Peter Kubelka Now

Peter Kubelka in NY, 1967. Collection Austrian Film Museum.


Peter Kubelka (b.1934) invited American curator and writer, Steven Pollock to interview him about his collection Schutt der Evolution or Leftovers from Evolution.

Like the tips of the outstretched hands and feet of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing, where a square and a circle intersect, Peter Kubelka’s Metric Film trilogy probes the cosmography of the microcosm (cosmografia del minor mondo).

Kubelka’s method for the Metric Trilogy, Adebar (1957), Schwechater (1958), and Arnulf Rainer (1960) is the systematic reduction of cinema to the indivisible unit of a 24th of a second: to “the simplest film language… (from which), I built my ecstasy.”  

The film Arnulf Rainer follows a score of measured alternating single 35 mm frames. The film is stripped to its essence of darkness and lightness, white noise and silence, in rhythmic time and space.

Experiencing any of the three films is likened to a direct jolt to the nervous system, resulting from the artist’s conviction that humankind shares a “longing for the now moment.”  On seeing Arnulf Rainer, viewers have described the film experience as one of sensory overload, a synesthesia of sight and sound.

Kubelka is also known as a judo champion, renowned cook, the leader of the musical ensemble Spatium Musicum, a philosopher, lecturer, and the winner of the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art. Kubelka’s trajectory continued from 1964, when he founded the Austrian Film Museum, where he remains active as a lecturer, programmer and advisor. In 1966 his release of Our Trip to Africa, was interrupted by a hostile lawsuit from the wealthy family that had both starred in it and commissioned it, thus forcing him into temporary exile in Stockholm. 1966 was also the year of Kubelka’s first trip to NY, as well as his first film lecture leading to the next phase of self-professed de-specialization. From then on, Kubelka begins to teach, lecture and cook, often interchanging cooking as an “edible metaphor” for a myriad of subjects.

In 1970, his concept of The Invisible Cinema was finally realized at the Anthology Film Archives in NY, which he co-founded with Jonas Mekas — a pitch black cinema with a theatre design to isolate each audience member in a “shell-like structure,” where the only field of vision was the screen with “the rake of the auditorium so steep…you cannot see the people in front of you”. (Vincent Canby, NYT).

In 1978, he was appointed professor of Cinema and Art at the Academy Städelschule in Frankfurt, where in 1981 he staged We Are of One Kind, a unique event in which the public and animals from a hibernating circus heard the same music and ate the same food (albeit carrots, sautéed in butter, for the humans and fresh, raw carrots for the elephants and friends). In 2010, Kubelka reacts to the “hostile takeover” of analogue cinema by digital media, calling for dogged resistance” and creates Monument Film, consisting of Antiphon (2012), which is the black mirror of Arnulf Rainer. The light frames of Arnulf Rainer match the black frames of Antiphon, the sound of one is simultaneous to the silence of the other and vice versa. The films are projected individually, then side by side, then overlapping on the same screen in absolute kinetic symmetry. Parallel to the projections is a wall-mounted installation of both films. The strips of film hang on the walls individually and are also superimposed, resulting in a rectangle of blackness. Kubelka's work Monument Film (2012) insists, that the projection of film is not separable from its three-dimensional source material.

Aside from the selections of objects that aid his marathon lectures which might range from prehistoric tools, a Barbie doll, African masks, a mounted stuffed chicken or a freshly hatched egg, Kubelka’s vast immersive collection is by invitation only. Housed in his large historic flat in Vienna’s first district, a visitor must be prepared to touch, taste, dust off, listen to, see and compare items from a vast trove spanning over 3 million years, with no traditional hierarchy regarding value, rarity or chronology. Even though Kubelka has deep historical knowledge for every item, it is rather the sensorial, non-verbal, poetic cross-categorical pairings and groupings through which the objects are “made to speak.” 

Monument Film: Collection Austrian Film Museum.

SP: The first metric film, Adebar is a concrete film.

PK: It’s handmade. 

SP: Could it also be considered the first object from this collection?

KB: You may notice there is a very strong connection between all my activities that I have followed in my life. In addition to my filmmaking, I have extensively thought about and worked with the act of making food, as it has developed over the course of evolution. I have discovered that this as a medium can be shaped and combined to create an edible architecture. Food is a medium which is as expressive to culture and individuals, as music, poetry or film.

