Autopsia in the 1980s, photograph courtesy of the artists.
Autopsia is an industrial art collective whose output incorporates sound, graphic arts, film, sculpture and installation. Influenced by the burgeoning punk and industrial subcultures of 1970s London, the group’s formative years were spent in Yugoslavia, before relocating to Prague in the 1990s.
Autopsia’s aesthetics incorporate ideas of industry, national identity, Arcadian idealism and political ideologies of an ambiguous nature. Appropriation plays an important role in the production of both their visual and sonic artworks. Whilst their graphics mine historical and pop culture sources that best express the themes touched on above, Autopsia’s music often, though not exclusively, opts for self-reflection through the means of sampling and remixing their own recordings.
At its core, Autopsia’s philosophy has maintained that death is the principal motivating force behind their creativity. The group cites the writings of Jacques Attali, Theodor Adorno and Martin Heidegger, among others, as key touchstones in the conceptual development of the project. Whilst one may be tempted to compare Autopsia with their contemporaries, Laibach (another industrial group from the former Yugoslavia), it pays to bear in mind that, in contrast to the latter’s measured rise in public consciousness, the former has remained militantly anonymous in its thirty-odd years of operations, keeping a relatively low profile in the public sphere and maintaining an air of seriousness with respect to its art production.
In 2016, the author Alexei Monroe published a monograph on the work of Autopsia, Thanatopolis. To date, Monroe’s book has been one of the few texts available about the group in English. With the following interview, IKLECTIK attempted to break through Autopsia’s barrier of anonymity to try and uncover the human element inside, but, considering Autopsia’s death drive, this undertaking was met with limited success.
IKLECTIK: It seems to me that the authoritarian nature of the Yugoslav state was the prime motivator for Autopsia’s art and actions. The writer, Alexei Monroe, mentioned that Autopsia was being monitored by the secret services. Were there any repercussions from the state or action taken by the police? Was there any real danger in your radicalism? Were there any specific moments that encouraged you to evaluate what you do or that fed into your work?
Autopsia: Throbbing Gristle also had problems with police, does this mean that the UK is a totalitarian state? With the Autopsia project we would probably have more difficulties in the USA than in Yugoslavia. To designate the former Yugoslavia as ‘authoritarian’ is totally wrong.
I would disagree. An overzealous police force does not immediately suggest that censorship of the arts is sanctioned by the state. Throbbing Gristle being in trouble with the police is one thing, but having a ‘president for life’ ruling the country is another.
The concept of totalitarianism, as constructed in the West, is rejected by Autopsia because its aim is to disqualify communism and disqualiﬁcation of communism is nothing but the rejection of the idea of emancipation. All of this is in the interest of neoliberal capitalism. (As if capitalism is not totalitarianism.)
In other words, totalitarianism is a mere epiphenomenon of what one might call the sociality. There is nothing essential in it. Just like democracy is a form of sociality which, by the way, is also totalitarian, as recent developments prove. Nowadays it is called ‘democratism’.
Here, it is important to be aware of the intellectual situation in Yugoslavia between 1960 and 1980. YU was the only socialist country which, at the same time, was not Stalinist. Moreover, it was anti-Stalinist. YU was an Enlightenment project. Almost all intellectually relevant books published in the EU and USA were almost simultaneously translated and published in YU. Even pro-fascist authors, like Ernst Juenger and [Emil] Cioran, were freely published.
It troubles me that fascist authors would be freely published anywhere, but let’s change the subject. Autopsia seems to have a very intimate relationship to its own archive. Does that mean the group is less active now than it was in the past? Why do you frustrate your own narrative timeline by revisiting old material?
The building materials of Autopsia are reproductions of representations. Therefore, the production which is performed by Autopsia is the production of reproductions. In fact, Autopsia does not produce anything, in the usual sense of the word. It does not produce something out of nothing. It does not produce the original, but repeats the production.
The method of Autopsia’s production is repetition. First, the repetition of the production; second, the repetition of what is already produced; third, the repetition of the repetition as the production. The reproduction of the production and the production of the reproduction, which is repetition of the repetition, might be named only with one word: disproduction. Disproduction means de-structuring of the production in the way of infinite repetition.
The modus of Autopsia’s production is repetition. The repetition is a repeated announcement of the petition. The petition itself is ‘a supplication’, ‘a prayer’, then ‘a blow’, ‘an attack’, ‘a searching’, one might even say: ‘a demand’, ‘a proclamation’ (‘Our goal is death’; ‘Only death can save us, but not this one’, for instance, etc.). More precisely, the production of Autopsia is the repetition of repetition, or more precisely: the repetition of the repetition of repetition.
Indeed, one of your posters does proclaim that your only goal is death. This seems like a counter-productive aim. Once death is achieved, what is there left to do and how can you appropriately evaluate the success of such a goal when you’re dead?
