Translated by Lina Dokuzović
The following article is based on the work
of the Platform History Politics, an initiative of students, activists and
teachers, who are affiliated with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, of which the
author is also a member. The Platform
History Politics began in 2009, as a self-organized project, and defines itself
– as were the other work groups which arose within the framework of the
2009/2010 Academy occupations – as an
open collective that strives towards anti-hierarchical organizational
structures and discussion-based decision-making in its work process. History-political contentions, such as
those carried out by the group, are based on the notion that the construction
of history and its political interpretation are immanent to both the History
Sciences as an academic discipline as well as to history production as a social
practice. Memory can never be terminated. We consider remembering to
rather be an active process, in which we aim at producing and mediating resistant
knowledge which can be empowering for emancipatory interventions into the hegemonic images of history. With
our work, we aim to evoke a continuous process within which the participation
of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in colonialism, Austro-fascism and Nazism is
critically reflected and dealt with publicly. Our activities have, however, consistently expanded the immanent borders of the institution, because it has proven necessary, through the observation of its involvement in regard to the far-reaching ramifications - in the fields of politics, art, culture, pedagogy, science and research, for example, meaning in the social contexts that the Academy is part of as a public art and educational institution.
A toast amidst swastikas
I remember the day I entered the assembly hall of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna for the first time. It was 1999, just a few days after I began my studies in Fine Arts there. On that day – I most likely ended up there for an exhibition opening – I stood in the middle of the room, stunned. It was certainly not because of the excessive imperial grandeur and patriarchal swank that filled the space, but because I saw how the Academy teachers, students and administrative employees exchanged news, wine glasses in tow, during the cheerful reunion after their summer vacation, amidst swastikas, surrounding the assembly hall in the form of ornaments.
A history-political tour
For special occasions, such as anniversary celebrations, the Academy releases books about its history. Wolfgang Wagner, the author of a comprehensive chronicle for the 275-year anniversary, writes in 1967: “Hardly more than two decades after the end of WWII [...] the excessive damage of the war and the NS era is entirely eliminated [...] – undoubtedly impressive evidence of the unfractured vitality of this time-honored institution.” While alluding to the reconstructed wing of the Academy building having been damaged after the attack, the author brews the usual post-war stew out of victim myth and reconstruction pathos, presenting us with a riddle when referring to “excessive damage [...] of the NS era” that has to be seen as “entirely eliminated.” His summoning of glory, honor and unfractured vitality must, on the contrary, be deemed sheer mockery, especially since on all 492 pages of his comprehensive chronicle, he adamantly conceals the Academy and its affiliates’ involvement in Nazi crimes. As a matter of fact, Wagner does not thereby present an exception, but the rule – the institution’s involvement was worth no mention in any of the respective, subsequent publications either.
Second stop: Kaisers’ relief
There was an old German style massive antique table with matching armchairs in the Academy’s conference room. After the number of participants in the collegial conferences rose, due to legal amendments, there would be a need to move to a larger room and to acquire a larger table. The massive antique table was then whisked away into the anteroom of two offices, where it remains to this day. Institution rumors claim that the table was “Aryanized,” meaning it was looted during the systematic dispossession of the Jews and everyone classified as such by the Nazis. Due to the given state of knowledge, it cannot be assessed whether or not that rumor is true or false. However, although the Academy Rector’s Office is aware of the rumor, the appropriate investigation has not been initiated to date. The maintenance of the condition of not-being-able-to-judge is remarkable insofar as it is symptomatic of the way the institution deals with the portion of its property which looted objects could be found in. The systematic research on the provenience of its furnishings and the inventory of its collections, as has been done in the Austrian federal collections as well as in comparable institutions such as the University for Applied Arts, has been missing to this day.
Third stop: warriors’ memorial
In the foreword of the book, “Im Reich der Kunst – Die Wiener Akademie der bildenden Künste und die faschistische Kunstpolitik“ (“In the Reich of Art – The Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and Fascist Art Politics”), from 1990, editors Michael Lunardi, Peter Josef Populorum and Hans Seiger wrote: “There was initially an attempt to initiate a project that would be supported by all groups of Academy associates (students, mid-level faculty, Professors). That attempt failed because of the filibustering done by individual commission members. Ultimately there was a symposium organized on the subject ‘Art in Fascism/National Socialism and the Academy of Fine Arts’ in 1989, which ended up being organized by only one student work group in 1989. This publication has been produced as based on the event and as the conclusion to the entire project [...]. The hope remains that the issues which are missing or have fallen short, or also the questions that have arisen within the contributions, provide the occasion for further research to be stimulated by those responsible at the respective university facilities.”
