’ (‘passiver Akteur’) in those of Nitsch4. Thus, while still in his twenties, he was able to experience from within, so to speak, the decisive developments of Viennese Actionism in an intensive way. These experiences and the intellectual examination of the Actionists’ understanding of art formed a lasting and decisive influence on Cibulka. His artistic production reflects their aspirations to unite art and life in a direct relationship and to overcome the narrow confines of traditional genres and work concepts through a synaesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk. Initially, photography had no role to play within this context.5

In 1974, after one of his last participations as an actor (Akteur) for Hermann Nitsch, Cibulka would finally lose his day job as a graphic designer, after sensationalistic newspaper reports brought his Actionist ‘activities’ to his clients’ attention. Afterwards, he devoted himself with greater concentration to his work as an artist, and the first photographic picture poems appeared shortly thereafter.6 In 1979, Cibulka began to photographically document several actions from Nitsch’s ‘Orgies-Mysteries-Theatre’ (Orgien-Mysterien-Theater), and also to utilize these photos for his own picture poems. At the same time, Nitsch served as an author for several of Cibulka’s exhibition catalogues.

Many of these texts deal with Cibulka’s motivations and choice of themes, for example, when Nitsch – typically within his own biographical context – describes the wine country above the Danube, its geographical and socio-historical origins and the long history of its culture of communal drinking and intoxication.7 In other texts, however, Nitsch provides concrete interpretations of Cibulka’s art, which other authors have then referred to in their discussions of Cibulka’s work.8 Less attention has been devoted to that text which recapitulates Cibulka’s role as an actor in Nitsch’s actions, a text that is not easy to access in more than one sense: inspired to radical candour and sensuality by this particular theme, Nitsch provides extensive insight into the performative practice of his (early) actions.9

The virulent correlation between Cibulka and Nitsch forms various aspects within the reception history of both artists – a more exact investigation of this promises to provide material for more than a few detailed studies. It is important to point out that the complexity of this relationship – and the evolving, always distinctive roles that both artists played for one another over the course of time (such as ‘passive actor’, student, role model/teacher, friend, chronicler, theoretician/critic) – forms a complex framework, within which different functions and phases variously overlap. Thus, Actionism was (and is) certainly a central influence on Cibulka’s view of art and the world, and as such a source of the concept underlying his picture poems. In addition, Actionism has also shaped these works’ reception: on the one hand, through their factual contextualization, as in the case of the present exhibition at the Hermann Nitsch Museum in Mistelbach; and, on the other hand, through the author Nitsch’s role in substantially helping to shape our perspective on Cibulka’s work. Photography’s role within a concept of art aimed at establishing a comprehensive (above all, sensual) relation to reality was an important issue for Nitsch in the context of his own work, and this influenced his evaluation of Cibulka’s photographic work.

A 1977 statement by Nitsch is the source of the widespread interpretation of Cibulka’s photographic work as a form of securing evidence (Spurensicherung), in the sense of a documentary cataloguing of given facts and available situations.10 Later, after the photographic picture poems had developed into a central group of works within Cibulka’s oeuvre, Nitsch accordingly expanded or qualified his assessment. In any case, the relationship between the Gesamtkunstwerk and photography’s referential function have remained an unsettling and central issue in the discussion of the picture poems – whereby the Actionist context/paratext has presumably strengthened an interpretive tendency that has caused other aspects to be neglected.

Thus, another complex of early influences on Cibulka, embodied by Peter Kubelka, has had less lasting influence in the reception history and contextualization of Cibulka’s work. Nonetheless, this impulse was certainly significant for the development of the picture poems, particularly in terms of the montage technique.11 Among photo-theoretical discussions concerned with this aspect of Cibulka’s work, the picture poems’ aesthetic of reception (Rezeptionsästhetik) receives the most attention. Specifically, their production of meaning through the integrative reading of discrete elements separated by a ‘cut’ (in the case of the picture poems, the edges of the individual photographs).12

In the new publication Saft aus Sprache, edited by Michael Ponstingl, Cibulka’s poetic texts have, for the first time, been treated collectively and as an independent work group; in this respect, the book has set new standards. While analyzing the production aesthetic of Cibulka’s literary Notenbild-Verbarien, Ponstingl has demonstrated the appearance of montage techniques similar to those applied by the literary avant-garde or in formalist film.13 This is a manifestation of Cibulka’s acquaintance with aesthetic concepts such as the definition of algorithmic techniques, which are independent of material and content, and involve the assembly of elements drawn from a pool of accumulated or generated semantic fields (visual data, lines of poetry...).

