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Claus Sterneck / Claus in Iceland
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Wolfgang Sterneck
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Coum Transmissions :



COUM has changed. That is good. Up until late 1976 we performed many actions as art in streets, galleries and festivals. We explored our own neuroses and exposed them publicly. The article/directive ”Annihilating Reality” grew from our conclusions through doing all these actions. We found the artworld on every level less satisfying than real life. For every interesting performance artist there was a psychopath, fetishist or intense street individual who created more powerful and socially direct imagery. We also were unhappy about art being separated from popular culture and the mass media. It seemd to us that it was far more effective propaganda/information dispersal to be written up the the NEWS section of daily papers than in a back page column of a specialist Art journal. Now we much more rarely make actions in Art spaces, we create private documentation. We have moved into the public arena and are using popular cultural archetypes. We live our lives like a movie, we try to make each scene interesting viewing. We use the press to record our activities iike a diary. Our documentation is newspapers and magazines.

COUM TRANSMISSIONS has a diverse membership. At its active core are Peter Christopherson, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P-Orridge. Cosey Fanni Tutti is working as a professional striptease dancer and topless go-go dancer in London pubs, Peter Christopherson is using photography to create private archetypal situations and Genesis P-Orridge is producing private images as Art and then deliberately attempting to manipulate the media to absorb them as ”News” and via the news media distribute these images into hundreds of thousands of ordinary homes to see if it stays art, mutates or just what the implications of elite versus popular are. We try not to mystify or use complicated words unnecessarily. Explanations are always oblique however.

COUM are sometimes distrusted and disliked. People always pretend to want to be lifted out of themselves, but in reality they are terribly afraid of anything REALLY happening to them. We want people to be themselves, and the price of that is to abandon the false ideas one has of oneself. There is no implicit value in anything. People like the sham artists who soothe them with aesthetic platitudes. They dread having to face reality in any form.

Without experiment there is no hope. Without hope there is no point. With no point life is a lie.

COUM is a fusion, not merely of Art, but of many regenerative ideas. The subconscious must be brought out and given life so it engulfs us with its honesty and accuracy. Once Art is brought into line with everyday life and individual experience in public situations, it is exposed to the same risks, the same unpredictable coincidences, the same interaction of living forces. Coum is therefore both a serious and tragic emotional stimulus combining the fruit of experience to create precious, yet expendable, moments in time.

COUM is a mirror of all it coums across and all who coum across it, in any of its forms. With man becouming more and more conscious of his mortality and isolation, his sense of loneliness and meaninglessness is becouming unendurable. All thatwe look at is false. In an age where the image is pillaged, only the anonymous survives. In an age where order is power, think what chaos provides. COUM do not believe that the nature of the final action is important.

London HQ., 1978.


Genesis P. Orridge and Peter Christopherson:


Hearsay: Dervishes dancing to music, sticking spikes through their tongues and cheeks. Pulling a Kris into their chests. Watched on TV right this minute. What makes a performance, art? What are its qualities, strengths, directions, functions? Seven years in Tibet, before the Chinese arrived. Ritual and music performed. How does a conversant insider perceive it? How much can an unversed outsider follow? Is it possible to exist, be justified by, creating curiosity, sheer human interest?

”Psychic reality, and its structuring in terms of internal objects and internal-object relations, is made manifest in fantasy. The myths and legends of primitive peoples, folk-lore and the imaginative crealions of literature and art in all ages constitute a continuous revelation of the fantasy-life of the human race, and throw tremendous light on the workings of the unconscious.”
Harry Guntrip

Hearsay: Aztec ceremonies using control codes, Mayan rituals with acceprance of slaughter of animals, people slowly tortured to death, the art of society and part of instinctive collective fantasy. Dean Corll, arrested 7 August 1973 in Houston, Texas, murdered and sexuallv assaulted 27 teenage boys. Hermann Nitsch’s OM Theatre slaughter 100 sheep in castle grounds in art ritual. selected crowd of art and social elite guests watching, midsummer’s day. High on blood. Is it only legality that prevents the artist from slaughter of human beings as performance?Hearsay: lan Brady and Myra Hindiey photographed landscapes on the Moors in England where they had buried children after sexually assaulting and killing them. Landscapes that only have meaning when perceived through their cyes. Art is perception of the moment. Action. Conscious. Brady as conceptual performer?

