monochrom of Vienna, Austria (they eschew the capital ‘M’), visited San Francisco in July, 2005, and did several performances sponsored by the Rx Gallery. Members of the audience were ‘buried alive’ in a coffin, and the art group constructed a medieval catapult which attempted to set a world record for hurling outdated cellphones. Monochrom founder Johannes Grenzfurthner was interviewed by V.Vale for the Counter Culture Hour. Here are some highlights of the interview.
JOHANNES GRENZFURTHNER: Since 1993, monochrome is an art group focusing on technology, politics, and art. We are Context Hackers. Anytime you do anything, you have to think about the context in which it’s placed.
VALE: You represented Austria at the 2002 São Paulo Biennale, the world’s third largest art fair.
JG: We tried to formulate a big statement about art, politics and representation. Instead of sending monochrom, we decided to send a different artist named Georg Paul Thomann. He was born in 1945 and did a lot of stuff. He was the father of Austrian avant-garde art. He was part of the Viennese Actionists. He was part of the Punk movement in San Francisco and had a couple exhibitions here and then went to Germany. He was part of every big art movement and pop culture movement. He was even doing machine art projects before Mark Pauline and Survival Research Labs. He wrote the first German cyberpunk story.
[‘Thomann’s biography includes his wunderkind childhood, references to and parodies of the Vienna post-war avant-garde, anecdotes of his irascible distrust of Austrian authority, his involvement with Communist politics, his sexual adventures, and his departure from Vienna for impossible international travels where he intersects with avantgarde and political activities country by country. Thomann was constructed as a fantasy-induced father of contemporary Austrian art.’‹Seamus Kelly, Unterspiel catalog for an exhibition featuring work by monochrom and others]
But he doesn’t exist, because we invented him! We created Georg Paul Thomann as a kind of art avatar. Because he was fictitious, we could write his biography and control his life. So about twenty- five of us collaborated in designing the life and art of Georg Paul Thomann, publishing a 600- page book. This was an interesting way of dealing with the arts and pop history of the last forty years. About fifty percent of the people he allegedly met are fakes, too, so we have a lot of fakes and sub-fakes.
We created Georg Paul Thomann and sent him to the Biennale. Of course, he never showed up at the Biennale; he was always sitting in his hotel room and watching the porn channel, and we had to do all his work. So basically, we were his technical support and build-up team. People would ask, ‘So where is Georg Paul Thomann? I’d like to meet him again; I think I met him twenty years ago at an art fair in Dusseldorf’ or whatever. We would reply, ‘He’s just sitting in his hotel room. We’re rather happy that he doesn’t show up, because he’s quite an asshole.’
The Biennale is huge, with a hundred countries represented. Most of the artists sit in their small white cubes. They were like small bees sitting in this huge art complex. At the Biennale there’s a hierarchy. There’s the board, and the head curator, and the sub-head curators, and the national curators; the important artists, the notso- important artists, the technical team, and the guides who show you around and explain to you the contexts and all the stuff.
So the first day we arrived there, we immediately explained to the technical people and the guides everything about the project: it’s a fake. Interestingly, the administration and the top curators never knew anything. But the guides were walking around saying, ‘We have some really interesting artwork at the Austrian cube.’ Of course, many, many newspaper articles were published about Georg Paul Thomann . . . a big rumor pump. It was a way for us to actually deal with how the art system works. We could play with the system.
Georg Paul Thomann is quite old now. He’ll die, and we’re preparing his funeral. We’ll go to Tyrol, because he’s from the western part of Austria, and a lot of people working on the project will go to the funeral, and that will finish the project. We already have a really beautiful tombstone, with big letters that say, ‘I want to believe. Georg Paul Thomann, March, 1945 to July, 2005.’ So that will be the end of the Georg Paul Thomann project.
V: Didn’t you get ‘real’ journalists to write critical articles about Georg Paul Thomann?
JG: That’s correct. We at monochrom try to build antibodies against being totally assimilated by ‘the system.’ That sounds like a leftist cliché, but most of our research and projects deal with this possibility or non-possibility of being assimilated. With Georg Paul Thomann, it’s not the first time a fake artist was created; there have been fake artists since the Renaissance, or even before. The interesting thing about our project is: it’s the first time a fake artist represented a whole country and went to a giant art fair. The very day that many people are joining together to create an entity like Georg Paul Thomann, that day he really exists, because reality is a construction itself; there is no ‘real’ reality.
Art is a big system. It’s a big autocratic system of many, many players, and it’s really complex. Art is not only about people sitting in rooms of paintings, it’s about the distribution of art, it’s about the selling of art. There’s a whole system of curators, there’s a whole system of museums, there’s a whole system of articles in magazines about art. So art is not only art. Art is a big, big system of intersecting systems . . . it’s definitely an ecosystem that’s part of the capitalistic system, of course.