In general terms, this approach was intended to eliminate certain subjective aspects from the notion of authorship: for the avant-garde after 1945, the dubious arrogance of the creator role. In Austria, concepts of this kind were developed and realized primarily by the Vienna Group (Wiener Gruppe), along with contemporary artists loosely affiliated with them, later artists who subsequently came under their influence, as well as those artists who beginning in the seventies started to work within a conceptual or media-critical framework. Artistic activity at the interface of language and visuality as well as a specific use of photography were characteristic of these positions.14 Without going into further detail, it may be stated here that these concepts represent a significant contextual background for Cibulka’s development of the picture poems.

Before the structural qualities of the picture poems are discussed in more detail, it is important to emphasize one point: it is with constructivist concepts like these that Cibulka continues to develop the aims of the actionistic-synaesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk on his own terms. Conversely, it is with his ‘artist’s body’ (‘Künstlerkörper’), developed through Actionism, that he breathes life into (and ultimately undermines) the conceptual rigour of such concepts. While developing his picture poems, Cibulka was able to achieve the cross-fertilization of these two impulses because he refused to adopt the respective ‘enemies’ of his role models as his own. He acts as an artist-subject and creates medium-specific works, also when he adapts both dispositives, both instances, in his own way.

2) Action and Reaction (Photography) >

1 |    I have adopted the term ‘paratext’ from Michael Ponstingl; it refers to the way in which Cibulka unfolds an ‘interpretive framework’ in order to influence the reception of his artistic work. Ponstingl takes the term from Gérard Genette’s Paratexte: Das Buch vom Beiwerk des Buches [orig. 1987] and adapts it to the photo-theoretical discourse in: Michael Ponstingl, ‘Wien im Bild: Fotobildbände des 20. Jahrhunderts’, in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Fotografie in Österreich, vol. 5, ed. by Monika Faber and Fotosammlung der Albertina (Vienna, 2008), pp. 17–43 (for Cibulka’s series Wien 21&22, see p. 142); Michael Ponstingl, ‘Heinz Cibulkas Präsentationen montierten Sprachmaterials – Zwischen “Kiahdrichln”, “Hollunderblütenversprechungen” und “Eiterpink”’, in Heinz Cibulka, Saft aus Sprache: Abschriften, Notenbild-Verbarien, Freie Reihungen, Texturen 1970–1990, ed. by Michael Ponstingl (St Pölten, 2010), pp. 224–38 (p. 227).

2 |    ‘For me, my search for an artistic approach of my own was, above all, a fundamental question of principles, one addressed to the world – in addition to every conceivable aesthetic-technical, form-content question ... The search for a means of access lasted relatively long.’ Heinz Cibulka, ‘Beschreibung meiner Situation und der realisierten Arbeiten’, in Heinz Cibulka, Bild Material, ed. by Peter Zawrel and Kulturabteilung des Landes Niederösterreich (Vienna, 1993), pp. 20–60 (p. 20). ‘It was clear to me that I needed to find a form of expression that would remain valid in the long term. I thus passed through every conceivable discipline and ended up at photography … With my photography and, particularly, with my composition of photographic pictorial values, I was taken seriously as an artist.’ Heinz Cibulka, ‘Bilanz 1998’, in Sonderheft, 4 (1998), ed. by Medienwerkstatt (Vienna), pp. 13–17 (p. 13). ‘I began my first photographic work worthy of being taken seriously around 1970. Under the title Stammersdorf, Essen – Trinken … [Stammersdorf, eating – drinking], I realized a work in the form of an installation involving several medial disciplines. On the one hand, around fifty photos were mounted in the room to form a photographic frieze; on the other hand, however, acoustic, literary, and performative elements were also active within the concept of the work. From this time on, I deliberately pushed forward the photographic aspect of my work.’ Heinz Cibulka, ‘Es gibt keine Regeln, wie das Bild zu lesen ist’, interview with Adam Mazur, Fototapeta (Nov. 2002) http://fototapeta.art.pl/2004/hcbd.php [accessed August 2011].

