With different sites spread across the city, KISS forms a parcours — but not a traditional one that leads from A to B: it is rather a parcours to be experienced while strolling around Vienna, setting off on an exploration of art, culture, and history in public space. The parcours includes existing sites, artifacts, and narratives of cultural significance related to the conceptual framework of KISS and its artworks. Walking around the city this summer is definitively different from other summers; in fact, everything we do is informed by this post-pandemic moment and everything we perceive happens through that filter. In this sense the parcours of KISS and its variety of stations is an invitation to look at and experience some constituting elements of the city — new and old alike — in a different way.
Burggarten and the Citizens’ Movement (1979–1981)
KISS station: Burggarten and the Citizen's Movement (1979–1981), photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
Today, groups of locals and tourists lounge in the meadows of Vienna’s Burggarten as a matter of course. At the end of the 1970s, however, it was strictly forbidden to enter its green areas.
In spring 1979, groups of young activists spontaneously formed the so-called “Burggarten Bewegung” (Burggarten Movement) and fought – not only symbolically – for the right to use public space (and also for the creation of a self-managed youth and cultural center in Vienna). Under the motto “Freiheit für den Burggarten” (Freedom for the Burggarten), the activists simply sat down on the grass – and were deliberately “watered” by the guards. Their number reached 300 people in the summer of 1979. On September 15, 1979, the protesters were finally locked up in the Burggarten by the police and beaten off with nightsticks or arrested. Nevertheless, they continued with their action to sit and gather in the grass. Even punk icon Nina Hagen joined the activists once together with some of her fans.
Despite the occupation of Vienna City Hall in September 1979 by the protesters on the occasion of the open house day, and regardless of Mayor Leopold Gratz’s promise to deal with the demands, no result came from the politicians. The movement remained active until spring 1981. It was not until 2007 that the City of Vienna lifted the absolute ban on trespassing on lawns in city parks. However, only a part of the Burggarten, which is now under federal supervision, is marked as a public lawn.
The Cemetery of the Nameless
KISS station: The Cemetery of the Nameless, photo: Kat1100 / CC BY-SA
Between 1840 and 1940, approximately 600 corpses washed ashore by the Danube whose identification was often impossible; they were buried at the Cemetery of the Nameless. The cemetery is situated in Vienna’s 11th district Simmering on the terrain of today’s Albern Harbor. It was established at this location as the former current of the Danube, prior to its regulation, formed an eddy precisely here, and time and again washed up lifeless bodies from the entire region. Its history dates back to 1700, when the area was not yet part of Vienna’s municipal districts. Given the rich fish stock, a settlement of pile structures was founded by fishermen and -women. They were also the ones who pulled the corpses out of the river and attended to their burial. What initially was scattered graves grew into a full-fledged cemetery by 1840.
But the so-called “nameless” were not just people of unknown identity. The cemetery was also a burial site for suicide victims, unwanted children, victims of violent crimes that were never solved, and later also migrant workers, who died during the construction of the harbor. Hence, it also became a last resting place for those who were refused a traditional Christian funeral.
In 1900, the Cemetery of the Nameless was relocated to its current site, approximately 60 meters from the original. Such a decision became necessary as the old graveyard was repeatedly flooded. The 487 bodies buried up to that point had to be left behind. To this day, they rest in their original graves, for exhumation and relocation would have proven too expensive. As the river current of the Danube changed with the construction of the harbor and, as a result, eddies no longer formed there, fewer and fewer corpses washed ashore. In 1940, the last burial took place at the Cemetery of the Nameless.
To this day the dead are honored each year on the first Sunday after All Saint’s Day: members of the Albern fishing club commemorate the victims by building a raft decorated with flowers and wreathes and floating it out onto the river. A voluntary gravedigger minds for the cemetery, which is now, without doubt, the most renowned attraction in the area. Its special atmosphere has ensured that it not only has its place in tourist travel guides but also appears in numerous films, series, and novels as an ambient setting – perhaps the most prominent is the Hollywood production Before Sunrise (1995) by the US-American director Richard Linklater.
