Megan Hoetger, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Vienna Actionists lecture, Werby Gallery, Cal State Long Beach, May 3, 2011

As part of Jim White’s all-performance MFA thesis exhibition at Cal State Long Beach last week, Megan Hoetger delivered a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style lecture on the Vienna Actionists. Modeled on the famous series of children’s game books, the lecture consisted of numerous possible exploratory paths through the histories of the Actionists, with each fork in the road determined by audience vote. (This particular lecture had the added performative element of being delivered in Hoetger’s drag persona, “Pearl”—previous versions have been delivered “straight.”)

For example, after an introduction that set the stage by asserting that the Actionists were not so much a clear-cut entity or movement as they were a disparate collection of individual practices, Hoetger asked people to choose between the following topics: the myth of Rudolf Schwarzkogler, or castration myths? This of course was a trick question (the two topics are the same) designed to point out the most popular misconception of the Vienna Actionists. While many people believe that Schwarzkogler actually cut off his own penis in the course of a performance and subsequently died from it, the truth was that the mutilation was staged with pork sausage on the body of Heinz Cibulka. Schwarzkogler died years later from a fall, which was possibly a re-enactment of Yves Klein’s famous fall (but that’s another story altogether).

From that beginning, subsequent path choices included: live events vs. tableaux; l’informe vs. the abject; Heidegger’s concept of destruction; Benjamin’s concept of destruction; Marcuse’s polymorphic perversity; Bataille and the problem of the lingchi; analysis of Scarry’s The Body in Pain; a brief history of the political situation in Austria directly after WWII, etc. In Hoetger’s own words, “Paths may circle back on themselves, jump radically across ideas, but never do they lead to a single endpoint.”

Why don’t more academics deliver lectures like this? I thought it was a delightfully engaging intervention into the droning, single-voice monologue that we are typically subjected to in the academic environment. The participatory lecture also succeeded in evoking the lively dynamism and many gray areas of the topic at hand, instead of reducing it to a pointed, linear narrative. To Hoetger’s credit, the histories were rigorously researched and the presentation was never sloppy, but rather quite well organized, with a strong internal logic.

This lecture was previously delivered at Pieter PASD in early 2010. Hoetger will continue to develop it for future presentations—contact her on Facebook if you’re interested in hosting one!

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