3 |    Cf. Heinz Cibulka, ‘Erinnerungen an Rudolf Schwarzkogler’, [written 2002] http://www.h-cibulka.com/text/hc_erinnerungen_schwarzkogler.html [accessed August 2011]. An impact of Schwarzkogler on Cibulka’s artistic position can be traced along Schwarzkoglers later graphic works – montages of fields of associations [Montagen von Assoziationsfeldern], in which he tries to suppress symbolic or language-related concept formation. Hence reality ‘should be percepted directly and unmediated; only in this way we can achieve a basic and deep-reaching realisation of awareness of reality. We have to clarify the facts and data that are covered and hidden by the deficiency of our notional, language-dependent thinking [R.S.].’ Eva Badura-Triska, ‘Kunst als Purgatorium der Sinne’, in Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Leben und Werk, cat. Museum Moderner Kunst, ed. by Hubert Klocker and Eva Badura-Triska (Klagenfurt 1992), p. 257.

4 |    ‘At the beginning of 1965, I experienced my first action. It was an action by Otto Muehl, the so-called Luftballonaktion [balloon action]. Somewhat later, at the invitation of the artists, I collaborated on the actions of Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler.’ Heinz Cibulka, ‘Es gibt keine Regeln’, 2002. The reference is to Otto Muehl’s thirteenth Materialaktion [material action], entitled luftballonkonzert [balloon concert], which took place in the Perinetkeller in Vienna on 9 October 1964. Cibulka’s first involvement as a participant occurred on 6 February 1965 in Schwarzkogler’s first action, Hochzeit [wedding]; his first Hermann Nitsch action was on 12 June 1965, during his ten-hour ninth action (in which Schwarzkogler, Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Reinhard Priessnitz, and Kari Bauer also participated).

5 |    ‘My proximity to the Actionists, particularly to Schwarzkogler and Nitsch, made me feel compelled to develop performative concepts myself. … At this time, I had tried out a lot – in the area of painting, I had written, made films, and also developed concepts for performances. At that point, I had not yet taken photos based on my own artistic concepts or in order to document actions.’ Heinz Cibulka, ‘Es gibt keine Regeln’, 2002. The following titles offer a good survey of Cibulka’s Materialbilder [material pictures], collages, and his performative work: Heinz Cibulka, Bild Material, 1993, and Heinz Cibulka, Frühe Aktionsrelikte, Materialbilder, Malspuren, Objekte, Fotografien, Übermalungen, ed. by Galerie Hofstätter (St Margarethen and Vienna, 2005).

6 |    The action in question was Nitsch’s forty-fifth, which took place on 10 April 1974 in the Studio Morra in Naples; Cibulka describes the circumstances and consequences of his participation in: Heinz Cibulka, Napoli: N’Gopp e cient (Naples, 1996), unpag. [pp. 1–5]. In this same gallery in 1976, he was able to exhibit his series of picture poems ‘Stoffwechsel’ [metabolism] and perform his table action metabolismo, which involved spreading out a large amount of material and preparing Wiener Schnitzel with meat, eggs, breading, flour, and seasonings.

7 |    Hermann Nitsch, ‘stammersdorf: eine betrachtung’, in Heinz Cibulka, Stammersdorf: ‘Essen – Trinken’ – Fotos, Abschriften von Heurigengesprächen, Heurigenmusik, ed. by Zentralsparkasse, Zweigstelle Floridsdorf (Vienna, 1975), unpag. [pp. 17–19]; Hermann Nitsch, ‘rauschbereit’, in Heinz Cibulka, Stoffwechsel, ed. by Otto Breicha and Kulturreferat der Stadt Graz (Graz, 1977), unpag. [pp. 2–6]; Hermann Nitsch, ‘floridsdorf’, in Heinz Cibulka, Wien Floridsdorf – Donaustadt (Vienna, 1988), pp. 17–26 (repr. in Heinz Cibulka, Bildgenerationen, ed. by Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum and Lucien Kayser (St Pölten and Vienna, 2002/03), pp. 66-77).

8 |    Hermann Nitsch, ‘Rede zur Ausstellung “Stoffwechsel” im Kulturhaus Graz beim Steirischen Herbst 1977’, in Heinz Cibulka, Land-Alphabete: Photographische Arbeiten 1969–1983 (Vienna, 1983), pp. 14–24; Hermann Nitsch, ‘zur objekt- und aktionskunst von cibulka’, in Cibulka, Bild Material, 1993, pp. 11–13 (repr. in Cibulka, Frühe Aktionsrelikte, 2005, pp. 32–36, and in Heinz Cibulka, Obraz#, ed. by Marta Smolinska-Byczuk (Warsaw, 2007), pp. 43–47).

9 |    Hermann Nitsch, ‘heinz cibulka’, in Heinz Cibulka, Mein körper bei aktionen von Nitsch und Schwarzkogler 1965–1975 (Naples, 1977), unpag. [pp. 3–5].