The Academy’s website states that: “The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna has been a leading European training centre for artists for more than 300 years.” A timetable lists three entries about the institution during Nazism; literally:
“1938: ‘Cleansing’ of the teaching body, appointment of provisional direction
1941: Master class for Art Education
1944–1945: “Teaching was resumed by the provisional Rector Herbert Boeckl in the badly damaged building at Schillerplatz in April 1945.”
That means four words on the expulsion of teachers (the quotation marks do not make a difference regarding the disgusting affirmativeness of the expression used), four words on the Nazification of the institution (whereas that meaning can only understood by those knowing the obfuscated notions), five words on a field of activity which was introduced at the Academy then and which remains to this day (this – entirely uncontextualized – allusion to “achievement” reminds one of the commonly established manner of argumentation, referring to highway and employment policy) and 19 words of self-victimization and Reconstruction Pathos. That means zero words on the expulsion of alleged and actual Jews, on the expulsion of political resistors, on the expulsion of students and administrative employees; zero words on the Nazi paintings, Nazi sculptures, Nazi buildings; zero words on the Nazi ideology and its continuities in teaching. Zero words on the ideological role of art and its institutions in Nazism, zero words on their contribution to the racial-national construction of identity as well as to war and extermination propaganda.
Fifth stop: Nazi bust
Respectable traditions, prestigious commemoration?
“The list of the honorary members of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna reflects the history of this institution in an impressive way,” the Academy proclaimed in June 2010, after the Rector’s Office and the Senate decided to “revive this respectable tradition” and award honorary membership to the painter, Maria Lassnig, and the author, Friederike Mayröcker.
An excerpt from
the condolence letter from the Academy Rector to Hedwig Weinheber from June
6th, 1945: “I was deeply shaken upon receiving the news of the demise of your
consort […] indisputably, the greatest Austrian lyricist of our time. […] With
pride, we count the recently deceased as one of our honorary members, and
filled with woe, we commemorate the great poet’s sojourn at our institution,
particularly the lectures of his own work within the Circle of Friends of the
Academy and the 250-year anniversary of the Academy in October 1942, which was
upheaved by our honorary member through his presence and for which celebration
he versified a glorious prologue for us.
The name of the passed will live on in the Academy
building and his commemoration will be preserved high in honor forever.”
The promise was kept: Josef Weinheber’s name still remains on the Academy’s
list of honorary members to this day.
Sixth stop: archived resistance
Back when I was stunned by the confrontation of the revelers, amidst the swastikas, I did not have the guts to ask about the pattern on the floor. The actions of the attendees seemed so natural that I feared any expressed doubts would trigger doubts about my sanity. Several years later, for a similar occasion, I stood with a group of teachers and told them about that occurrence. In the end, I asked if they were not irritated by the pattern on the floor – “No, why?” – because it consists of swastikas after all. “These are not swastikas, but rather a doubled-meander pattern,” they explained, “which were avidly used as a reference to Greek antiquity in neoclassicism.” That was clear to me, but considering the conducted appropriation of the symbol here in this region through racial-national Germanic movements and their not unsubstantial influence on the history of this country, this city, this institution, the swastika in this pattern cannot simply be repudiated. They seemed irritated: “This pattern could not have had anything to do with swastikas. After all, the admired architect worked during a time when no trace of the Nazis could be found far and wide.” They then looked at me with pity and determined: “Who claims the contrary either disregards the history of the occident or suffers from persecutional mania.”
Intervening in history-writings, attacking politics of oppression
Art is never outside, it is never uninvolved in social disparity, but is always involved in it – along with its institutions. The autonomy of art is nothing other than a frequently debunked myth. However, the way that the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna relates to its own history certainly raises the question of whether that recognition has reached the institution or not. After the appropriate contention of the history-politics of the institution, one is inclined to no longer wonder about anything anymore – not about the not-wanting-to-recognize swastikas nor about the attempt to pathologize the ability to recognize them. However, breaking the perpetuation and normalization of the practices of trivialization, repression and collective oblivion, which characteristically take place in this country, and thereby always examining, denominating and contesting the coalescence of art and power anew is incumbent on each of those of us who participate in the arts as a cultural ideological state apparatus.