KISS station: Em Gruber (@panikwolke), illustration: Kathrin Conrad
Crip trans activist Em Gruber regularly published tweets during the corona pandemic. Sometimes furious, sometimes funny, sometimes desperate, but always poetic and critical in the same breath, the tweets provide razor-sharp commentary about crisis management during the pandemic, about social eugenics and biopolitics – and more generally, about the apathy of politicians toward people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, and also toward trans people. These reflections are intermingled with very personal experiences and transformations.
Em Gruber presented the Twitter posts on July 24, 2020 at Central Garden on the occasion of the opening of Eva Egermann’s work Hold Me Tight! (with texts by Ianina Ilitcheva), a project in the framework of KISS. Read the text for the event and all tweets here.
KISS station: Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
On June 24, 2020, a feminist protest action took place in Vienna-Favoriten, organized by a Kurdish women’s organization based in the Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus (EKH), an important anti-fascist self-managed social center in Vienna’s 10th district, which is home to activists, migrants, and refugees as well as feminist and leftist cultural and political initiatives. A subsequent solidarity protest in front of the building led to a gathering of the far right-wing group called “Grey Wolves,” who then attacked the EKH, throwing stones, bottles, and firebombs and tried to enter the building by force.
The “Grey Wolves” are known supporters of the AKP (“Justice and Development Party”), the ruling party in Turkey, forged by the merger of several conservative, Islamist, and nationalist parties in 2001. These attacks on the EKH are linked to the repressive politics of Turkey and the persecution of the Kurdish population and bombing of Kurdish areas. Although the violence towards Kurds is without parallel in contemporary Europe, it is condoned by the silence of Western powers, who continue to equip Turkey with military and economic aid.
The coronavirus crisis shows us all the more that solidarity is a fundamental human need, which requires relationships, intentions, and actions grounded in explicit ethical and political commitment. Whether we are confronted by a pandemic or fascism, solidarity depends on how we mutually encounter and engage with one another.
Fleischmarkt 11: IntAkt’s meeting place and gallery (1977–1988)
KISS station: Fleischmarkt 11: IntAkt’s Meeting Place and Gallery (1977–1988), photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
In 1974, a number of female Austrian artists were invited by a jury composed exclusively of men to be part of an “exhibition of female artists,” which would take place at the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art in 1975 – the International Women’s Year. In protest against the selection procedure and the assigned location, a group of artists gathered around artist Christa Hauer and organized two press conferences (one in 1975 and one in 1976). They raised alternative proposals and prepared a list of demands to counter discrimination of women artists in academies and institutions, which were ignored by the politicians in charge. In January 1977, the Internationale Aktionsgemeinschaft bildender Künstlerinnen – IntAkt (International Action Community of Women Artists) was officially formed at Grita Insam’s Modern Art Galerie in Vienna. The founding members were Linda Christanell, Christa Hauer, Hildegard Joos, Angelika Kaufmann, Doris Lötsch, Roswitha Lüder, Ingeborg Pluhar, Doris Reitter, Ise Schwartz, Edda Seidl-Reiter, and Gerlinde Wurth. Their aim was to improve the working conditions and institutional representation of female artists in Austria. They especially fought for official pensions and maternity leaves, for the assignment of female teachers at the academies, and for equal purchasing policies and artwork prices.
In June 1977, they settled at Fleischmarkt 11, in a flat in the Griechenbeisl house, which was owned by Christa Hauer’s family and used as a gallery space by the artist and her husband until 1971. This flat would be IntAkt’s meeting place and exhibition space under the name “Galerie im Griechenbeisl” until 1988 before moving to the alternative cultural center WUK in the 9th district. Margot Pilz – who contributes to KISS with her Hausfrauendenkmal, which is installed at Karlsplatz from July 30 until August 1 – joined IntAkt in 1978 and was an active member for ten years. At the Griechenbeisl, she staged and photographed the legendary performance Das letzte Abendmahl. Hommage an Kremser Schmidt in 1979 – a “women-only” re-enactment of an Austrian Baroque painting representing The Last Supper.
The Fool’s Tower
KISS station: The Fool’s Tower, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
The Narrenturm in Vienna, literally the “Fool’s Tower,” is the oldest psychiatric asylum in Europe, built in 1784. It is a circular fortress with 139 individual cells for the inmates. The construction of the Narrenturm was an important step in the process of separating the mentally ill from the rest of the society. As in all asylums, distinguishing the sick from the healthy represented a violent stigmatization and criminalization of mentally ill patients, who were held with chains behind strongly barred doors.
