Steal the world/Fake it a better place…
(The Faking-Of Georg Paul Thomann)

by Frank Apunkt Schneider / Monochrom

Translated from German by Alain Kessi

“You would hardly ever find anti-Nazi activists involved in international cyberspace projects, and journalists working for ZDF [1] on the Mühl commune [2] do not appear on Red Krayola records. [3] And those involved in musical groups called André Hitler [4] or The Arian Brauer [5] to act up against the Viennese gurus of fantasy do not write for the Jungle World. [6] Sad as it may be!”

In these words the German pop theorist Diedrich Diederichsen sketched the breadth and central concern of the monochrom project “Georg Paul Thomann” in the German daily newspaper TAZ. [7] The intention of GPT is not to parody the more recent history of art and expose its gaping incongruities (it takes care of that well enough itself, e.g., as documenta), but rather to paint its portrait, as is the tradition in classical portrait painting, in such a way as to make it look a little better than it has in reality. Where in this case the aesthetic retouching has become a theoretical retouching, in order to provide it (the more recent history of art) with a sense and a function that shine just a little more than the sense and the function it in fact possesses.

GPT as a sort of fountain pen filled with magic ink. Some magic ink that makes the occluded and obliterated contours of a “leftist” history of art visible by writing GPT’s biography. Or something of the kind. A leftist history of art that has never taken place in this way, for of course anti-Nazi activists don’t usually have an ounce of time to participate in international cyberspace projects. To be against Nazis is, rightly so, a full-time job, as it is for all them Nazis all day long.

A leftist history of art however that could have taken place. With a bit of time and toil maybe.

Oddly enough – or should I say: not unexpectedly – the reception of GPT in his ancillary capacity as a fictitious Austrian master artist has been quite different. As a humorously abated form of critique of the art establishment, that favorite plaything of the community of critics committed to the art system (1000 times exposed, 1000 times to no avail! Debunk what debunks you! Etc.). What a waste!

Who are we to deny that some moments of “debunking the art establishment” (yuk! sounds fishy, doesn’t it!) have made their way into GPT. After all, the well-formulated critique of the art establishment is the least common denominator of the art establishment. And the latter, in return, happens to be the domain and amplifying device of GPT

We distance ourselves, however, from a one-sided overrating of that moment, which would at the same time imply defusing the entire project to make it harmlessly comfortable. As a satire/parody/student prank GPT would be meaningless entertainment of some target group. Event culture.

This is why we permit ourselves to oppose such a perception of GPT: The overcoming of art in a process of counteracting it (Fool, fool, the guckaw!) is a myth that in the end only serves to stabilize of the system. Because no dent is made to the system of art by avoiding it or retreating from it. Terrorist acts work differently, though sadly we do not know how.

GPT is to be understood in the art historical context of a technique that since the 1980ies has come to be known as fake.

Fake, a forgery – though not in the sense of hard economic fraud within the art market (aka the production of forged masters for the collectors’ market). This would probably be too much criticism (and palpable at that) and too little in the way of reinsuring oneself in the tradition of art as the innocuous early-bourgeois-wife-character of the economy – innocuous because restricting itself to the symbolic space afforded it.

Art has never armed itself, and how should it, considering it’s got no arms and no hands. Just walls.

The intention in the forgery of the aesthetic fake differs in just one crucial point from the intention in the forgery in the realm of the economy (e.g., counterfeits, false money), of communication (e.g., lies, delusion, false pretences), or of politics (e.g., forged proof of identity).

For the latter’s aim is: not to be recognized! Fake for them means to remain undiscovered as a fake. Undercover! They want and must themselves become “reality.” Their semblance of reality must not crumble at any point. Their success stands and falls with their being accepted as “the truth.” And their failure has (other than in the art world, where one fails rather comfortably and melancholically and myth-foundingly, sipping a glass of wine together) an existential dimension: jail, deportation, social ostracism and the like.

The special, should we say traditionalist tension and didactic tensity of the aesthetic fake on the other hand arises precisely from the dialectic of being exposed and not being exposed, which it seeks to fulfill. Its aim is not to remain completely unrecognized. It is only its unmasking, gradual at least, that produces the statements that stand out from the statements of a forgery which, being undiscovered, will remain a traditional work of a traditional auctorial subject.

Yet another type of fakes needs to be distinguished: those faking identities in order to circumvent an exclusion by and from the system, as is the case of the female American jazz musician Billy Tipton who passed herself off and dressed up as a man throughout her life in order to undermine the access limitations to the jazz scene for phenotypic women. Such a strategy falls rather in the realm of the political-social falsification than in the tradition of the aesthetic fake, even if it decidedly targets a subsystem within the art system. The more so as it does not happen within the system, but at its border checkpoints. That is, on the social outskirts of art: its face control.

The fake as an artistic strategy on the other hand means unfortunately, but luckily (being a bourgeois artist means you want to go to jail – and then go to history instead) not a real, “fraudulent” forgery but a symbolic intervention in symbolic spaces. A symbolic intervention – no more than that. Enough tears have been shed over this fact. And fortunately the modernist attempt to overcome art in the actionist experience of the vital energies of everyday life is forever forsaken. Even if it was wild and beautiful and horny, as every puberty can be under certain circumstances.