It is thereby essential to become aware of the time and content-oriented relations of various systems of exploitation without losing sight of their discontinuities. Nazism, for example, which is eagerly particularized as an “entirely abrupt epoch” in this country, cannot be viewed as an isolated phenomenon, albeit the singularity of its crimes. To do so would be a denial of the coherence and continuities with colonialism and capitalism. Which relations of impact do the Habsburgian politics of expansion, the Austro-Fascist crusader identity, the Nazi “Drang nach Osten” (“Drive towards the East”) and current economic neocolonialism have to one another? How deeply are Catholic anti-Judaism and genocidal anti-Semitism interwoven; how deeply are historical anti-Slavism, anti-Turkism and contemporary racist policies of exclusion interwoven?
Looking at these complexes from an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-anti-Semitic and post-colonial perspective and thereby considering the genealogies of local expansionism and local racialization is the precondition for intervening into hegemonic history-writing and attacking contemporary politics of oppression. These are emancipatory processes to which the disclosure of history-political monstrocities could possibly make a small contribution. This being said, I would like to conclude with a quote by the artist, Ivan Jurica: “Due to the processes of extermination and exclusion on all levels, due to the missing critical positions in history and art history in knowledge production and in our studies, I claim – and this statement is my artwork – ‘By my best will, I can see swastikas everywhere!’”
 The following individuals have worked in the group until now: Sheri Avraham, Sarah Binder, Lisa Bolyos, Eduard Freudmann, Christian Gangl, Maria Huetter, Chui Yong Jian, Tatiana Kai-Browne, Christoph Kolar, Niki Kubaczek, Stefan Lenk, Lisa Lnenicka, Verena Melgarejo Weinandt, Katharina Morawek, Maria Muhar, Georg Oberlechner, Miriam Raggam, Christoph Schiele, Barbara Wilding and Arin Zadoorian.
 See, for example: Lina Dokuzović and Eduard Freudmann: Squatting the Crisis – On the current protests in education and perspectives on radical change, in: Creating Worlds, European Institute For Progressive Cultural Policies, http://eipcp.net/projects/creatingworlds/dokuzovic-freudmann/en
 The indented passages outline six stops of a history-political tour through the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, which was initially presented by the Platform History Politics during the Open House in January 2010, and has been repeated on various occasions.
 An exact reconstruction of the combat at this location is not possible. According to the Viennese Historian, Richard Hufschmied, the facade markings undoubtedly stem from the shelling of automatic rifles and machine pistols, according to the most probable of all plausible scenarios, from the Red Army during WWII.
 The proponents of victim mythologism, who dominated the Austrian public for a long time and who are still in practice to this day, are of the belief that Austria should be viewed as the victim of National Socialist Germany. They mainly aim at denying or trivializing all responsibility and guilt of Austria as well as its population for Nazi crimes. See, for example: “The Victim Myth,” http://www.demokratiezentrum.org/en/knowledge/stations-a-z/the-victim-myth.html
 Walter Wagner, Die Geschichte der Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien, published by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, 1967, pg. 351
 The reconditioning of facilities, which had been destroyed during the course of WWII, was stylized into an identity-generating national narrative in Austria. According to the principles of victim mythologism, there was no place for acknowledging one's own guilt for the crimes of Nazism and the compensation of its victims.
 See: Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien 1872–1972, published by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (Editor of the textual component: Albert Massiczek), Vienna 1972. Martin Bilek, Die Akademie der bildenden Künste 1967/68 bis 1991/92. Statistik der Meisterschulen und Institute, published by the Academy directorate for the 300-year anniversary in 1992. 300 Jahre Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien 1692–1992, composed by the Archive of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (Ferdinand Gutschi). Die Akademie in der Zeitenwende, published by the Archive of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna under the project management of Anja Weinberg, Vienna 2002.
