“Be like Baddy, when she’s taking over the stage at the world-famous Viennese Burgtheater. Take their stage, beat them with their own weapons — make them follow your rules.”
When it comes to sound guerrilla art, art activism and provocative art, one normally thinks of self-proclaimed bad boys and girls like Banksy, Marina Abramovic or Tino Sehgal, who ‘fight’ the establishment to make the art world an open place for anybody.
‘A powerful performance will transform everyone in the room./Give the power back to the people/Art is free’ are statements frequently attributed to these artists.
But have you ever imagined what would happen if just one person in the room took these declarations seriously?
How I became a witness to real guerrilla art
It was one of those evenings when you fall into something unexpected – that develops into something super-exciting, breath-taking. Friends of mine invited me to a play, Fantasma by René Pollesch, at the world-famous Viennese Burgtheater.
Pollesch’s unique selling point is the bad boy image he has established over recent years. The press and critics celebrate his ‘anarchistic theatre’ and sound scandals. He proclaims that theatre is where the public can participate and his plays are the most avant-garde, open experiments in the contemporary theatre and art scene.
Honestly, I wasn’t too keen on it, but as Pollesch was (and is) one of the most-hyped theatre directors in Europe, this event was an art-scene must-go.
Guerrilla art at Burgtheater—a fake
The snobbiest snobs of the Viennese art scene were already waiting at the theatre entrance: well-known artists, influential art dealers and rich collectors (which my friends so hardly wanted to be buddies with) and everyone who deem themselves part of the city’s intellectual elite.
We rushed to our seats in the balcony, waiting to see the ‘anarchistic play’.
After the first couple of minutes, I decided this theatre play was the most uninspired I’d ever seen. It was a compendium of intellectual or pseudo-intellectual quotes mixed into a lame love story with a wannabe rebellious touch. As a running gag, the (well-known) actors turned to the audience every 10 minutes, proclaiming:
‘We need a radical change of perspective! Something unexpected must happen onstage! Something unexpected must happen’!
Man, you are sooo damn right, I thought.
But then, the unexpected did happen!
Again, the main character (who, incidentally, used to play the bad guy in Tarantino movies) repeated his need for a radical change of perspective. Right then, a young woman in the parterre left her seat, a megaphone in her hands: ‘Anarchy control! State-certified anarchy control’!
First, I thought this was part of the play, but the actors onstage looked thunderstruck at this announcement. Obviously, something unexpected had just happened. The crowd was jolted up in their seats, holding their breath. Slowly, a woman with gigantic boobs and a tiny skirt stepped onstage, positioning herself before the main actor, who still couldn’t do anything but be shocked.
Bang! This subversive act was like lightning, an incarnation of the famous last scene in The Government Inspector, when every actor onstage suddenly shifts positions and freezes as if petrified. After this shock-moment, the actors fled off the stage behind the decoration — watching the new spectacle with a safety distance.
The girl who just crashed the hole theatre was the performance artist BADDY DOLLY JANE. She turned to the audience and started to recite Goethe, Hölderlin and Kropotkin, the spiritual father of communist anarchy.
The art establishment was furious (how could she dare to disturb the „anarchistic“ play?) But I felt freed. The words that she spoke, some written hundreds of years ago, were more anarchy, more avant-garde and more rebellious than anything I saw or hear two hours before. We started to shout and applauded, supporting this radical change of perspective.
When the establishment tried to stop BADDY DOLLY JANE
As Baddy continued to perform, the theatre worker, manager and finally even the main actress (which totally broke character) started to chase her, trying to stop her.
„What are you doing here, man? — You're not part of the show! Baddy countered them.
BIG FAT LAUGH —
at this moment, she had the rest of the audience on her site. The artist went on with her anarchistic play, till she was grabbed off the stage by one of the theatre workers after 20 minutes.
What I learned from BADDY DOLLY JANE’s act of real subversion
This exciting evening taught me some very important lessons: Subversion is one of the strongest tools when it comes to fight the establishment in order to make the art world an open place for anybody.
Subversion can never be managed, planned, or be predictable. True guerrilla art, art activism or provocative art can never be part of the establishment and will never be praised by conform critics or the opportunistic art elite.
But most of all: Never ask them for permission to be part of the show — take their stage, beat them with their own weapons, make them follow your rules.