My work with food already relates to my work with film. One aspect that I have emphasized in my filmmaking, contrary to the industrial process (the film industry), is that analogue film belongs to an absolute ancient mechanical world of tools. For instance, the analog projector contains  metal reels, which have teeth to transport the film strip, which has corresponding holes. The difference to the digital medium is enormous, it is so big that it is even difficult to see the same thing there. 

What I have emphasized in my filmmaking, which went even further and it did not come out of any frivolous decision, or an original decision, but out of poverty, and lack of means, I made my films practically without the help of an editing table and a projector, or any other machinery. I made them with my hands, scissors and glue and I worked in 35 mm, which of course gives you an image that is visible to the naked eye and when held in your hands is like a small picture. 

Today you have these digital watches that also show you pictures, like the Apple Watch, which is approximately the size of a 35 mm frame. Or a miniature painting by Holbein which he made for Henry VIII, is approximately the size of a 35 mm frame. The size of a 35 mm frame is enormous; it’s big!  You have as a filmmaker, 24 of these frames that you can show in a single second, which means the filmmaker has mastery over the flow of time in terms of retinal information and of course also contemporaneous sound information. In view of this preciousness of the speed of a 24th of a second, with which I can build the structure of my film, I see film as an architecture in time and space, between light and sound. By this craft it’s possible to make very short works of a minute or less. 2 frames would be my minimum.

Let me just give you some details; one minute of film projection contains 60 seconds, and each second is 24 frames, and when you multiply that you get 1,440 possibilities of showing the public visual information. 

My poverty helped me to understand filmmaking as a handy craft, like a shoemaker or a tailor, whom I see as my colleagues. This is a skill attained by body wisdom, and here we are already coming in close to my collection.  

The human habit of enclosing knowledge into the vessels of language leaves behind a lot of important information. By that I mean the controllable language of knowledge which we store in our brains, which does not enable us for example to play the piano. One cannot learn to play the piano by having it explained by someone, who says, “You lift this finger and you press it here.”

That wouldn’t enable me to play the piano. The truth is you might learn to play the piano without ever hearing or pronouncing a single word. One learns to play the piano by trial and error and experimentation with your fingers. Then you could have somebody teach you, by showing you, and then you repeat, but it is non-verbal. 

SP: You said in a lecture with Jonas Mekas regarding the term filmmaker, that you invented it. 

PK: I invented it for myself in the 50s when all these terms like independent cinema weren’t there. I saw myself as a relative of the tailor, a shoemaker or a cook, and it became my future concept. I thought I would make films, then sell them, show them to get some money, and go on making new films. I found out that this is not possible in our civilization, because of distribution which you have to have, and I did not have.  

Just a side remark, in this wonderful big movement of the 50s, now called independent filmmaking (and I include all of my peers), not a single one, not even the most well-known, were ever able to make a living off of their films. Not Brakhage! Not Kenneth Anger! No one! Nevertheless, it is a corrupted public that rich painter-artists engage with, while the poor independent film artists have followers, who will come to watch for no other reason than their passion for our films. Up to date independent cinema has no monetary value.

SP: No champagne.

PK: No champagne and no investors which is wonderful in our times. Avant-garde filmmaking or independent filmmaking was absolutely out in the 50s, but then it started to become popular in the 60s, and became overbearingly popular in the 70s when Hollywood actors would call themselves filmmakers. Now it’s vanished again which I have come to appreciate because it’s better not to be on the crest of fashion.

SP: Which brings me to a weird thought: was your last completed film in 2012?

PK: Monument film. 

Adebar. Copyright Peter Kubelka. Courtesy sixpackfilm.

SP: Our world became digital by 2012, but not to the extent it is now. This little device I am recording you on, according to a calculation that our world population has reached 8 billion, if we calculate the total number of mobile cameras, times the number of photos they are likely to contain, the sum is approximately 2 trillion photographs. As of 2023, do you think your collection in its entirety is also a kind of recording, which is edited in an entirely different way?  