”We have but two alternatives left, either the crime that will make us happy or the noose that will put an end to our unhappiness.”
De Sade.

Hearsay: What separates crime from art action? Is crime just unsophisticated or ’naive’ performance art? Structurally Brady’s photos, Hindley’s tapes, documentation.

”The imagination will not down. If it is not a dance, a song, it becomes an outcry, a protest. If it is not flamboyance ir beeomes deformity; if it is not art, it becomes crime”.
William Carlos Williams

”Off to the side, atop the plastic sheeting, lay a hunting knife and its scabbard. An open paper bag held a can of acrylic paint that gave off a faint smell reminiscent of banana oil. A military-type gas mask lay near the bed. A portable radio was rigged to a pair of dry cells, giving it increased volume and power, and a vacuum cleaner was plugged in at the wall. Men’s clothing was strewn about, and there was a wide roll of clear plastic of the samc type that covered the tloor.”
Jack Olsen

Hearsay: The real continuous thread of human art and life is discovering the fundamental, tribal essence of a superficially non-tribal society.Hearsay: Performance art is investigation, a learning situation, actual and direct. People have to be able to emotionally touch art, to feel it allows them to exist.”He got a movie camera and made movies with all the kids that lived around the farm. There were two sisters about a half a mile down the way that played with him all the time, and they’d take a movie of one of’em laying on a table, pretending they were making a doctor movie. They put a sheet over her, and then they got chicken livers and stuff like that, and they’d take kitchen tongs and pretend to he pulling these organs out of her, while Dean handIed the eamera.”
Jack Olsen

Hearsay: The first time I heard of Monte Cazazza in San Francisco he was walking the streers dressed as an old woman; loaded revolver in holster around his waist; he was carrying a small suitcase containing a dead cat and bottle of petrol. He would visit artist friends at their flats. Sit down. open the case, put the dead cat on the floor, pour petrol on it, set it alight. All his spare money is spent on guns. Instead of knocking at Anna Banana’s door he threw a brick rhrough the window.

Hearsay: Edward Paisnel, known as the Beast of Jersey. was found guilty of thirteen charges of attacks on six people on Monday 13 December 1971. On 13 September 1440 Gilles de Rais was found guilty of 34 murders, though it is believed his victims numbered over 300. Rais, Prelati, Poitou made crosses, signs, and characters in a circle. Used coal, grease, torches, candles. a stone, a pet, incense. Words were chalked on a board. Could these rituals preceding child murders, in another context and properly photographed, become 8euysian performance? Are photos of Schwarzkogler reputedly cutting off his penis made acceptable by being framed on a white wall ?

”We should take into account that the turbulent imagination of puberty always has an afffinity with crime.”
Andre Glucksmann

”At the cinema we kill with the murderer and die with his victim.”
A. Poittier

”There is nothing either fundamentally good, nor anything fundamentally evil; everything is relative, relative to our point of view, that is to say, to our manners, to our opinions, to our prejudices. This point once established, it is extremely possible that some thing, perfectly indifferent in itself, may indeed be distasteful in your eyes, but may be most delicious in mine.”
De Sade

Hearsay: Action is merely a discussion of possibilities. Action is a therapy for facing oneself. What makes an action art? What gives it purpose enough? Performance art in particular must admit it is everyone else.

Hearsay: Crime is affirmation of existance in certain cases, high crime is like high art. We are looking for our self-image. Looking is the thing itself, to forget we are only looking is the threat, we fail as soon as we think we know what we are looking for. Mystery is not cheap. emotion is not alien to art. Performance art is probably the Shaman, Mystic, Lunatic, Buddha, visionary of contemporary times, in a post-religious era a crucial and reponsible function best kept away from dealers who are the Pardoners of our culture.

