This paper explores Christoph Schlingensief’s performative projects Please love Austria (2000) and 2nd Surrealist Manifesto: Kill Helmut Kohl and their avant-garde character by comparing them to such Dadaist and Surrealist predecessors as S’il vous plaît (1920), Le Coeur à gaz (1923) and Le Trésor des Jésuites (1928). Discussing the status of theatre in the practice and theory of the avant garde, the chapter questions whether Schlingensief’s strategies to distort the distinction between theatre and reality, stage and audience, expanded the realm of art, or whether his efforts merely re-enacted the legendary failure or death of the avant garde. These questions become of particular interest when Schlingensief explicitly draws on Surrealism with his 1996 Prater Spectacle 2nd Surrealist Manifesto: Kill Helmut Kohl: this event was intimately involved in the institutional framework of the Volksbühne, but at the same time plays with the idea of breaking these ties. Audience participation and enraging the masses and the media hint at the idea of dissolving the distinction between life and art; yet do they fully achieve a new unity of art and life?
This overview of five core theories of the avant garde (Peter Bürger, Niklas Luhmann, Pierre Bourdieu, Paul Mann, Andreas Reckwitz) provides a provisional framework and toolkit with which to approach Christoph Schlingensief’s artistic works. However, the paper also takes cognisance of the limits of theory in general and its particular shortcomings in terms of Schlingensief’s transgressive art.