PK: Yes, and may I illustrate your question and not just make a theoretical answer? I’ll give you some facts on the longevity and the weight of our communication via media material. A message carved in stone is heavy to move, but if it is not actively destroyed, it lasts millions of years, and I have pieces in my collection that demonstrate that. Next comes wood; sculptures in wood, tools made of wood which could last thousands of years. There are wooden javelins that were found that are 70 thousand years old. It lasts, but it’s no longer millions. Then comes paper, which is very light and is cheaper and faster to work with. Paper lasts hundreds of years, which is followed by analogue film, which can last a couple of hundred years, and then we arrive at digital medium which only lasts maybe 3 years to 7 years before it must be migrated! And every migration will alter its content. 

I sit in awe and horror when viewing digital documents that are 20 years old, that look like they’re 200 years old, both out of focus and the colors have shifted. Which means, that although the digital medium has enormous possibilities for real-time communication and can accommodate huge amounts of information cheaply; it vanishes! It vanishes almost as fast as the spoken word. 

My last film was in 2012, which was the year, you could call it annus horribilis of analogue film, it was the year when the last cinemas threw out their equipment. An event ordered by the distributors in order for digital media to make a practically hostile takeover, whilst the entire world of cinema as we knew it was swept under the carpet. 

I stopped my filmmaking then as I never had the urge, the hunger, the feeling or the appetite to make a digital work. Because to me it’s not worth the amount of time I would spend in doing it. Although I use a digital medium daily for other purposes, there is a complete difference.

I feel this difference of the digital content. The word is already a very strange material, compared to content from non-verbal media. 

I was always very sensitive to the fact that translation doesn’t work, even translation from Spanish to German doesn’t really work. If I was a young artist today, I would sculpt in stone. I am of the view that the most important things for language are lost in translation, the important things in a poem are the ones you cannot translate. What you can translate is a kind of hint of what could be in this poem.

(Kubelka guides us towards the largest room)

PK: The rule of my collection is first of all a visitor is allowed to touch everything. Using all of those possibilities which I refer to as body knowledge, which we acquire in order to explore the world. Visiting a museum does not allow for these possibilities with their “do not touch” policy.

It is the non-verbal exploration surpassing the retinal, beyond the eye, you can smell it, you can touch it, you can explore it with your hand. I mean, if necessary, you can even revert to the most archaic way of getting to know the world, which is by licking it, a method used by learned archaeologists to verify age and detect fakes. Any surface here tastes different because you will have licked it at least once in your life, and you already know how things taste. You know how the surface of a wooden table tastes exactly, compared to a plastic surface or a metal surface. We know everything by taste, so it shouldn’t be called our “world view” but rather our “world taste” via licking.

The other point is one shouldn’t look at any single object without an awareness of its context. How it is affected by what surrounds it. To me this is very important, because museums isolate their objects in order to catalogue them and display them.

Horse Carving. Photo by Steven Pollock.

SP: (points to a large African wood carving of a horse’s head on a human body)

Are museums translating artefacts and by doing so is something lost in the translation? When you walk into a museum and you see this carving in a museum it would have a label, but is something lost by isolating it, putting it behind glass or up on a pedestal, versus what’s happening here?

PK: Yes, of course I mean anyone can go to a museum, and read the information on the label next to this carving, and leave the museum without gaining almost anything, because the information is mostly trivia or categorization like for example "a fetish". 

I mean if you observe this statue, in describing it they might say it has a human body, and it is wearing human clothes and it has a head of a horse and they could tell you where it was found, how old it is and all that. But the awe-inspiring or shocking impression that one feels by encountering it, by touching it, isn’t in that information! I want people who come here and look at the objects, and have their non-verbal faculties working, by which they have to navigate the universe. 

SP: Next to it you have this military horse. (PK lifts up a small painted tourist souvenir of a horse’s head on a human body in military uniform).

PK: Yes, next to it I have this object which is also a sculpture and there is also a human body with a horse’s head, but it is a souvenir and it is kitsch. 

SP: But the same need was there somehow.

PK: Yes, and the tradition was there. 

SP: And we are all the same way in a way. I think most people would like both horsemen, for sure a child would. If I brought a young child in, they probably would come to this big sculpture quite quickly. 

PK: That is exactly the idea, because of course the child is the model for every artist. My films were always laughed about and protested against, and I always looked to see if there was a child there. I was consoled when I first showed Schwechater, my film with the beer, my artist colleagues, including Maria Lassnig who is now very famous, said, “That’s impossible, this you cannot do, this is beyond.”  When I showed Our Trip to Africa, and Arnulf Rainer, almost all of my artist friends walked out laughing.              