”Tommaso held him with one arm behind his back, and Ugo began to slaughter him, first in the stomach, then in the face. A bit of blood spurted from his teeth at once, and from an eyelid, and he threw up. Then Shitter got out too, and with a kind of moan, began to hit him in the face, the belly, adding a few kicks. When Tommaso let go and the man fell to the pavement, Shitter gave him a couple more kicks in the back and all over, wherever they happend to land. Then they rolled him swollen and bleeding down the rilway embankment, into a clump of bushes.”
Pier Paolo Pasolini

”He learns and then practices the art of gently removing flesh from bones; he then extracts the marrow, usually by sucking it out, and pours molten lead into the cavity.”
De Sade

”Frykowski suffered sixteen defensive wounds in his Ieft arm trying to ward off the Evil. Fifty-one wounds Tex dealt to the spleen, abdomen, left lung, right back, heart, chest, hands. And still the man who twenty-five years before survived the Nazi atrocities in Poland crawled on, till he crumpled.”
Ed Sanders

Hearsay: An almost metabolic need in men brings us together, creates performance art, and there is really nothing that much more special about being an artist unless he makes a special attempt to be everyone else. Otto Muehl’s AA Kommune has seen that art must deal with the existing structures of a mass society with its tribal cultural experiment. Art performance will become academics of possibility by groups.

”The main task of the concentration camp was to lead the prisoners within them to a natural death, following exploitation of their labour power The Majdanek camp near Lublin was established in the autumn of 1940 and was liberated by the Soviet army on July 22 1944. The official number of victims of all nationalities in this camp reached 360.000 dead.”
Tadeusz Mazur

”He possessed extraordinary powers. He gave the impression that he did not touch the ground at all, and he would go round the circle at a pace so great that one constantly expected him to be shot off tangentially. In the absence of accurate measurements, one does not like to suggest that there was some unknown force at work, and yet I have seen so many undeniable magical phenomena take place in his presence that I feel quite sure in my own mind that he was generating energies of a very curious kind. The idea of his dance was, as a rule, ro exhaust him completely. The climax was his flopping on the floor unconscious. Sometimes he failed to lose himself, in which case, of course. nothing happened; but when he succeeded the effect was superb. It was astounding to see his body suddenly collapse and shoot across the floor like a curling stone.”
Aleister Crowley

Hearsay: A new generation of performance artists has arrived. They use existing situations to actually affect society from the inside, to subliminally infiltrate popular culture aware of their perception as art but realising their redundancy. Peter Christopherson joins the Casualties Union, learns to simulate perfectly cuts, heart attacks, fits, bruises. He goes to a training course. Why is he there? He wants to expand his art, he is able to get photos of boys simulating injury. They are not aware of his reasons, his motives are provocative. He makes an advert for national television, trying to give the kiss of life to a drowned boy. Nothing is real except the medium. Millions see his performance, none of them knows. Cosey Fanni Tutti models for pin up and porno magazines, in order to get magazines containing her image. The public buy them, see her, do not know her, do not have to know’ it’s her pertormance art. Jerry Dreva in Wisconsin masturbates onto the pages at a book thinking of passers-by he liked. Each volume is sent away to friends who correspond by mail. The artist understands his action and needs no more, it isn’t to do with recognition any more. Arethuse launches spacecraft in a bay in Sayville, New York, one night. The work is that it receives a mention in a general newspaper. Art magazines never hear. People can enjoy performance without being aware of it. COUM model for LP cover, it becomes a scandal in America, is resting in living rooms and flats, no one knows it was them.

