MERZmuseum / Schwittradio / Schwittcd - Heidi Grundmann
Now that the war was over, he was able to make contact with old friends too. In June 1946, he heard from Raoul Hausmann, now living in Limoges, and an enthusiastic correspondence soon develop-ed. They exchanged photographs and poems, began discussing their theories of language, and before too long, Hausmann was suggesting that they collaborate on "a little booklet, a thing of fantasy to be called 'Schwittmail' or 'Pinhole-Mail'", with poems by each of them and illustrations in the form of Hausmann's photograms. John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters, London 1985, p. 207
Like many other successful on-line-on-site-on-air projects "MERZmuseum", as initiated by Hank Bull, developed according to the snowball principle and so was to become far more complex and richer than originally planned. As a first step, Hank Bull motivated artists in his home-town of Vancouver to participate in the 12 hour event before travelling to Lancashire for the construction of his MERZmuseum as a virtual "Art Barn" for the Art Barns project.
However, as it transpired, for the artists in Vancouver the planned 12 hour event was to prove too short: Even on the evening before the event, when all artists in Europe were still asleep - they organised and webcast a MERZmuseum opening party bearing the title "Technollage". On the following morning in Vancouver - and as the final part of the 12 hour event, a matinee took place in the Lux Theatre at the Western Front. Since the beginning of the 80s, this performance space had been one of the nodes in those telecommunication-art projects on several occasions, in which Hank Bull participated as one of the pioneers of this type of art.
In 1999 in Vancouver Sandra Wintner (First Floor Eastside) designed the first home-page for MERZmuseum. When Kunstradio finally decided to produce an on site performance lasting several hours at the Radiocafe in Vienna's Broadcasting House, (the final hour also broadcast as a Kunstradio programme), it became necessary to create an additional web site for the live webcast and to structure the documentation in the framework of Kunstradio On Line. Robert Adrian took up some of the features of Sandra Wintner's design and, finally, the page of the Vienna contribution evolved into a page for the project as a whole - coordinating and documenting not only all the various live streams but also including off-line contributions received by snail mail (drawings, photos, sounds etc.) that formed the "exhibition" in the on-line MERZmuseum.
During the event, excerpts from all live streams were recorded in Vienna and re-streamed on-line. The idea was to make all the pieces in the MERZmuseum as accessible as possible to all participants (and users), at whatever time they entered the virtual museum. Some of the artists on-site in Vienna were especially interested in mixing excerpts from other streams and audiofiles into their performances. Before the event, the MERZ-museum page presented the leitmotif for the event by putting an audiofile of the Ursonate on-line presuming that the recording was of a performance by Schwitters himself. That it is, in all likelihood, the recording of a performance by his son only became clear after the event in an e-mail from Hans Burkhard Schlichting (see p. 35). The live on-site-on-line-on-air contribution from Vienna followed the four-part structure of the Ursonate and - referring to a small passage in John Elderfields monograph on Schwitters (see above) - was in the end entitled SSCHWITTRADIO. Just as all the other contributions with their many different titles, SCHWITTRADIO should be considered as an exhibit of MERZmuseum.
MERZmuseum is still on-line. One of its most important exhibits, or perhaps even ex-hibitions, is the documentation of the 12 hour live event itself. Some of the links have meanwhile become broken but further contributions are still welcome. And one of these is the on-line version of this CD.
Although the CD is not able to represent all exhibits, these museum-pieces cover a wide range of approaches to contemporary radio-art; some of the contributions can only be experienced on-line; other exhibits have very important visual and textual on-line parts. Kunstradio On Line (http://kunstradio.at) also contains bio-graphies of the artists and documentation of the precursors of MERZmuseum.
It may not have been entirely by chance that it was in the two locations at which artists also addressed a local audience with a well structured performance program, i.e. in Vancouver and Vienna where two artists contributed to MERZmuseum whose interpretations of the "Ursonate" have become part of the his-tory and discography of "sound poetry" or, to use Rühm's term, "auditive poetry": Christopher Butterfield in Vancouver and Gerhard Rühm in Vienna, both gave a special dimension to the virtual museum which during the live-event was to become part of the virtual city of WIENCOUVER so named and proclaimed, in 1979 by Hank Bull. This city has since been the site of many telecommunications- and radio-art projects.
The MERZmuseum event reached a concluding high point when Hartmut Geerken contributed a telephone performance based on a postcard by Schwitters. Hartmut Geerken is yet another author who represents a very important position within the field of "auditive poetry", which manifests itself in many forms of media, not least in the radio medium. And both Hank Bull and Hartmut Geerken have been part of the by now legendary project "The World in 24 Hours", initiated and organised by Robert Adrian, in 1982. As in any project of this kind, there were contributors to MERZmuseum for whom this type of distributed collaborative work was new. But a closer view reveals that, despite belonging to at least four different generations, the majority of the artists exhibiting in the virtual museum and who are now also represented on this CD, has been part of exciting and important steps in the history of radio-art and its definition as part of an art of telecommunications. Among other things it is for this art that Kurt Schwitters, with his ideas and his practices - e.g. of collage, assemblage and dissociation ("Entformeln") - has left metaphorical landmarks of orientation still valid even in the quicksand of digitisation.
MERZmuseum / Schwittradio / Schwittcd