SP: You were lucky you were safe.

PK: After I screened my first film, I was spat on by a film critic! It was always like this, and when I showed Schwechater there was a little girl, the daughter of one of the architects, who could not yet speak very well, but she said, “A lady”. She saw her, an actress, which was an image for only a 24th of a second which is very fast!  All of the artists had the idea that if it’s only a 24th of a second you can’t see it, but the child saw it.

We already know from the New Testament that Jesus also gave this recommendation. That you have to become like the children in order to understand. All the good artists that I know preserved a kind of naiveté that enabled them to dare. This kind of bravery, is a peaceful bravery which artists must have in order to impose their things on the world and to say: "This is what I see. Join me!" 

SP: When thinking of a traditional museum in our era, they are trying to redefine and revise their collecting premise. Thinking of what to display, historically, there is an apparent hierarchy at play when choosing what’s worthy of the museum. Where does this collection stand in relation to what you might understand that hierarchy to be?

PK: Well, here we come to the question: why do people collect and what do they do with the things they collect? 

Museums have become entertainment for the masses. Not long ago they were the private property of the monarchy to enhance its prestige. Consider the Kunsthistorisches Museum as an example. In the Renaissance, this was very clear because the mighty and the rich competed for artists. Michelangelo was once brought back by military force to Rome from Florence to work for rival patrons. The motive for possessing art is practically never the right motive, which to me is in order to enhance our understanding of the universe. Collectors use collections solely for prestige and to display wealth. Before royalty and the aristocracy were the patrons, it was the Church who paid artists, and to use their art for a weapon, as medicine for society if you see what I mean. 

There remains a constant struggle between the commissioning patron and the artist, who has his own interest, which she or he is not really allowed to articulate, and so they might have to smuggle it into their works.  

Why do people own objects? There are different kinds of collectors. The ones who collect to enhance their prestige, and the others who are not so interested in value, but want to learn from it.  The museums today are practically tourist businesses. 

We Are of One Kind, 1981, Academy Städelschule, Frankfurt, concert and dinner, for people and animals

SP: But you have made this collection.  

PK: My collection is polemic. I want to stress this.

SP: You are pushing back against which argument?

PK: I would say it is against the museums. I am saying to the museums, that what they do is not enough and it’s in the wrong direction. they are presenting their collections as treasures, feeding the public with objects too precious to touch, catering to needs for envy, adoration and other cheap feelings. They are withholding information embedded within the objects by treating them like that. Today the fact is, in every museum the works are not simply isolated, but they are always accompanied by text, by wall labels, and supported by external coverage from art critics.

SP: There is no real art criticism anymore anyway, it’s dead!

There is cataloging for auction houses and if you write about art that’s about the best paid job you can get. To write for an auction house or a mega gallery. 

PK: In my collection, a kitsch souvenir has the same value as a really rare find, and I have some very valuable pieces.

After Degas: photo by Steven Pollock.

SP: I’m fascinated with the Little Ballerina, which are Degas reproductions in this grouping here. Could you illuminate me?

PK: It’s part of the theme of non-verbal communication, because the human animal always sees itself, and rightly so as the center of the universe. We have a keen understanding that if a human likeness is the same size as we are, or bigger or smaller, that changes the content. A monumental Roman statue has a different content than a life-size statue or a miniature "dwarfed" likeness. 

These sculptures are replicas in different sizes of the revolutionary sculpture by Edgar Degas which he named The Little Ballerina (1881). He broke several laws of sculpture, mainly the unity of the material. By using actual fabric (and this is also an exact replica of that fabric) and he sculpted the head from a wax cast in bronze. This sculpture caused an enormous scandal at the time, and he made more than 20 versions of it in his lifetime for which he was met with such criticism that he never exhibited publicly again. Degas was hard-headed. Stubborn!

I collected these reproductions in different sizes, because each says different things. Focusing on small things we adapt a special vocabulary like “nice, cute or dainty.” You could never say nice, cute or dainty for a Roman statue! It’s a similar thing with these large reproductions of Degas, with the largest one being exactly the size of his actual work. 

