On the Images of Magdalena Frey
Speech for an exhibition in the Galerie Hofstätter, Vienna, Sept. 2004
by Hermann Nitsch
do not expect a long speech, a scholarly speech or a speech that will keep you long from celebrating. i happily agreed to talk about the exhibition, because i have been able to follow magdalena's work for years and it has given me great pleasure and i am certain that the pleasure will continue to grow immensely. a word of praise for the gallery. i think it is a wonderful exhibition and also a courageous exhibition.
i have already seen many exhibitions of magdalena frey's work and many catalogues too, and the radical things have often been left out – and here they have not been left out, which i find fantastic, and if you can appreciate the radical expressions, then you can also appreciate the milder ones better as well. what i call radical now is like a spice; it is the pepper and blood and flesh of this tremendous achievement. i want to praise the gallery for daring to do this – and i think it will certainly be worth it for you.
a circle formed in the 60s that consisted of arnulf rainer, peter kubelka, the actionists brus, mühl, nitsch, schwarzkogler, attersee, rühm, the young priessnitz, the young cibulka. i'm sure i have forgotten very important names and it was certainly malicious to do so. these were people who wanted something new and were willing to do that without compromise. the aim was to unconditionally seek the truth, of which none of us knows what it is. our role models were nietzsche, freud, artists from the turn of the century like trakl, musil, especially klimt, schiele, kokoschka, schönberg, berg and webern.
at the time cibulka was uncompromisingly at work as a passive actor for schwarzkogler and for me. many of the photos taken then now hang in the major museums of the world, and we are all grateful to him for what he did for us then.
he developed into a tremendous photographer, and i think the actionists can intrude a bit there, and i can say that his vision was certainly trained by the actionists. for me he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest living photographer, because he delves into what is specific about the medium of photography. photography is often misused to imitate painting, and that is exactly what cibulka and his school do not do at all. since 1983 cibulka has been giving photo courses at the salzburg summer academy. i envied him very much at the time, because oskar kokoschka had taught there, and for me it was the highest honor then to be able to teach at the salzburg summer academy. he was able to do so, and it was also there that he met his wife.
it would be completely false now to deny that magdalena frey was his student, his best student, and that it did her no harm. to be under cibulka's great influence and not be an epigone is a major achievement. i would even go so far as to say that cibulka, with his achievement, created a springboard for magdalena frey and that she, in fact, succeeded in processing all of his influences to create something entirely her own.
and that is what i so love about her work – she reaches into our own flesh and blood, into our moist organs, taking hold of the intestines and even the womb. it is extremely important that this medium of photography can take hold like that. she is not concerned with educational medical illustrations. her whole photographic engagement is too rich in associations for that. here our nature is shown in all its plasticity. this is us. these are our organs. these are our drives. this is our sexuality. in some cases this is our voluptuous and painful existence here and now. i often find comparisons here between the religious and the carnal, and i can find no blasphemy in them. it is the case that the carnal makes the religious more plastic, and the religious makes the carnal more plastic. modern image psychoanalysis is being conducted here. this profoundly concerns us all. this is us. these magnificently large, violent predators that have also engendered even a buddha, even a christ, that have engendered zen buddhism. it is extremely important that nothing is denied with these picture panels, that they show – with a deep view – who we really are, and it should not be taken negatively now when i say: we are predators, that is just the way it is. this does not mean that the whole of creation should be annulled: it is so that one devours another in being – and yet then a "beethoven's ninth" comes out. yet on the other hand this love goes back into our organic reality. what i have said is not intended to glorify any empirism.
great art has been made here, which says: this is how the world is – it is as it is. we are as we are. let us glorify that we are, that we are as we are, because we are exposed to so many moments that enable us to fortunately prove ourselves, that help us to annul the pain. there is a wonderful phrase about the torment of voluptuousness: voluptuousness and torment stand facing one another.
i don't like that it is said that art has a message, but somehow something emerges from the pictures that says: let's live, that is how life is, it is terribly, abysmally and madly glorious.
now i would like to close the circle. i spoke of friends who were involved in a certain upheaval, but now the circle closes and i dare to say that we have found a young friend, and that is magdalena frey with the achievements that are to be seen here in the pictures of this exhibition.
(Translated from German by Aileen Derieg)