In 1869 the institution closed. In the 1970s the Federal Pathologic-Anatomical Museum opened on its premises. There is something cynical in this shift as this fortress is now a place where anomaly is displayed. The collection of the museum presents early medical wax moulages of pathologies, archaic tools, and wet specimens of physical deformities. Far from a sensationalist sideshow though, the artifacts bear witness to how the ethical and scientific foundations of modern medicine were shaped, reflecting both its violence and its thirst for progress.
Gustav Klimt: The Kiss
KISS station: Gustav Klimt: The Kiss, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
It is difficult to write about Klimt’s The Kiss (1908/1909). Everything has been said about it. The lovers appear in an unbreakable embrace. They float on a flowerbed, on the edge of an abyss, intertwined in one life and one death. In these times of pandemic, the painting makes one crave all the more a long passionate kiss.
The Belvedere and its architectural splendor, the gold leaf that adorns the canvas, do not compromise the profound significance behind the work. Yet, they make it impossible for the painting to escape its identity and paradigm. It is, after all, the most famous Austrian painting and the highlight of the permanent collection at the Upper Belvedere. Standing in front of the two lovers, one thinks of desire and its displacement. Can this embrace exist in any other space, museum, and abyss? Can we free a painting from its own history?
Vienna’s Jewish Museum
Exhibition view Jewish Museum Vienna: Let´s Dance! The Viennese cafetier Otto Pollak, © photo: Barbara Nidetzky
Although the Jewish Museum Vienna was already founded in 1895 as the first of its kind in the world, it would have to wait until 1988 for its reopening after the closure by the National Socialists. Rather than focusing on the Holocaust, the museum is dedicated to the cultural, artistic, intellectual, and economic accomplishments of the Jewish community for the city of Vienna throughout the centuries.
Until September 18, 2020, the museum is hosting the exhibition Let’s Dance, which tells the story of Otto Pollak, the owner of the legendary Café Palmhof. Located on Mariahilfer Straße 135 in Vienna’s 15th district, the Palmhof was a popular Viennese meeting place, coffeehouse, and nightclub. Pollak lost his business under the Nazi regime; he and his family were eventually deported to Theresienstadt and his brother killed in Auschwitz. His daughter is Helga Pollak-Kinsky, who returned to Vienna in 1957. Her return to the city of her birth is the subject of the nine-part photographic series Back to Vienna – Body Adaptations, realized by artist Johanna Tinzl in collaboration with Helga Pollak-Kinsky in 2016, which is also Tinzl’s contribution to KISS.
St. Leopold Church at Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital
KISS station: Kirche am Steinhof, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
“In terms of sanitation, Vienna ranks last among Europe’s metropolises” reads the harsh introduction to the chapter “Hygiene” of Otto Wagner’s 1893 general regulation plans for Vienna. Hence, it is perhaps of little surprise that his St. Leopold Church, built from 1904 to 1907 as the Roman Catholic oratory of the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital, is not only a decorative jewel of Jugendstil architecture but also a manifestation of many modern principles of hygiene.
With the era of Enlightenment, a veritable hygienic discourse had been established, which conceived the modern body as an “irritable machine” (Philipp Sarasin) that had to be serviced. By the end of the nineteenth century, hygiene had seized most aspects of Central European life – not least because of catastrophic pandemics such as cholera, which last broke out during the 1873 World’s Fair.
“An exclamation mark over the city”: the monumental cupola of St. Leopold sits almost like a crown over the psychiatric ward down below – which later was to become a scene of horrendous eugenic crimes committed by the Nazis. But even if there is “no sentence leading up to it,” as some architectural historians claim, the church is the first expression of early modernist principles of its kind in Europe.
Some architectural and merely decorative details are based on sanitary logics: the marble walls are easy to clean, the sloped floors as well, the rounded furniture prevents injury, and even the holy water drips from above onto expectant hands from a soap dispenser of sorts, instead of pooling in the customary basin “so as to avoid infection.” Last but not least, the light-flooded sacred space itself should ensure “bacteria-free air.”
Little did Wagner know that his radical hygiene aesthetic would not only usher in a period devout to rid itself of any dirt in the metropolis through a rigorous cleansing process, but also any historical rubbish that came along – namely, the ornament.
