(der Worte sind genug)
It was around 1978, when I went on a school trip to Berlin. It was part of our political education to take high school kids at the age of 16 or 17 to West Berlin to make them experience Germanys post war reality.
I can’t remember what West Berlin meant to me those days. Certainly it was special. I remember being quite ambivalent. Something like drugs and rock’n roll maybe but also a place where all the ones who didn’t want to join the army, and the ones who didn’t want to cope with West-German reality have stranded.
We had long hair, were wearing second-hand furs and adidas boxing boots and draw on our blue jeans with ballpoint pens.
I loved to draw when I went to school and that was the reason why a schoolmate of mine asked me, whether I would like to meet his uncle from Berlin, somehow an artist, as he said. We met Dieter Kunzelmann. He has been at the same high school as we were, the so-called Old Gymnasium, a school in Bamberg, a little old town in northern Bavaria, catholic and conservative. And he had a very nice and good-looking girlfriend.
Inside the first bar we went, he told her, that this was the place they met after the "Shah-Demo" (1). In the next bar at the pool table, he told her about some other meeting after some other demonstration we boys had never heard of. We were a little bit bored and wanted to go somewhere else, where something was going on. He took us to some kind of club where a singer songwriter sung his self-composed songs, somehow boring, somehow German. And as we were commenting how boring all that was to us, Dieter jumped up all of a sudden and shouted towards the stage, how boring the songs were, no content, no political message. Of course everybody turned around and looked at us and someone next to our table recognized him right away. "Oh god, Kunzelmann is around", he shouted and Kunzelmann shouted back and we were totally embarrassed and tried to hide behind the table. Fortunately his girlfriend made him leave the club. She apologized and we went back to the hotel, commenting how nice and how good looking she was and how she could stand the crazy old uncle.
The next day my class mate Mark was asked by our Latin teacher whether we had met his uncle Dieter Kunzelmann. We denied and he warned us not to meet him because Dieter once was a student of his and therefore he would know what bad influence he could have on us.
It took me almost 20 years until I realized whom I had met.
I had become an artist then and as someone connected my work to some Situationistic tradition, it made me research on Situationism. I discovered a catalogue from 1991 in the public library "Hippopotamus of the hellish jungle"(2), the Situationist International, the group SPUR, the Commune 1, containing a long interview with him and lots of photographs of his, it was him, Dieter Kunzelmann, being part of it all.
Art tends to deal with fundamental experiences of peoples interaction and since the 90ties that includes again politics. To be precise, what we see in today’s art is more about the problems, which are caused by contemporary politics. Maybe this so called "political” became again relevant in the arts because the politics itself has lost its meaning. At least the type, we were used to until 1989, the struggle in-between ideologies and political systems. In fact, who believes in politics today and hopes for change at the same time? Who does still believe, that an other party in power would change the structures of power? Don’t we vote just in order to avoid the worst? And there are many who don’t trust in journalism either. Aren’t the ones who believe in media suspected as being naïve? – Media is artificial and journalists are dependent on their job and their income.
Amazingly enough we tend to trust the artist. Maybe because authenticity is one of the last criteria for today’s art. And why should the artist lie? Even if he lies, it is some kind of truth. And for sure it is true, that artists spend a lot of energy without ever being asked, a lot of their own money, risk to get in trouble, risk a quiet life with a pension, to deal with migration, the loss of the public space, woman trafficking, what ever it might be. "They are the last ones who try it on there own", as Harald Szeemann said, – against all odds.
I, as a recipient, am sceptical, because I have to admit by watching all these hyped topics, all I do is talk, but does it ever cause pain? Does it change my mind; does it change me and make me act differently? Am I not anyway on the safe side, in some fancy gallery in Berlin or New York? Is art the thrill for the ones who prefer to stay at home?
And at the same time, I don’t trust in art either. Not because I doubt, that art is about the truth, but about faking, inventing, or creating some truth, more about the artificial than the real. I doubt, not because I am an artist myself, but because I ask myself whether the system of art is the one, that represents best the schizophrenia of the capitalistic society, a system that corrupts you permanently in a tricky way. A system that does not exploit you, but makes you exploit yourself to be a part of it. And maybe I doubt, because recently a friend of mine who is a management consultant said to me, that the system of art is the most authoritarian one he knows.