”Vaguely conscious of that great suspense in which we live, we find our escape from its sterile, annihilating reality in many dreams, in religion, passion, art; each a forgetfulness, each a symbol of creation.”
Arthur Symons

’You are not you, you are just reflections, you are reflections of evervthing that you think that you know, everything that you have been taught. My reality is my reality, and I stand within myself on my reality. The truth is now; the truth is right here; the truth is this minute, and this minute we exist.”
Charles Manson

”It is the assignment of the artist to destroy art, that means coming closer to reality. Because I knew no other way than art to get to reality, I intensified my actions to extremely aggressive undertakings. Suddenly I stood there alone. I could not abolish the discrepancy between art and reality, I couldn’t achieve an identity through art, I couldn’t unify art with reality.”
Otto Muehl

”Art unmasks itself here as a derivative of reality. Reality without art is only half-reality. Art without reality is no art.”
AA Kommune

Heresy: You can hang a theory, context and significance onto almost anything. That is not a primary justification. A public should not feel that they need to understand, or that meaning is in any way integral to the possibility of inclusion in a work.

”I wore a special costume designed by Janco and myself. My legs were encased in a tight-fitting cylindrical pillar of shiny blue cardboard which reached to my hips so that I looked like an obelisk. Above this I wore a huge cardhoard coat-collar, scarlet inside and gold outside, which was fastened at the neck in such a way that I could flap it like a pair of wings by moving my elbows. I also wore a high cylindrical, blue and white striped witch-doctor’s hat.”
Hugo Ball

Heresy: Performances, especially outdoors, are by their nature more immediately inclusive. Benefiting from surprise and human curiosity. Often the bias against Modernism and an art context can thus be sidestepped. This mental inclusion by fascination creates a situation where the public create by expectation and empathy.”We are ever more attracted by our own existence. Every work of art is nothing but the mystique of the being. The aesthetic which pushes us until horror.”
Hermann Nitsch

”As Houdini rose from the couch the boy smashed him in the stomach. Houdini gasped. He hadn’t been ready. He was white but he set himself and the boy hit again to feel what seemed like an oak plank. Houdini’s side bothered him. During the matinee he suffered pains in his right side but faithfully chose to ignore it. By evening it was worse and Bess wanted to call a doctor. ’No’ was the answer.”
Allan Ruppersberg

”The central interest is distortion; personal distortion manifested through the body and motivated by physical contact. It is important that this distortion should be operative both in form and content; it could also be extended to areas directly related to the personal outside of cultural traditions (such as art).”
Denis Vasi

”Therefore, one must take reality into account and actually my awareness of the real, depending on my mood, has thousands of facets...”
Urs Lüthi

Heresy: In performance art transience plays a large part. It is mortal like us. Is born and dies. Immediately it becomes more universally acceptable. An invisible thing happens between doer and watcher. Each watcher interprets slightly differently, each is right for himself in interpretation. The sum total of all interpretations is probably still only part of the whole meaning, which is immortal. There is no conclusive truth, so everyone in a sense is the artist.Heresy: Art is too offen a pale reflection of what alreadv exists. Especially performance art. The pictures in tit magazines are negated in content by repetition. They serve however an incantatory function. Magic. Cosey Fanni Tutti in her action 1973-76, Prostitution, discovered the owners of these magazines need them as much as the customers they despise. One man at Premier Camera Club, once a week, photographs a different girl in the same pose and underwear. He keeps all these variations in a huge book, years of photographs. If this were framed and mounted in rows in one of our minimal galleries, with a fashionable artist’s name given as its creator, would that make it acccptable to you? Is the photographer then an artist? Is the model an artist? If the artist chooses to be the model is it then art?

”The artistic nude gets out of its traditional constriction and, similar to a wreckage, it finally liberates itself from the reproduction machinery used for information. The artistic nude and spectacle have by now become a single thing.”
Rudolf Schwarzkogler

Heresy: Performance art can he like a priest in a church, a special atmosphere, intangible, always unique. Something belonging only to those present. Like a death in a close-knit family. Described later, or in photographs, it’s not the same; it never can be. Performances are not the thing in itself, nor are bi-products like photographs. All are luxuries after merely being alive and sharing in that fact.