KISS station: Kongressbad, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
The Kongressbad outdoor swimming pool – called “Kongerl” or “Konge” by locals – is located on the border between the districts Hernals and Ottakring. It was built in 1928 in the framework of an extraordinary work program to reduce unemployment. At the same time, the Kongresspark was laid out in the immediate vicinity; both are named after the Vienna Congress of 1814–1815. In the 1920s, the neighborhood was primarily home to workers, many of whom lived in the nearby Sandleitenhof housing complex, Vienna’s most populous Gemeindebau in the interwar period with more than 5,000 inhabitants.
The Kongressbad was part of a comprehensive municipal bathing pool concept, which was developed for the betterment of public health care. Besides the Kongressbad, the City of Vienna built five other indoor and outdoor swimming pools between 1923 and 1928. They were not intended as mere recreational areas, rather they should contribute to improving the general quality of life of workers, who partly lived under modest hygienic conditions.
The Kongressbad, designed by architect Erich Franz Leischner, was erected on the terrain of a former sand mine and landfill site, and today is a protected monument. In the course of time, the red and white façade, above all, has become iconic; a color concept one could find at other contemporary recreational facilities of Red Vienna, like Schweizergarten or Vogelweidplatz. Stylistically, the design is very functional; nevertheless, numerous playful architectural details were integrated into the building, as was the case with many of the Gemeindebauten. For example, flags and lighting elements cite designs of the Dutch De Stijl movement, or one can find ironic references to the pomp of Viennese palace architecture. The original had a gigantic 100-meter-long and 20-meter-wide pool, which was later transformed into two same sized pools. A special children’s pool was built in 1928 as well, which was considered an exemplary urban project.
Plague Column Vienna
KISS station: Plague Column Vienna, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
In 1679, the bubonic plague broke out in Vienna – and swept across the city, claiming tens of thousands of lives. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, swore an oath to build a monument once the plague was over.
In 1693, the Plague Column was finally inaugurated, displaying a complex baroque iconography and symbolizing the subsiding of the plague as well as the defeat of the Ottomans in the Second Siege of Vienna (1683), both of them considered punishments for sin. In the midsection of the sculpture, under the angels and the Holy Trinity, we see Emperor Leopold I praying to God as an intercessor, his gold-plated crown lying beside him.
Of course, this monument is as much a piece of political propaganda as it is a sacred memorial. The function of a monument as an object of historicist apparatuses is indeed to precipitate the displacement of the past to the past and to instrumentally reduce it to a time-bound and resolved event within a simplified timeline.
Standing in front of the Plague Column and its gold-finished ornamentations, on a hot summer day in 2020, a few months after the breakout of the coronavirus pandemic, surrounded by people armed with face masks, is a strange thing. Even without a clear atmosphere of bereavement, something is hanging over us: it is the shift of temporalities created by collective mourning in two different and yet enfolded moments.
Coming back to a city after mandated confinement due to a pandemic is the slow return to the contingent temporalities of the living who are still seeking something. Among other things, we seek the continued presence of all the ghosts who dwell in the city we return to. Only those who know how to live with the city’s ghosts can inhabit it with intensity over and over again. The omnipresence of those who linger in limbo states teach us how to tuck ourselves away within the dark heat of the cracks and crevices of the city’s wall. May our mourning be far away from monuments!
The platform for disabled, chronically ill and elderly people
KISS station: Self-determination right now! photo: The platform for disabled, chronically ill and elderly people
Self-determination right now!
The platform for disabled, chronically ill and elderly people was initiated during the corona pandemic. It represents the interests of people who live with personal assistance and cannot forgo physical help. In order to protect these people and their assistants, the platform has developed a catalogue/list of measures that meets their specific life condition and related requirements. The platform calls for quick action from politics.
“We are an association of various experts and activists from the disability movement, relatives and supporters of people in need of care, as well as people living in Austria who are put particularly at risk by the COVID 19 pandemic.”
“We, the platform of disabled, chronically ill and old people are very concerned about our condition in the current situation of the COVID 19 pandemic. We experience and fear a further and massive deterioration of our living conditions and also chances of survival if politicians do not introduce protection and support measures tailored to our concrete life realities.”
Both quotes are from the website of the platform.
You can find the complete catalogue of measures here (in German).
