Brutal Aesthetics

Ignoring the Aesthetics of the Flakturm as Ignorance


I walked around the Flakturme in Augarten yesterday and they are both fenced off and have no access.  Supposedly they are filled with dead pigeons, pigeon shit, and a horrible smell.  They also are falling apart inside, so the walkways to the top are difficult to traverse.  They are in complete disuse.  Does the city own these two?  They have such a bleak beauty about them, the lost dreams of a generation of National Socialist Austrians and Germans, failed plans and hopes for a lasting society torn into rubble.  The fact that they remind the Austrians that their amazing culture and beautiful people were once caught up in an ideology as disgusting and brutal as that espoused by the Third Reich is readily apparent in their unwillingness to fund the restoration of these melancholy structures.  By embracing the aesthetic properties of the Flakturm Austrian society would be acknowledging a role in the past that is one of collaboration rather than victimization.  It takes understanding of the many facets behind Austria’s Anschluss years to be able to embrace this past and separate the function of what the Flakturm was, as opposed to what it is.  Many Austrians and non-Austrians alike who live in Vienna have mentioned to me the aesthetic beauty of these giant grey structures.  What is a Flakturm?  A beautiful tower to be acknowledged, but a tower that represents a living history and a political debate over the “correct” cultural memory of WWII events.  To purposely acknowledge their aesthetic worth, at the same time as memorializing them, would be a step in the right direction.  To acknowledge something is better than to ignore its existence.  (Or hide them, or turn them into zoos and aquariums.)  Or is recognizing the Flakturm and its artistic merit beyond the capacity of current Austrian society?  To remove the functionality from the aura of the structure is recognition that the towers were built for a non-functional purpose in Wien to begin with.  So is restoring one or memorializing their existence at the same time acknowledging a more than willing participation in the horrific acts of the Second World War as well as ultimately accepting guilt?  Or is it simply making a monument to fascism?  How does the public interpret such ideas.  Better just to continue ignoring their presence?  But if one creates a memorial of one of these structures will it fall into the trap of politicized historical narrative?  How are these ideas of memorialization viewed by a populace who has already experienced a modern history of politicized historical accounts, false narratives, and a repression of cultural memory in the form of the lack of dialogue?  It is all too close to home.  Austrians love the brutal aesthetic from afar, but the reminder that such a fantastic culture was filled with Nazi ideology is too much.  So is embracing their aesthetic value a form of ignorance through victimization narrative, or an act of redemption through remembrance and understanding?  This question seems to be at the heart of the debate over what to do with these structures, and why it has lasted 70 years.  It is a shame that such amazing feats of architecture are unacknowledged and ignored for their beauty.  Instead they are covered, hidden, removed from postcards, covered by vulgar climbing walls, bought by private companies who leave unrealized plans for their use, or used to create an extension of right-wing Austrian political victimization theory.

Markus Hafner and his Flakturm Faktum society seemed effective in memorializing the Flakturm and its living history through art installation.  Is this the answer?  Rather than the ambivalent ambiguity of a public art work like Lawrence Wiener’s that adorns the top of the “Haus des Meeres” Flakturm (“Smashed to pieces (in the still of the night,)”) what about an art piece that uses the structure and its aura for contemplation?  The Lawrence Wiener work is so ambiguous it has no understanding or function, besides getting people to ask what it means.  Many Viennese I have spoken with love the work, feeling that it at least creates a dialogue concerning its relation to the war and the Flakturm itself.  But to examine the interpretations I have heard of Wiener’s phrase is to examine mostly a victim theory or a complete falsehood.  Perhaps this will end up being the focus of my final work that comes out of this whole research project.  Examining the ineffectiveness and ultimately the vulgar nature of the Winer piece.  Now it is being dismantled, (at least partly?) because the “Haus des Meeres” is putting a cafe at the top of the tower, built by prisoners of war, where they can sip on their Melange and have a beautiful view of the city while not being exactly sure what their Austrian “grandpa did during the Anschluss.”

Scott Evans