”The artist should have the opportunity to place environmental situations in such a way that they are useful for consciousness. These situations should not limit somebody but should help to free activities. For instance people should be continuously aware of time in their environment. By this experience everybody could measure the degree oi intensity or dullness of the life he is living.”
Klaus Rink

”Since then I have been interested in all abnormal situations like ecstasy, spasm, psychoses, breakdowns. humiliations, etc.”
Arnulf Rainer

Heresy: Mail Art, Correspondance Art is a performance art in an open system. Open systems can still be art. Infiltration of mass media and systems is vital. It means subliminal performance art reaches an arbitrary, unchosen, unsafe public.”Though great works are surly still possible and may be looked forward to, it is the sense that they may be moments of profound vision into the working of things, an imitation of life, so to speak, rather than artistic tours de force, i.e. cosmetics.”
Allan Kaprow

”System of possible movements transmitted from the body to the environment: body ’haunting’ spacc: availability: a situation on which I am required to act, wherevcr I may happen to be at the time.”
Vite Acconci

Heresy: What is the performancc artist’s relationship with society? Is he necessary? Is art meaning just bogus significancc? When does decoration become life? In what context can art operare ? Marina Abramovic invited visitors to a Naples Gallery to choose from knives, loaded guns, torture instruments on the floor and do what they wanted to her. Two men stabbed her in the throat. Then tried to put the gun in her mouth and make her pull the trigger. She struggled to stop them. Her dealer tried to stop them. Why do this in a Gallery? What change takes place if she goes to a rough dockside bar and risks her life there. Perhaps provoking a real fight, then using this ’real’ intormation complements it by experiencing. Why does performance art have to be presented? Infiltration of real life is no different but you alone perceive this moment, and that makes you the artist, all else is pure luxury.

”Gingerbread material consisting of: enriched flour, sugar, dried molasses, shortening with freshness preserver. leavening, salt, vegetabie gum, spices, caramel colour, was rolled into dough and shaped to resemble a human form. These figures were slowly eaten and digested. Later my intestinal tract was emptied. Ten samples of faeces were placed on glass slides. These samples were viewed under a microscope at magnifications of x280 to x300.”
Dennis Oppenheim

Heresy: Chris Burdon sits on a chair for about 36 hours until, exhausted, he falls off onto the floor. A chalk mark is made round him, like a corpse in a movie murder. Gina Pane in April 1971 in her studio climbs 30 times up and down a ladder with sharp points on the rungs, barefoot, until she reaches her limits of endurance.

”The line between art and life should he kept as fluid. and perhaps indistinct as possible. Therefore, the source of themes, materials, actions, and the relationships between them are to be derived from any place or period except from the arts, their derivatives, and their milieu.”
Allan Kaprow

”Deprivation that calls for supernormal rcactions in an attempt at stabilisation: stress: turning in on myself. turning on myself: performancc as alibi resulting in a presented piece of biography that, ordinarily, would not have been part of one’s active biography at all.”
Vito Acconci

”...magic is a thing which every community must have, and in a civilization that is rotten with amusement, the more magic we produce the better. If we were talking about the moral regeneration of our world, I should urge the deliberate creation of a system of magic, using as its vehicles such things as the theatre and the profession of letters, as one indispensable kind of means to that end.”
R. G. Collingwood

Heresy: Because art has divorced itself from culture and mass taste via language and meaning, it feels superior and then irrelevant and insecure. Its lofty ideals and pretensions require degrees in semantics before you can even view it, and usually it’s a minor, once-only- interesting point that’s obscured by critical clouds.Heresy: Dennis Oppenheim observes obsessively his faeces The Marquis de Sade also obsessively investigated faeces. Once is cool art, one is quirkiness, which is more interesting?