The platform online and on Facebook.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
KISS station: St. Stephen's Cathedral, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
When entering the impressive St. Stephen’s – a Romanesque Gothic cathedral and the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna – you cross through a portal flanked by two columns. The one on your left is adorned with a sculpture of a phallus, and on the column to your right you’ll find a leafy vagina sitting on top. Of course, these are not so explicitly carved that you would recognize them right away.
These features may seem unusual for a Christian house of worship, and even more so for a Catholic Church, however Christians have been making yonic art (that is, vulva-shaped art) since they built their first churches. For instance, the ichthys symbol, or “Jesus fish,” was once a prominent pagan symbol representing almost every pre-Christian fertility goddess: Atargatis, Aphrodite, Artemis …
To give another peculiar example, Sheela-na-Gigs are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. These quasi-erotic carvings of females are usually found on Romanesque churches, castles, and other buildings, sometimes together with male figures. The labia, displayed held open, are meant to ward off death, evil, and demons – as if all this can be swallowed up inside. Isn’t it known that Satan cowers before vaginas?
At the time of the construction of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the pagan imagery of the Middle Ages was still a common sight. Therefore, even though the exact meaning of these depictions has been lost to history, one can imagine that the vagina and phallus sculptures placed on the columns flanking the portal are related to the pagan cult of fertility. Flesh and water is where it all began. Before genitals were politicized and simultaneously hidden away, they were worshipped.
Tram Line 71
KISS station: Tram Line 71, photo: Kunsthalle Wien 2020
In Vienna, when one says somebody took the 71, it doesn’t just mean a tram ride to the Central Cemetery, but literally the journey into the grave. This linguistic twist not only refers to the route – tram 71 runs from Vienna Stock Exchange on the Ringstrasse to the 3rd gate of the Central Cemetery, and since recently further on to Kaiserebersdorf – but also has historical roots. In 1918, when the Spanish Flu was raging in the city, three wagons on the line were transformed into hearses. At the time, coffins were typically transported with horse-drawn vehicles; however, with the spread of the pandemic and the resulting higher death rate, they were becoming scarce. Officially, the disease caused 4,500 deaths in the city. Today, experts estimate the number of victims at approximately 9,000.
To avoid causing a stir, the corpses were only transported at night – during the day the wagons were needed for their usual purpose. On the adapted tram wagons, wreaths hung in honor of the deceased from a fixture mounted specifically for this purpose. This addition remained intact after the pandemic. Line 71 was used for the transport of corpses until 1928, and then once again during the course of World War II. What almost took place in secret in 1918 was later practiced more openly: from 1939, the Viennese tram network had three special wagons for the transport of corpses, which were painted black or gray and could accommodate 20 coffins per unit. With the end of the war, this practice came to an end, too. But the 71 is still there today as the most frequented form of public transportation for visits to the Central Cemetery.
Weg zur Arbeit – A song by Georg Kreisler
The first encounter the KISS curatorial team had with Georg Kreisler was at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. We listened to his “Weg zur Arbeit” (On the Way to Work), a satirical song he wrote about a man, on his way to work, somewhere and sometime in post-World War II Austria.
Everything has gone back to “normal,” or, as Kreisler sings, For most people, that’s the way life goes. The beginning of the song feigns normality, but as the cabaret music drives us along, we hear him describe a man greeting his neighbors every single morning, most of them involved in the horrors of Nazism. They could be the same people who made Kreisler himself flee Vienna in 1938.
Georg Kreisler wrote the song in 1968, a year when Jewish youth, inspired by the May 1968 rebellion in France, started remaking Jewish institutions in Austria. Music cabaret artist Georg Kreisler is not associated with the 1968 movement, but his songs are all about revolt – and his weapon a beautifully and tastefully conceived dark humor, devised as a way to bear the unbearable.
Just as cheerfully I greet the barber’s assistant Navratil
Who was also in the SS – or was it the SA?
Once he hinted, when he cut my hair
At what exactly happened to Rosenblatt in Dachau
He was just twenty, twelve years younger than Rosenblatt
Now he’s fifty, and a most agreeable barber
“Good day, Herr Hauptmann” – Hauptmann is just his surname
He was a colonel, and in France transported a good few to their deaths
He still works in transport – nothing has changed
The list of stations associated with KISS will be continuously extended during the project.