Since Duchamp we have to be aware, that the power of definition decides between importance and marginality. In any other profession it’s enough to be good. However in art there is no need for mediocre artists, except for being the background for the few who are chosen to represent a trend in contemporary art, chosen by the few, who have the power of definition.
Art is not about meaning, but about personalities, names if you’d like, which represent certain types of meaning. One Picasso is enough for cubism, one Duchamp enough for the readymade, one Beuys enough for a century.
In art, the winner takes it all. That is the cause of my doubts. Because it doesn’t seem to be a system where you give the looser a chance.
Therefore I was very surprised to hear about the Situationists, to hear about people, I never had heard of. As art history is still the history of the known ones, the successful ones, about heroes. I couldn’t believe, that there would be some forgotten, or some undiscovered ones. I didn’t believe, that there is some "Secret History of the Twentieth Century”, as Greil Marcus subtitles his famous book "Lipstick Traces" (3) from 1989.
The role model of the antihero came into my mind, which may have existed since forever, but became very fashionable in the 20th century. I thought about the film noir of Hollywood’s 1930th – there is always some sad looking guy, who is neither good or bad, almost a drop out, but very human (never super human), who fights a corrupt system, doomed to fail. He is usually a he. The antihero is a hero as well. His success is not a military victory, on contrary. He succeeds by failing (to use some kind of Orwell’s logic). That’s how he wins our hearts. He doesn’t believe in the good (anymore), but fights for it until the end. There is vulnerability. What he does, sounds almost like a sacrifice to me. There is no visible change in the end, but there is some space for vision. He may fail for us, but we may succeed. History will justify.
Is the antihero the artist of the 21th century, undiscovered, constantly failing, human, maybe anonymous?
Van Gogh would be one of these mythological figures, but how about others, how about Dieter Kunzelmann? The German press usually calls him "polit-clown" (not a political clown, but a clown into politics).
Can you judge if he is political, an artist, an antihero or maybe none of that. At least I am going to make him less "anonymous". I am going to give you some dates of his CV and I want to quote these parts of the interview he gave in 1991 (4), especially these extracts when he was the theorist of SPUR:
"I know, what the astrologist Trionski researched in 1967, that I was born at the same hour and the same minute 150 years after the assault on the Bastille. July 14, 1789 plus 150 years = July 14, 1939 (5)"
"I was once table-tennis champion of the students from Upper Franconia. That’s something I can remember and during the debates of the Bundestag (6) at the age of 15, 16, I was already so politicized, I was with my ear on the radio. (…) It was about rearmament or neutrality."
Quitted high school during the 6th year.
Started to work as apprentice as a bank clerk in Coburg (northern Bavaria).
Read all through the nights. "I was a Hermann Hesse fan."
1959 Quitted apprenticeship from one day to the next, broke up with his family and hitchhiked to Paris. Lived as a Clochard in Paris, than in Marseille.
Hitchhiked around Germany, settled in Munich, spring 1960 meets SPUR and becomes their theorist.
When did you start to write poems and essays?
"I think it started with SPUR (7). I was 20. They wanted me to write prefaces to the catalogues, they wanted me to become a writer. They were searching for someone who could write."
"Prem and Sturm were from the Bavarian Forest, Zimmer from Hamburg. They were cool guys. We hang out until 5 a.m. (…) They wanted something, me too. What, nobody knew. I was fascinated that people sold a magazine (SPUR) on the street.”
"Asger Jorn discovered the SPUR-paintings (…) And Asger Jorn made contact with the Situationists. Asger Jorn is the main figure – as an artist, as a cultural rebel as a person. (…) He saw the paintings in the gallery van der Loo. (…) He was a fascinating personality. He was about 20 years older than we were. He wanted to strengthen with SPUR the artistic side of the Situationists in addition to the pure intellectual. (…) For him SPUR was in fact the ideal mixture. On the one hand they were o.k. with painting and on the other, social references, playful positions. He wasn’t so rich in the early sixties, but he financed everything with his paintings. He gave Bleicher or van der Loo a painting and then they got all the bills. For the coloured edition No. 6 "SPUR in Exile”, Asger organized that printer in Copenhagen for us."
"O.k., Debord always paid attention who was fetched in (the Situationists) and who wasn’t. He kept watch. The group SPUR organized the congress in Munich in 1959, and suddenly, they were Situationists. That happened en passant. That wasn’t a big reflection."
