Otto Mühl

The life and times of Viennese Actionist Otto Mühl, short version.

In 1970 Otto Mühl founded a commune in Vienna. The experiment was an offshoot of the ‘Aktionismus’, a Viennese version of the happenings in New York, lead by meanwhile legendary artists such as Nitsch, Schwarzkogler, and Brus. The happenings – in German ‘Aktionen’ – were an effort to lift all kinds of taboo in art. Many an artist proceeded to complement the revolution in art with a revolution in life itself. Life as the ultimate work of art, so to speak.

Declared enemy of the commune was: monogamy. Private property of women was considered to be the condition of private property of the means of production. Furthermore, marriage was the place where social repression was deeply anchored in personality. By limiting oneself to only one partner, sexuality was severely muzzled. The mobilisation of a revolutionary potential thus had to begin with releasing sexuality from such fetters.

The ideal of life-long fidelity was replaced by the ideal of absolute promiscuity. It was forbidden to make love with the same partner more than once a week. And also the frequency had to be reconsidered accordingly. With ‘bourgeois couples’ the frequency of copulation, grown to daily drudge, dropped to an alarming 2,57 times a week, at least according to the then widely known statistics of Kinsey. In Friedrichshof one was supposed to make love as often as a Muslim bows to Mecca. Whoever would like quality to prevail over quantity was reminded of the fact that ‘sex’ had to be unlinked from mere bourgeois ‘love’: foreplay and similar ‘romantic nonsense’ were unacceptable. Ideally, the job had to be done in a few minutes. To protect the communards from the dangers of bourgeois inertia, a rather efficient measure was introduced: men were not allowed their own bed. So they had to look for a shelter every night. Thus, even a slowly moving wheel had to turn at least one round a day.

In the beginning, the prescription to look for ever new partners was supplemented with the concomitant prohibition to reject less desirable ones: the marital duty of the bourgeois couple is nothing compared to such compulsive sex. But precisely because the differences were so apparent and remained so because of the maintenance of the free market, and precisely because the happy few precisely therefore preferred the happy few, they were no longer prepared to descend to the lower regions of the pyramid. That is how emerged the so-called ‘inner circle’, where the chosen ones could occupy themselves with the chosen few. To the utter dissatisfaction of the wretched on the base, who so dearly wanted to gain access to the top of the pyramid. The call for collective property has always originated in the excluded ones. In 1985 the conflict was settled in that the privileged closed the ranks, so that the excluded ones had to rely upon themselves.

Unlike the countless mayflies of those times, Mühl’s commune was granted a long life. Long enough to live to see her children come of age. Which immediately raises the question as to whether the children would join the ranks of the veterans.

As it appears, the ‘aktions-analytische’ therapy was not efficient enough to warrant a smooth succession of the generations. Especially the young girls happened to adopt a rather reticent stance on the sexual behaviour of their parents. No problem: according to the theory these were merely the last remnants of patriarchy that should be shaken off. If necessary with a little help: just like their parents, the girls had to be taken in hands by Mühl. Meanwhile, they were forbidden any contact with the boys. And – you have guessed it – in 1987 Mühl is bestowed the feudal right of the first night! Question of having the younger generation initiated in the secrets of sex by the appropriate person. Another natural proclivity is countered here: the preference for one’s own generation. Mühl did not even consider the possibility that he might as well initiate his own children: the women of Friedrichshof preferred Mühl not only as a lover, but also as a begetter. After the collective property of the commune had been transformed into the harem of a monarch, the monarch himself turns out to be to the very embodiment of Freud’s primeval father, incestuously swallowing up the next generation.

Stefan Beyst

In 1991 he was sentenced to seven years in prison for “moral offences and violation of drug law.”

3 thoughts on “Otto Mühl

  1. From Karen Joy Fowler’s “Always”:

    “You can always tell a cult from a religion, she said, because a cult is just a set of rules that lets certain men get laid.

    “And then she told me not to get pregnant….”

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