 A temporary intervention by Platform History Politics into the memorial-political manifestation is documented here: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/intervention-kaiserrelief.php
 The title of a poster of the Platform History Politics announcing the history-political tour through the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in January 2010: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/poster-rundgang2010-01.php
 The “Monument of the Demand for Provenience Research and Restitution,” an intervention by the Platform History Politics, is documented here: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/intervention-tisch.php
 Burschenschaften are academic male communities in the German-speaking region. In Austria, they are primarily affiliated with pan-Germanism and a far-right-wing credo, some of them openly associate with neo-Nazism and its players. For more details, see e.g.: Footnote 35 in “Fortified Knowledge: From Supranational Governance to Translocal Resistance” by Lina Dokuzović and Eduard Freudmann; http://eipcp.net/transversal/0809/dokuzovicfreudmann/en/#_ftn35
 Academy archive: 436/1946
 An intervention by the Platform History Politics into the memorial-political manifestation is documented here: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/intervention-kriegerdenkmal.php
 Hans Seiger, Michael Lunardi, Peter Josef Populorum (Eds.): Im Reich der Kunst – Die Wiener Akademie der bildenden Künste und die faschistische Kunstpolitik, Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, Vienna 1990. Subsequently referred to here as: Im Reich der Kunst
 The Academy has not dealt with those expulsions yet. Therefore, there is no list of expelled persons and it is not known whether additional expulsions, besides anti-Semitic and politically-motivated ones were carried out. See, for example, the poster by Platform History Politics announcing the history-political tour through the Academy of Fine Arts in January 2010: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/poster-rundgang2010-02.php
 Letter from the Secretary of the Academy, Eduard Josch, on behalf of the provisional direction to the vice mayor and head of the Office of Culture, Hanns Blaschke, from December 10th, 1938 (Academy archive: 1271/1938), from: Im Reich der Kunst, pg. 32
 Reply from the Municipality of the City of Vienna on January 18th, 1939 (Academy archive 91/1939), from: Im Reich der Kunst, pg. 32
 An intervention on the topic is documented here: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/intervention-schillerplatz.php; and here: http://at.indymedia.org/node/18334
 http://www.akbild.ac.at/Portal/akademie/uber-uns/Geschichte; retrieved 10 Sept. 2010
 In order to distract from, trivialize and relativize Nazi crimes, Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in Austria tend to allude to aspects of Nazi politics which are (able to be) seen as positive by the broader population. The purportedly “proper employment policy” (Jörg Haider) as well as the successful construction of highways, supposedly for the “good of the people,” are the most commonly used examples. The fact that such processes base and perpetuate mechanisms of Nazi rule – in the aforementioned cases, for example, on the basis of slave labor and militarization policies – always remain concealed.
 An intervention of the Platform History Politics is documeted here: http://www.plattform-geschichtspolitik.org/html/intervention-nazibueste.php; and here: http://at.indymedia.org/node/18334
 Academy archive: 350/1945
 http://www.akbild.ac.at/Portal/akademie/aktuelles/news/akbild_event.2010-05-20.3233050875; retrieved 10 Sept. 2010
 Passage from the prologue, Weinheber’s “Salutation to the Academy”: “This house, sheltering its own forevermore, as only a homeland does [...]. This house! Praised, because it praises, remain the allegory of true human dignity!” From the catalog for the “Anniversary Exhibition” from October 25th, 1942 to January 1943, published by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.
 Academy archive: 306/1945. Letter from Rector Herbert Boeckl, the handwritten notation “return” indicates that the letter did not reach the recipient. Apparently a letter – contained in the same file – of weakened subject matter and weakened form was sent instead.
 According to the National Socialist Law of 1947, “minimally burdened” Nazis were liable to temporarily limited atonement duty, which extended to tax implications, existential and career implications, political and personal implications, as well as implications on apartments and furnishing. See: the National Socialist Law of 1947. Further development of the Prohibition Law and the War Criminal Law to the NSG 1947, Claudia Kuretsidis-Haider, http://www.nachkriegsjustiz.at/service/gesetze/nsg1947.php; retrieved Oct. 11th 2010.
 Letter to the Ministry of Education from March 25th, 1938. Academy archive: 682/1938.
 Im Reich der Kunst, pg. 89.
 Louis Althusser: “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (Notes Towards an Investigation), in: Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, Monthly Review Press 1971, from the French by Ben Brewster; http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm
 Astrid Messerschmidt, “Postkoloniale Erinnerungsprozesse in einer postnationalsozialistischen Gesellschaft – Vom Umgang mit Rassismus und Antisemitismus,” in: Peripherie – Zeitschrift für Politik und Ökonomie in der dritten Welt, Issue 109/110, 28, 2008. http://www.zeitschrift-peripherie.de/109-110_Messerschmidt_Er.pdf
 See, for example: Max Horkheimer: “Die Juden in Europa,” in: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung VIII/1939. http://www.stud.uni-hannover.de/~muab/horkhe39.htm
 The expression goes back to German nationalist discourses of the 19th century as a buzzword and was used during the 20th century in Polish, Czechoslovakian and Soviet history-writing of German politics of expansion.
 Passage from the performance “The Verbal Extension as the Meaning of an Image,” Graduate work by Ivan Jurica from June 2009 in the Class for (Post-)Conceptual Art Practices at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna; http://abschlussarbeiten.akbild.ac.at/over_view?a_ids=661&a_index=0