SP: Which is a strange scale, because it approaches life size and yet it's not big enough. The discomfort causes a response. 

PK: I couldn’t give you an educated answer to that, but for me this work means so much. It’s so strong, and when you see it in a museum it always stands out.

SP: I agree, and how about next to this sculpture behind it? 

PK: This is a sculpture, which is also a female but in contrast to Degas’s naturalism, it shows the enormous gap between how cultures see themselves and see the world, and ways to express it. These figures, which do not belong to our culture, are in most cases so far away from our imagination, that we cannot really follow the reasons why they were made like this. When ethnic art was discovered by European artists around 1900, which was actually the beginning of Modern Art, the painters and the avant-garde artists who discovered it, felt their enormous importance, but did not quite understand why.  

For example, Max Ernst represented exotic works, but mostly ridiculed them. The Surrealists used it, or you could say abused it, and people like Giacometti copied it. When he copied this kind of archaic sculpture, not just African, he was not famous yet. Maybe he thought that he could easily steal it without being caught, just like Duchamp dared to use the work of Étienne-Jules Marey, who was at least 25 years ahead of Duchamp and the Futurists. 

(Kubelka enters an annex)

PK: We can go in here. 

Kubelka Collection. Photo by Marieli Fröhlich.

SP: I started to ask you about these and you said they’re percussive instruments, because I thought they were maybe weapons. 

PK: These are wooden pieces of the Aborigines and they accompany their playing on the didgeridoo, which means when striking them together you get this. 

(Kubelka beats them together producing a sharp sound while uttering the “now”)

The now event or the now-moment is something which the human animal has felt from the very beginning, and we carry a longing to understand it, and that has to do with this feeling of “do I exist?” which is accompanied by the desire for this now event to be accentuated, to make it sharp, short, precise. I could demonstrate the now moment on my natural instrument (clapping hands) but as I am old, I cannot really clap anymore, (uses his feet and makes stomping sounds) and then comes this (clinking sounds from the sticks). These are not abstract sounds, although I want them to be as abstract as possible.  They are dimensional, and carry cultural character. 

Now I will illustrate; starting with Aborigines from 50,000 years ago (clicks together Aboriginal percussive sticks), rich in noise, full of overtones. Japan 2,000 years ago (strikes Japanese hardwood sticks). Listen to the character (Japanese instrument sounds), short, slender, very elegant, very little noise and you can connect this immediately with the Nōh theatre, by the precise elegance of every gesture. 

There is this wonderful thing in the Nōh theatre, a pause for an intermission when the audience breaks and heads to the restaurant to eat and when they have to return for the second part, there is an acoustic signal with this. They have an actor kneeling on the stage and then he starts like this (instrument held apart in widely outstretched arms) and while looking straight ahead, he slowly brings up the wood and then (one clink) he makes this sound, which is so slender and yet (clink) so strong that it travels through the whole building!

The audience hears it once, and they stop their dinner and they go back to their seats and the piece continues and this exemplifies this concept we talked about, the NOW. In Europe if you think of a concert when there is an intermission, they call the people back by a nervous, hysterical ringing bell, several times like a nurse who calls the children, like naughty children.

The Japanese thing is that there is first silence and then there is now. These instruments produce only one sound.

With my films, one frame and the sound which has exactly a 24th of a second is my A’tomos, which means you cannot cut it further. A’tomos is uncuttable which can also be translated to individual, undividable, or indivisible: and that which is indivisible in cinema is a single frame, which cannot be cut shorter, thus the relationship. 

When I made my Arnulf Rainer film, which has the 4 most simple elements of cinema: light, darkness, sound, silence, each contained by the indivisible, the smallest A’tomos length of one 24th of a second, I sought the essence of cinema. Later, when I made my ethnological studies combined with archeology, I found out that these forerunning people had the same longing for millions of years. I was the unwitting successor, not verbally prompted, as nobody told me about this, but I felt the need to get to this.

I wanted to make a film with only light and darkness and sound and silence, which I had considered for years, and then in 1959 through 1960 I did. It’s the same principle with cooking and the same for my collection, it is not based on verbal theories, it is based on instincts.  

SP: Is it possible that your approach might have been very different because you came from music? In your life, I think I understood you studied music first?