In mirroring the forms, Autopsia recognizes the mask of death. For Autopsia, to be mortal is something very natural. Not to consent to mortality means to evade the authenticity of the Self and put oneself in an oppositional relation towards nature. In the oblivion of death, there opens an endless multiplication of its iconography. Death becomes the figure for some future event. A lot of hymns were sung and a lot of praises were painted to the glory of the Faustian contract. Autopsia trades with their articles regardless of their cultural origin and national characteristic. It emphasises the iconography of death to monumental intentions, using the theme of [death] as a cultural product.
Autopsia does not speak about death from the standpoint of individual experiences of death. Its motives are not directed towards some substitute. There are substitute concepts only if you think about death as an object. Mortality cannot be put in front of us and be observed. One’s own mortality cannot be shared with anyone else. This feeling cannot be ‘communicated’. It can only be poetically expressed – it can be spoken of indirectly, by means of a specific language.
Another recurring motif is the death of the 20th century, which appeared long before the century’s actual end. Antonio Negri talks about the 20th century being an aftershock of the 19th, with few defining characteristics of its own (with regards to political and social developments). Do you subscribe to his view? Were you celebrating or lamenting the death of the 20th century? What is the purpose of this motif now that the 20th century is, in fact, dead?
The only object of Autopsia is the image of Death – which in fact is the World. (The World is nothing else but an image of Death, the Death itself). The World, as an object, and also in general, is always already dead. The world is not dead (if one might say: the world is alive) only as a potentiality. As soon as the world comes into actuality, it is already dead. In this sense, Death for Autopsia is not a choice (an intention, an accidence, etc.) but a necessity. Since the number of the images of Death is almost limitless (it corresponds to the World itself), Autopsia takes and appropriates those images (let us not forget: language/writing is sound), which Autopsia considers worthy of becoming, not as an object, but an objection to the Great Oblivion. Autopsia, therefore, objectifies the objection.
Your answers read like mission statements, manifestos or even captor demands. Your performances are acousmatic with little or no stage presence. Your membership numbers are unknown and the members remain anonymous (at least to the general public). Why do you distance yourselves from your audience in this way?
The work of Autopsia is projected along elitist lines. This means that, already, in the intentions of the work, every possibility of the transformation into the product of mass-consumption is prevented. The growth of Autopsia’s products, to the extent which might be regarded as the beginning of mass interest, shall not mean that in the production of the work something is conformed to such an interest.
According to its basic attitude, Autopsia is directed toward the product and not to the exposition of the ‘personality’. This is what moves [Autopsia] away from the phenomena of mass media.
As you say, Autopsia may eschew the cult of personality, but your music and visual aesthetic suggest that Autopsia is a cult. What advantages do you gain, if any, when accruing cult status by openly rejecting notions of the cult? Does Autopsia thrive on contradiction?
Autopsia is interested in self-controlled, programmed ‘personality’ – completely aware of its own capacities and its place in the world. The individuality means the right to have one’s own identity at one’s disposal.
Autopsia is not a cult. Gnostic traditions, alchemy and mysticism have a role in the formation of the character of the project, but do not belong to the origins of its work. It is interesting to see how things, which seem incongruous, function. Because of its structural ‘incompleteness’ Gnosticism and alchemy are suitable for constructing new illusions. In Autopsia’s activity there is no mysticism, yet within its methodology there is understanding of the mystical body, but only to the extent that it tries to master certain forms and arrive at an understanding of their language.
The synchronization of emotions is a phenomenon of a religious-mystical order. Art is a call for mystery. Even beyond the religious expressions it may take, authentic art has a profound aﬃnity with the world of faith.
Autopsia – Installation in Tito’s Bunker [Project D-0 ARK], 2013
Your visual aesthetic reminds me of postmodernist artists who also utilise photomontage and advertising/authoritative language (Barbara Kruger, Mark Titchner, Jenny Holzer), as well as industrial and post-punk groups, such as Cabaret Voltaire and the aforementioned Throbbing Gristle. What was the reason for choosing and then sticking with this aesthetic?
Autopsia is a mirror in the form of a sphere. The entire external surface is a mirror in which the World is mirrored. This, of course, is nothing new. The peculiarity of this mirror-sphere is that the internal surface of the sphere is also a mirror. In the centre of the sphere there is the eye of Autopsia, which looks at its own spherical reflection. Autopsia is self-sciousness. It brings, produces, throws the ‘-sciousness’ out of itself, as well as the truth about itself and the truth of itself.
Autopsia will make a rare live appearance at the Wroclaw Industrial Festival (2-5 Nov 2017). You can find out more about Autopsia from their website, twitter, bandcamp and the Illuminating Technologies label pages. Alexei Monroe’s ‘Thanatopolis’ is available to purchase from Divus and the IKLECTIK bookshop.