10 |    Peter Weiermair and Heinz Cibulka, ‘Bildgedichte als Suche nach dem ursprünglichen Leben’ as well as Peter Zawrel, ‘Die Kraft des Materials: Bilder’, in Cibulka, Bild Material, 1993, p. 8 and pp. 15–18; Hanno Millesi, Zur Fotografie im Wiener Aktionismus, ed. by FLUSS (Wolkersdorf, 1998), pp. 25f.; Alexandra Schantl, ‘Anmerkungen zu den Bildpoesien Heinz Cibulkas’, in EIKON, 42 (2003) (repr. in Heinz Cibulka and Lucien Kayser, Bildgenerationen/2, ed. by Casino Luxembourg (Luxembourg, 2003), pp. 10–17). The background of this statement by Nitsch, which establishes a dichotomy between documentary photojournalism and individually distinctive, associative or subjective, photography (‘Autorenfotografie’) is discussed in: Kurt Kaindl, ‘Aktion und Fotografie: Über das Verhältnis von Aktionsfotografie und bildsprachlicher Arbeit bei Heinz Cibulka’, in Heinz Cibulka, aktion & Fotografie, ed. by Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna, 1989), unpag. [pp. 14-22]. Regarding the artistic practice of Spurensicherung, see Note 43, p. X.

11 |    ‘… the poetic deployment of mechanically produced images first fascinated me in the form of the artistically composed film. In this field, the Austrian Film Museum [founded in 1964 by Peter Kubelka and Peter Konlechner] served as my academy. The films of Vertov, Dovzenko, Anger, Len Lei, and many other auteur filmmakers, particularly Peter Kubelka, introduced me to the culture of reading the image. ... The position of recording objects and situations with as little commentary as possible and the desire to directly experience the resonance of the filmed objects – purified of all opinions and disentangled from all networks of meaning – were fundamentally influential upon me. This is where I first heard of Peter Kubelka. The dismembering of a recognized whole at its pivotal points, the purification of this material through selection [according to] utility and fit, and also its use in an exclusively poetic sense – Peter Kubelka provided me with a personal example of someone living out this extremely simple path, which could also be recognized in his artistic statements.’ Cibulka, Bild Material, 1993, pp. 20 and 29.

12 |    ‘As Peter Kubelka had suggested for film, Heinz Cibulka aimed at the articulation between the units, that is, between the individual photos. The viewer is now decisively involved in the construction of meaning; he or she has to read and join the images like the individual words of a poem.’ Kurt Kaindl, Wo die Bilder entstehen: Zu Heinz Cibulkas fotokünstlerischer Arbeit, in Heinz Cibulka, Arbeiten 1965–2000, Fotobuch Nr. 26 u. Werkschau VI, ed. by Fotogalerie Wien (Vienna, 2001), pp. 3–16 (p. 8). The constructive principle of the picture poems, as a ‘quadruple form, indebted to Kubelka’s cinematographic theory of articulation, … [with which] a visual and sensual poetry [is produced] where nuances and colour relationships play a special role’, was first mentioned in: Peter Weibel, ‘Künstlerfotografie in Österreich 1951–1981, Abschnitt 3’, in Camera Austria, 14 (1984), pp. 46–51 (pp. 47f.).

13 |    Ponstingl, ‘Präsentationen montierten Sprachmaterials’, 2010.

14 |    For the principle of methodical inventionism, the Vienna Group, and conceptual photography in Austria, see: Peter Weibel, ed. Die Wiener Gruppe/The Vienna Group: A Moment of Modernity 1954–1960, exh. cat. La Biennale di Venezia (Vienna, 1997), esp. pp. 754ff.; Peter Weibel, ‘Künstlerfotografie in Österreich, 1951–1981’, published in four parts in Camera Austria, 9 (1983), pp. 49–58; 13 (1983/84), pp. 46–58; 14 (1984), pp. 46–51; 15/16 (1984), pp. 79–86; Robert Fleck, Avantgarde in Wien: Die Galerie nächst St. Stephan 1954–1981: Kunst und Kunstbetrieb in Österreich (Vienna, 1982). Kurt Kaindl establishes ‘certain points of contact’ between Cibulka’s picture poems and Gerhard Rühm’s photomontages in: ‘Künstlerische Fotografie in Österreich’, in Antagonismes: 30 Jahre österreichische Fotografie (Paris, 1996), p. 52.

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