Wasn’t the orientation of IS towards the proletariat something strange?
"Zimmer told that story, that Prem said, if we don’t accept the proletariat we fall out with the Situationists, if we accept it, we fall out with the Munich art market. (…) This discussion took place in Goeteborg (1961) during the Situationist congress. It was the first and last one I took part."
"In terms of the commune concept: in Munich we didn’t live together. But during this several month long trip we were all the time together. First in Drakabygget (8), then in Copenhagen (9) and Goeteborg, where the Is-congress took place. It was a very fruitful time (…) the first coloured SPUR-magazine was made then. (…) I drew for the first time my attention towards the whole development in Denmark. (…) I experienced for the first time a functioning civil democracy. (…) We made a nice painting on a wooden fence next to new building, a huge wall painting. Nobody was arrested there. We painted the whole wall down town during the night; people in that neighbourhood regarded it as enrichment. In Munich then, some thing like that was impossible. You would have been arrested right away. Therefore you never thought about something like that. In Copenhagen there was a totally different openness."
"SPUR always talked too much about the Situationists, instead of having a critical look. (…)"
But you’ve got what it was all about?
"I doubt until today."
What was it about at the congress?
"I can’t remember. It was somehow about Debord’s basic question: he had persecution mania. In opposite to the situationistic ideas, that everything could be, or should be handled in a playful way, whether you call it "détournement" or persiflage, he always had the trauma to be venal."
And he defended himself…
"That wouldn’t have been so horrible. The trauma was so big, that he took amiss, that everybody who was a member of the Situationists, especially those who were excellent artists, didn’t have this trauma. Jorn never had a problem to sell a painting, to meet with success at the art market. On contrary, the more success he had the more he could finance. And Debord was always somehow afraid and he had to play the Stalinist, the main watchdog. Every artist has failed, as soon as he is bribed by the art market."
But isn’t it a problem…
"As a collective it isn’t a problem. What did he reach with the trauma? It is just one facet; there were other traumas as well. It was already about this in Goeteborg, that he was afraid that SPUR uses the Situationists to succeed on the art market, it was also mentioned in the declaration of exclusion against the group SPUR. That applied for sure to Lothar Fischer. But it wasn’t true for any other of the ones being present at Goeteborg. I am very sure about it."
Do you think that he had a better vision in terms of the integrative power of the civil society? "Am I integrated? Was Prem integrated, by committing suicide in 1978? Was Hans-Peter Zimmer integrated? How should Debord know, if he didn’t know about himself."
How were you told that you were excluded? "By a printed postcard . It came by mail. We already noticed the crises (…) After Goeteborg we should have travelled once to Paris to have some rum with Guy. Debord has playfully mystified his life, o.k. that’s nice, you never could locate him, there are famous stories about trying to visit him, but at the same time he needed a lot of love. He was very isolated as an individual. It always took a while until he opened up; he was just a French intellectual.
It happened as well because of the magazine with Marinotti, in fact it wasn’t necessary that SPUR produced this no. 7 only with graphics and a magazine purely financed by Marinotti. He had already had trouble with Marinotti because of that island, where Marinotti wanted to invest billiards to build an urban city. Because Marinotti didn’t agree that there would be explosives built in the city. Debord insisted in building in explosives. Marinotti didn’t want to. (…) Asger Jorn told us about it. I liked the idea with the explosives. It could have happen that only tourists would have come to the city and Marinotti would have guided only American gallerists though the city and than Debord would have had this passage in the contract: If the Situationists decide, that we don’t inhabit this city anymore, it is not allowed to sell it as an art object, therefore it will be blown up… the gift will be destroyed. A plausible idea. But if for a billionaire as Marinotti was one, it was about amounts he had to cope with."
(…) Heimrad (Prem) as well had a trauma, he was afraid the Situationists would forbid him painting. (…) Because Asger Jorn wasn’t part of it anymore, because SPUR wasn’t a part anymore, all the artistic creativity, all the productivity was damaged. Because Debord kicked out all the artists who did something. What’s left over is the myth that the Situationists had anything to do with the Parisian May, I deny it, all of it was launched by Debord, it is known, that he was on the Bahamas in May 1968."
You didn’t react on the exclusion. What was your position?
