mama und papa by kurt kren

During the mid-1960s, Austrian experimental filmmaker Kurt Kren became momentarily associated with the confrontational performance art of the Vienna Aktionists, primarily Otto Mühl (who would later contribute to Dušan Makavejev’s great Sweet Movie) and Günter Brus. Mühl and Brus specialized in bizarre “materialaktions” in which they would act upon the human body with paint and food products, creating messy, perverse spectacles in which sexuality, bodily functions and physicality were foregrounded and explored. In 1964, Kren began filming some of these aktions, though he was not interested in being a documentarian. Instead, he took the raw materials of Mühl and Brus’ aktions and acted upon them himself, creating new works through the formal exploration of the images he gathered at these events. The results often infuriated the two provocateurs, who had desired a more straightforward documentary record of their work — Mühl would eventually begin filming his performances himself instead — but Kren’s raw, ragged films nevertheless capture the intense spirit and unfettered physicality of this scene, while crafting these images into entirely new works of his own.

His first film in this vein was Mama und Papa, based on an aktion by Mühl. This first film sets the tone for Kren’s work with the Aktionists, and especially for the color films he made with Mühl. The editing is hyper-fast and fragmentary, and carefully cycles through the same shots in a rhythmic pattern, returning again and again to the same images. This pulsating repetition shatters the cause-and-effect chains of Mühl’s aktion, but preserves its subversive power. This aktion, as with most of Mühl’s performances, consists primarily of nude models being coated with paint or food, their bodies carefully arranged and posed as though molding inanimate objects. Mühl methodically lays out his arrangements of flesh and viscous materials, focusing on the interactions of colors and forms, as though he were a painter working with the human body as his canvas. Kren’s film limns the visceral qualities of Mühl’s work; the sense of disgust is palpable, as is a feeling of profound discomfort. One can’t help but see these films and imagine the sensations: the stickiness and sliminess of the liquids, dripping off the participants’ bodies, puddling on the floor around them.

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