1972, 00:44:37, PAL, color, sound, V011 01

Wolf Vostell was a cofounder of the European art of the happening and a crucial contributor to the Fluxus movement. He was one of the first video artists in the world. Vostell became famous in the 1950s for his Dé-coll/age actions. His first involvement with the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein was as cofounder of Videothek in 1971, as the Video-Forum was known then, and he subsequently participated in numerous exhibitions there. In 1975 he was honored with a retrospective exhibition organized in cooperation with the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. In 1972 he produced his first longer 16 mm film, working with a variety of visual resources: archive material, documentary photos, Vostell’s own concrete sculptures, and surreal scenarios. Desastres reads like an effort to come to terms with the brutality of a post-Nazi present in a divided Germany. A heartbeat is heard constantly, at times drowned out by electromagnetic interference and male voices. In parallel with this Vostell constructed a sequence of images, some of which are crossfaded, that touch on subjects that would come to influence his art in the years that followed: historical photographs of the victims of the Nazis, photographs of the border installations of East Germany and of the Berlin Wall. The film is also characterized by an unusual use of concrete. A woman is lying naked in a train compartment and ever new parts of her body are “cemented in.” On the windowsill a brain is swimming in a goldfish bowl. In Desastres Vostell mercilessly strips away at German history since 1933. The film marks an artistic milestone in Vostell’s engagement with the social state of exception—by means of war and violent rule and the falsification and forgetting of history—and their translation into a New Realism in art.