Theo ALTENBERG (*1952 in Mönchengladbach, GER)
Lives and works in Berlin (Germany)
Theo Altenberg joined Viennese actionist Otto Muehl’s Action-analytical Organisation when he was a young man. From the early 1970s until the beginning of the 1990s, the organisation – which is nowadays mostly known for Muehl’s abuse of the commune’s children – worked on deconstructing the border between art and life and on destroying what they identified as the root of all evil, the nuclear family. Altenberg used photography and video to document these communal attempts at self-portrayal – their rituals, daily life and bid for Utopia that ultimately failed disastrously. In the photo, Nach den Selbstdarstellungen (After the Self-Portrayals, 1976) members of the group, some naked and all sporting the signature short haircut of the AA commune, are seen standing, lying and sitting in a cramped room. “Self-portrayal” was the AA term for a collective ritual that falls somewhere between primal scream therapy, Reichien body psychotherapy and improvisation theatre. The photo’s setting depicts the ambivalent nature of the semi-public displays of this innermost testimony – while it is on one hand characterised by the comforting communion of exhausted bodies, the lamp’s glare makes it at least equally as threatening and claustrophobic.