Heresy: There is a political and social threat involved in the direct person-to-person attributes of performance art and mail art. No social ticket is required, no venue, the price e a stamp or your own body are the only needs. The threat is higgest for the art world, art market. Solving art problems is coincidental.

”The task of Art is to make itself touchable.”
Eugenio Carmi

”Art is everything that men call Art.”
Dino Formaggio

”’Which men?’ and ’Which Art?’”
Eugenio Carmi

”Art works best when it remains unacknowledged. It observes that shapes and objects and events, by displaying their own nature, can evoke those deeper and simpler powers in which man recognises himself. It is one of the rewards we earn for thinking by what we see.”
Rudolf Arnheim

Heresy: A lot ot the best, youngest, performance artists have an incredibly sophisticate perception of art media, galleries, socialites. Followers more often of William S. Burroughs than of Marcel Duchamp, of ’Sounds’ rather than ’Artforum’, they affirm individualism in a depersonalised age. They recognize only each other. The basic tenet is that art is the perception of the moment. An in the perception of the moment, all things are art.

”For man, codes and signs differ according to his environment, the education he has received, and his social background. The peasant who looks at the sky is creative because he ’perceives’ it by deciphering its codes on the basis of which he will invent behaviour.” Eugenio Carmi

”Art is a self-respecting search for the unknown. As such, it does not necessarily correspond to its common image. It is not bound to generate objects. It is creative energy whose centrifugal force generates gestures or looks, objects or projects and situations.”
Eugenio Carmi

Quotational Bibliography.
- AA Kommune / Manifesto. (Gols, Austria) 1975.
- Acconci, Vito / Statements in ’Pertormance’ catalogue. (John Gibson Gallery. New York). 1971.
-Arnheim, Rudolf / Film as Art. ( London). 1958.
- Ball, Hugo / From ’Dada’ by Hans Richter (London). 1965.
- Carmi, Eugenio / ’Eugenio Carmi’ catalogue (Galleria S. Benedetto. Brescia, Italy). 1975,
- Collingwood, R. G. / The Principles of Art. (London). 1938
- Crowley, Aleister / The Confessions of Aleister Crowley edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant. (New York) 1969.
- Formaggio, Dino / ’Eugenio Carmi’ catalogue (Brescia, Italy) 1975.
- Glucksmann, Andre / Violence on the Screen (London) 1971.
- Guntrip, Harry / Personality and Human Interaction ( London).
- Kaprow, Allan / Assemblage, Environments & Happenings (New York) 1971.
- Lüthi, Urs / Il Corpo Come Linguaggio by Lea Vergine (Milan) 1974.
- Manson, Charles / ’Your Children’ trial transcript (New York) 1973.
- Masi, Denis / statement from Il Corpo Come Linguaggio op. cit.
- Mazur. Tadeuz / We Have Not Forgotten (Warsaw, Poland). 1961.
- Muehl, Otto / statement from Contemporary Artists (London) 1977.
- Nitsch, Hermann / statement from Il Corpo Come Linguaggio. op cit.
- Oppenheim, Dennis / statement from Il Corpo Come Linguaggio. op. cit.
- Olsen. Jack / The Man With The Candy. The Story ol The Houston Mass Murders (London) 1975.
- Pasolini, Pier Paolo / A Violent Life. (London) 1968.
- Poittier. A / ’Cinema et Criminalite in ’Revue de Science Criminelle. (Paris) 1957.
- Rainer, Arnulf / statement in Il Corpo Come Linguaggio. op. cit.
- Rinke, Klaus / statement inIl Corpo Come Linguaggio. op. cit.
- Ruppersberg, Allen / from transcript of videotape ’A Lecture on Houdini’ (New York) 1973.
- Sade, Marquis de / 120 Days of Sodom (Nev York) 1966.
- Sanders, Ed / The Family (New York) 1972.
- Schwarzkogler, Rudolf / statement in Il Corpo Come Linguaggio. op. cit.
- Symons, Arthur / The Symbolist Movement In Literature (London) 1899.

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