As an object of art, the fake is a symbolic technique just like any other that is being enacted in the field of art. As an “artistic” strategy, the fake refers to the sphere of art as to its specific place. A place it contributes to constituting at the same time, just like any given “individual work” does: A space of, for and from merely symbolic events. Well shielded against other “social subsystems” by a well-rigged system border. As well as by the (quite literally) shadowy existence of anything symbolic.

This is not to say that the “individual work” is merely a hostage, a prisoner to the art system, as all the aesthetic theologians of liberation since expressionism have claimed, implying that it has to break out, get air lest it suffocate. Etc.

After all, that which is supposed to be art is composed of a chain of individual works which, each multiplied with the respective hegemonic social ideology of the work of art, produce the art theory fitting the ruling class of the moment. In the case of the art of the bourgeois society, this ideology is the so-called “aesthetics” as a science of the artwork. In it, the political-ideological meanings of the artwork as a singular piece and in and of itself are negotiated and defined, e.g., that it must be an example of freedom and autonomy.

This aesthetics however is reliant in its activity on that same singular artwork as that which is to be trimmed. Since it can only impose itself in the appearance and through the discussion of the singular work, the latter always contains a remainder of “freedom” – if we understand this to be that remainder that has not yet been brought to match with the hegemonic ideology. That Other that has not yet been integrated into the firm order and discipline of meaning. This Other does not last, and is rather a sort of scanning mistake. But it could well make it worthwhile to engage in that thing called art, which sits a bit sheepishly on the right of economics and politics and is allowed to enact something during their breathers. This remainder is the topic of the real work of the fictive entity GPT. To a good 71 percent, anyway.

Having identified that outmost border of the aesthetic fake, namely that being art, it shares the outmost border with all other art framed by the capitalist-liberalist system, one can now make the attempt to sound out the space of its possibilities.

The fake (incidentally, the Austrian master artist GPT himself shows great interest in this technique) deals among other things with the possibility to appropriate and redistribute. Appropriate and redistribute non-objective possessions, though (which all have their objective sides, but in this case specifically they don’t matter much).

The fake deals with the possibility of appropriating and redistributing reality. (Symbolic reality, mind you!) Indeed all our interventions into reality (yeah: realities) deal with this, even our dreams (whatever that may be: dreams…). The fake however deals with a different, new form of appropriating and redistributing reality, in that it undermines a wee bit the hard borders of truth and untruth (without just blasting them off altogether). By treating reality as a narration, as a story that is by no means writing itself, as we have been taught. But rather a story with a hidden storyteller, which one could call by the name of “class interests.” A name is just a name, after all.

By way of exception we would like to presently keep this notion, or should we say, this George W. Bush among all notions: “reality…!”, in the pre-problematized space. Certainly not because it can remain there (on the contrary!), but because the “fact” that there is no reality does not imply that there is no reality. Logical, right? As an arbitrary agreement that does not refer to anything but the consensus that has brought it about, from which, confounding as it may be, its Rambo-ish interpretational power arises, i.e., its “reality” comes about. As a consensus it become true/real, i.e., total and totalitarian. The discursive and social circumstance of its becoming makes it that which it should have been a priori. As a gigantic tautological machine it cannot be knocked out with the remark that it is in fact only a gigantic tautological machine. Just like the fascist will not fall dead just because someone says: “Fascist!” Etc., etc.

Please find further details about this in the corresponding specialized literature…

That is: reality (bearing in mind its being an effect of social practice). In the case of the aesthetic fake however it is not a reality from the realm of the “real,” but rather that reality transformed into the “symbolic” (let us indulge in being inconsistent with Lacan in our terminology!) with which and in which art deals. Whether it understands itself as realistic or fantastic is irrelevant for the preexistence of that social notion of reality in the broadest possible sense, to which “realistic” and “fantastic” art alike refer, albeit with an inversed sign, but in both cases always affirmatively.

In this sense fake means to take as material a reality that has become symbolic as art, and to (re)combine this material. Once again, there is no fundamental difference to the mimetic aesthetic tradition. Rather a slight one; one could even say: a sly difference.

For GPT this was the material of the artistic avant-garde of the European-West-American post-war period (to speak, in well-lubricated Euro-centrist perspective, of a post-war period after 1945 as such is a bad joke that we will even refuse to repeat here).

This narration, closed as it is in its quality as (art) history, along with its mourning-band of extinct potential and lost opportunities could theoretically break up again if it is grouped as aesthetic material in the sense of a by no means alternative, but at least varying and combining narration… so much about the idea.

What should not be touched in the process were the great, eminently meaningful chronological-historical coordinates, the macro-structure of this narration, even if these are of course just as fictional, i.e., negotiated, as everything. And this only in order to avoid that GPT take off into the “parallel worlds” genre, that domestic subgenre primarily of the literary science fiction dealing, e.g., with alternative outcomes of World War II. As a parallel-worlds narration GPT would have been established from the outset as no more than a fictional intervention in the sense of a liberal-bourgeois narrative tradition. As part of a narrative tradition grafted on the closely guarded distinction between real and fictitious. GPT would have been arrested as a fiction right away if art historical “grand facts” had been too obviously disregarded. This also means that according to the carefully rehearsed distinction the meaning of his actionism would have belletristically evaporated as being imagined-and-told. (And then also because it is sometimes fun to take something into account. Freedom is in fact opium for the art scene.)