As far as I remember Hans-Peter Zimmer was the only one of SPUR, who was able to look beyond his canvas. The hyped Guy Debord was a simple fad, a very charming, nice, real fad. I am more and more convinced, that Asgar Jorn was searching for a figure, which would run around for him. I suppose that Asger Jorn invented the figure Guy Debord, in that terms that somebody was necessary to play the executor, to play the Stalin. Asger Jorn financed everything of the Situationists. Debord would have starved to death without Asger Jorn. (…) I do not want to exclude that the executor and writer of theoretical texts, was invented by Asger Jorn and was given the name Guy Debord. I can’t exclude that this created figure by Asger Jorn, there is every reason for these people, gained some autonomy. The exclusion of SPUR was caused by Asger Jorn and not by Guy Debord. He was then still a figure of Asger Jorn. (…)
Hans-Peter (Zimmer) financed then the magazine "Noncommittal Guidelines" of the "Subversive Aktion". One edition was printed in Odense (10), it was realized by Hans-Peter with a painting of his."
The language you used with Subversive Aktion (1963-64) was a different one to SPUR times. You were already talking about micro cells…
"The goal of founding Subversive Aktion was already that what finally took place years later in its artistic political and cultural revolutionary creativity with Kommune 1.
(…) We have been persiflage of an organisation. This is expressed by the title of the book on the Subversive Aktion: "The task of the organisation is its failure". This is taken out of "Noncommittal Guidelines" 1 or 2. (…)"
What was taken over from IS, or was Subversive Aktion reduced on discussions, editing magazines, publishing articles, what was your practise?
"Already in the invitation card for the foundation meeting (…) there is written: "Nothing to talk about (der Worte sind genug)"
Sept. 1962 Kunzelmann quits SPUR
1963 Subversive Aktion is founded as a new revolutionary group
1964 meets Rudi Dutschke
1966 meeting in Kochel, discussion together with Rudi Dutschke, Bernd Rabehl a.o. about founding communes as a revolutionary practice; beginning of the antiauthoritarian movement
1966 Viva Maria
(The same night after attending Ernst Bloch’s first guest lecture "principal hope" at the Free University FU, Berlin, Kunzelmann, Dutschke a.o. watched the movie "Viva Maria" by Louis Malle. After watching the movie every night for almost one week the group "Viva Maria" was founded in order to realize the film’s concept, transporting revolution from so called 3rd world countries back to the first world.)
1967 Kommune 1 (Dieter Kunzelmann, Fritz Teufel, Rainer Langhans a.o.)
April 11, 1968 Attempt on the life of Rudi Dutschke
1977 co-founder of the party AL (Alternative Liste Berlin, today Bündnis ’90 / die Grünen)
1983-85 Deputy of the Senate of Berlin, as a member of AL.
After throwing twice eggs onto then the mayor of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen, sentenced to ten months of prison. Pretended to be dead, undercover for two years in Denmark and Italy. Came back to Berlin in 1999 to celebrated his 60th birthday and went with his friends to the prison next morning, asking for entrance. Dieter Kunzelmann kept three eggs in his prison cell all through the 10-month imprisonment. Leaving the prison, he through the eggs against the prison gate.
1 Very known demonstration in Germany’s post-war history, against Reza Pahlewi, Shah from Persia, at his visit to Berlin in June 2, 1967. A policeman and agent of the GDR killed Benno Ohnesorg.
2 "Nilpferde des höllischen Urwalds", Situationstische Internationale, Gruppe SPUR, Kommune 1, Wolfgang Dressen (editor), Werkbund-Archiv, Berlin, 1991
3 "Lipstick Traces. A secret History of the Twentieth Century", Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989
4 Interview by Wolfgang Dressen, Helmut Höge and Eckhard Siepmann, in "Nilpferde des höllischen Urwalds", Situationstische Internationale, Gruppe SPUR, Kommune 1, Wolfgang Dressen (editor), Werkbund-Archiv, Berlin, 1991
5 in Bamberg, Germany
7 Hans-Peter Zimmer, Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm, Lothar Fischer
8 a farm in northern Danmark, which belonged to Jörgen Nash, the brother of Asger Jorn.
9 where SPUR no.6 was printed.
10 City in Denmark
Published in Art-Ist 08 / Situationist International, Istanbul 2004
Editor: Sezgin Boynik and Halil Altindere