PK: Yes, but it’s not that I came from music, I came from ear experiences from hearing. I’m very sound oriented. I learn languages by hearing and not visually.  

SP: Because what I might feel is, that a lot of how we define filmmakers is translated by a person who puts a lot of pictures together and what you were just describing, which is also physical, auditory and tactile is a combination of the senses, maybe that wouldn’t have happened quite the same way if you had studied painting. 

PK: The main thing is, my cinema is not a visual cinema, my cinema is audio/visual cinema. Sound film started around 1930 when it was possible for the first time to put image and sound on the same strip in a fixed position where they could not be moved anymore against each other. Synchronism is my main instrument of articulating something that I want to convey, and the same synchronism is here in this collection, by the visual of two objects that come together and then they meet, and they create a sound (clink) and the sound and the visual event occurs exactly at the same moment, now, now, now.

Cinema enables me to create artificial sync-moments, and this is what cinema brought for me. There are two kinds of music, loud and soft music, music that was outside and music in a cave. And these genres of music exist since the stone age, giving us intimate music, and music for the open air, which is completely different and they are competitors of course. 

PK: Humans are always acting, just like animals are also always acting. Because you have to keep an appearance to the world. Imagine everybody, each species, is a human being, take a deer and a wolf. The deer is not interested in being seen, so it does everything to disguise itself and to make believe it’s not there. Here comes another important concept, lying, which as much as individuals can do it, they will present an appearance which is favorable to their survival. Mimicry is lying.

The human animal acts always, for example children, even small babies when they cry it makes their mothers cringe, a bystander would interpret it as them really suffering, but it’s not always true, they are saying “I would like dinner.”   

SP: I thought that you said that animals are acting and humans are acting and that there is nothing natural about what we do.

PK: It is natural to be acting, as our appearance is constantly giving signals, we also do this unconsciously and sometimes we have inborn signals which we do not want to emit. Take getting red in your face, if they catch you lying, for example, and this has been studied by psychologists and the conclusion is that the species has a consensus to inform itself correctly, the individual may try to cheat but the species doesn’t want that, making the event of blushing contradict the liar.  

SP: I like the Darwinian concept of success; that we want to succeed for our survival, so all endeavours, whether it’s one’s life’s work or how one enters a room engages the core need to succeed. That is not only better for the individual, but it’s better for society. It’s better for society because if one enters the room and falls over and ends up in the hospital, we all lose. 

PK: Think of the expression “to give a favorable impression,” that’s what humans do all of the time.

PK: In the other room I have my own hip bone from when I had a hip operation. In Austria, after a part of the body has been removed, it becomes property of the state, so I had to persuade the doctors to give it to me. I was breaking the law, and it is now in the collection.

SP: And what does the Austrian state want with your hip bone? 

PK: They would safely burn it, but it’s important that they own it and they also own everything that is buried under earth deeper than one and a half meters. Now take this group of objects, in which I have a clam shell in alcohol next to my own hip bone in alcohol, next to a piece of white bread that looks like the female sex, which in Styria is actually called a Fut-Semmel, which roughly translates to a vagina, or pussy-roll. Bakeries are very pornographic in all cultures. Next to it I have the female sex carved in stone, it has served as a knife sharpener. The combination of sex and souvenirs is a great art in Italy.

SP: You live here with all of this. Peter, would you say you are part of the collection? 

PK: The collection has become part of me like a hermit crab and its shell. The hermit crab is a creature that has an absolutely naked body and she is looking for empty shells of mussels to crawl into, to put her naked body inside it and use it as a shield, as a house and as a wrapping and protection, just like a snail has a house, but the snail has produced it organically. The hermit crab is a very interesting animal because as she grows, she looks for a bigger shell, an abandoned shell and populates it and crawls in.

Now when it comes to human beings like myself, I live with the same principle as the hermit crab. I wrap myself in protective material which I have not grown myself. We have hair that we grow and there are some animals who change their hair, their fur according to winter or summer and the human animal in our civilization, wraps itself in material that we find, and then change and then leave and we have different ones for cold weather and for warm weather, but all these objects become part of us.

A good example are mobile phones, which are now part of the human being. The natural human being is not any more a naked being. If you see a painting now of a naked person it is exotic, because today the natural human being is clothed. Since 2020, looking over the entire planet it would be hard to find people without phones. I always watch ethnographic documentaries and even the naked Pygmies and the naked Yanomamis have mobile phones. Even if they live in mud huts and are still naked, they have mobile phones. 