Maybe the fake – if you don’t understand and use it so one-dimensionally and in the sense of a bourgeois tradition of satire like Brimcourt and Sokal – can establish a quasi existential double-work structure which would then double the artwork itself (even as an exemplary agent of the bourgeois identity principle, by the way), creating a two-work work. The inner work (the real material existence of the fake, i.e., the reality of the work detached from its author) can stand for itself, as it was intended for most of the Thomann works: namely that Thomann does all the things which indeed someone ought to finally do…

The fake-form in its turn implies an existence separate from the “inner work.” And what is most amazing: They do not need to be read as a unit. “The whole” here is, visible to all, less than the sum of its parts…!

For GPT we have chosen the established and highly reality-shaping (e.g., consisting of many canons) narration “Western art history since 1945” as binding. That was to be the macrostructure we would adhere to. And which should freely give its microstructures as play material. In the text “The project ‘Georg Paul Thomann’ as Self-Urine Therapy of the Real” by the Viennese art theorist and head of the Linz intervention hospital “Höllergasse,” Susann Rabitsch, GPT was spoken of as of a “probe” which was let down in the microstructures of art history in order to be able to intervene there at will. And this in a paradoxical quadrinity: as its maintenance personnel, as research traveler, as its saboteur and as its nice, young-uprising-professional-pinky restructurer. The movements of GPT through this material nonetheless left it back different than he had found it. Real biographies and events were rewritten or just replaced, dates were moved around, lesser known items brought to the fore and well-known things plowed under, etc.

The macrostructure, left intact, was affected by this at least to the extent that on the level of its “atomic” constitution, so to say, changes and reinterpretations had been applied, whose thrusts of rampant proliferation could turn out to become an overall loss of clarity in the system as a whole (at least in the wishful thinking of the authors of the project). Not in order to overthrow the art system. Not that, on no account, since for each art system we topple, 10 new ones arise…

Here follows Anecdote 1: The background material used in the work on the “Biography of GPT” had been compiled by a collective of about 20 subjective entities (in other words: persons in the sense of civic law). In the result, none of the participants could then tell for the entire text what is now fictitious and what is factual (i.e., to which reality elements GPT had only been merged in, and which had been drawn up specially for the project; individual conjectures on this matter regularly turned out to be wrong). What is remarkable about this: Like an author in classic author theory, the author’s collective subject had developed both a consciousness and a subconscious, and his/her writing process unfolded as an interference of the two. Great, but so what?

In the sense of the maxim of self-restriction-as-art expressed above we should like to avoid overrating the fact that the irritational processes have on various occasions even slopped over from the art space into reality space. In any case, Thomann has at least in his particles succeeded in escaping from his text-art-meaning jail and to at least administer a spur or two to the not-text-art environment.

Here come Anecdotes 2-3: In 2001 a North-German car dealer of allegedly the same name attempted to make contact with GPT by e-mail in order to meet his famous namesake in person. Of course he did not have much luck. No more than an Austrian journalist who did not tire of pointing out, in several e-mails, that a text attributed to him, mentioned in the GPT biography, could not in any way have originated from him, since he had no longer been working for the medium mentioned at the time mentioned, and that besides, he had never and nowhere published a text with the named title. Oh well, now he has published such a text, whether he likes it or not.

This is just to mention a few reality feedbacks.

It is just as possible that the above might have been merely external work contributions initiated by friends or enemies of the project, precisely fakes. We cannot tell categorically. Why should we?!


[1] ZDF stands for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (Second German Television). All footnotes are translator’s notes intended to make the text more accessible to an international audience, which may not be familiar with all peculiarities of contemporary culture in the German-language regions.

[2] Otto Mühl (*1925 in Grodnau), Austrian action artist; founder in 1972 of the Friedrichshof commune, aka Aktionsanalytische Organisation (Action Analytic Organization AAO), of Reichian inspiration.

[3] Red Krayola (in some periods also spelt Red Crayola): Experimental and conceptual musical band founded in 1966 in Texas by Mayo Thompson and others. Later largely identified with Mayo Thompson.

[4] Allusion to the Austrian songwriter André Heller (actually Franz André Heller, *1947 in Vienna).

[5] Allusion to the Austrian songwriter and painter Arik Brauer (actually Erich Brauer. *1929 in Vienna).

[6] Jungle World: German left-wing weekly paper, founded in 1997 by former staff of the left-wing daily paper Junge Welt (Young World) after they were fired for striking against a re-orientation of the paper towards GDR nostalgia and against leftist anti-Semitism in the reporting on Israel.

[7] TAZ: German centre-left newspaper, from “TAgesZeitung” (literally: daily newspaper). Diedrich Diederichsen, Großer Abwesender (in German: Great Absentee), in: TAZ, 24 April 2002.