The principal of the hermit crab is a very good example of how we negotiate our environment, so my collection has become something which I live in. And like a mobile phone, it helps me to understand the world, it helps me to think. 

SP: I think that says it all. The things which we surround ourselves with are always interesting. If you visit an artist studio it’s not always as interesting to look at the work as it is to see the postcards, books and ephemera. 

PK: Not just the artists, I had an interesting experience because in the old times an interior of an apartment was very much depicting the character of the person. I knew Groucho Marx, because I had brought him to Vienna as a guest of the Film Museum. He invited me to his house in Hollywood, and he had one of these houses which was in a certain financial bracket, say 5 million as compared to a 3 million or 10 million home. His house was styled exactly as he bought it, including the furniture. He said, “I changed nothing, here is the only thing I did in this house.” He then showed me a piece of wall, where he had his family photographs, his mother and so on going back to childhood. At the time in Hollywood, it was customary similar to buying a mobile phone, you could buy your entire surroundings and status.  In Hollywood, they really talked about these categories, “Ah, he is now in a 10 million place, or she had to sell her 6 million and settle into a 2 million.” 

We are now living more and more pragmatic lives, but our ancestors had more poetry, music and art integrated within their daily lives. The further back we look the more poetic the life. The life of the early Pygmies or Aborigines was designed by their needs and their culture. You could name it ballet or musical, life was poetic all the time.

When I was in Southern Italy in the 1950s, common people would speak like the classic Roman orators, with all the complexity of their languages. In comparison, young people today have the most primitive language in all of historic development. The quality of spoken language is deteriorating rapidly. We must recognize from the past the poetic form and not label it as primitive. 

SP: Back to nature.

PK: We are nature, everything is nature. The Barbie doll is also nature, but it’s difficult to formulate. There are no words for that.

PK: The word fossil comes from the Latin word fossa which is der Graben in German, or the ditch and it is the garbage pit in which people just throw things away. Our ancestors had no problem with garbage, they threw everything behind them or in a certain place or in a ditch, maybe ditch isn’t the exact English word.

SP: But you have this as the title of the collection.

KP: I named my collection Schutt der Evolution, which is rubble or debris, or the Detritus of Evolution. I take equal pleasure in poetic language as with visual rhymes. Rhyming fortifies the form of communication in poetry. With a prose text the words are easily forgotten, but with a rhyme you don’t forget, not only by visual rhymes, but also a tactile rhyme. Traditional museums are art like prose at the expense of the poetry of objects. 

I built my collection by a process very close to cooking, which as you know I have explored cooking or the “architecture of food” as an art form, equal to painting or music. I would have said the collection is a work of art, but now, in 2023, I am ashamed to even use the word art. 

Art has become a vehicle for political agendas and small ideas executed by interior decorators or political mouthpieces. For me, art runs parallel or better, on top of science or philosophy, a tool to explore what is there, a tool for knowledge of the world and myself.

(Peter Kubelka next guides us towards his kitchen to prepare Pasta con Salsiccia di Fegato, the most delicious pasta dish we have tasted outside of Italy.) WM

Special thanks to:

The Austrian Film Museum


Marieli Fröhlich: Photography

Tristan Teshigahara Pollack: Editorial Assistance                                                        


Steven Pollock

American-born Steven Pollock is a writer, curator and music producer living in Vienna. While still an arts major at SVA he became active as a curator at the Mudd Club, NY—followed by a museum show in Tokyo of Kenny Scharf & Club 57 (1985). In 1990 he was instrumental in realizing an immersive installation for Hiroshi Teshigahara at Leo Castelli & Larry Gagosian (65 Thompson St) and in 1996 invited David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Asha Putli to participate in a pioneering online curatorial project. After a move to London, he staged an installation by Bjarne Melgaard (2003) curated Warhol vs Banksy (2006) and in Paris an homage to Hokusai (2021). He is an Andy Warhol specialist and has curated 5 exhibitions of his work in London, Oslo & Australia. He is currently writing and recording a musical docudrama, set in 1980’s NY, with director Marieli Fröhlich.


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