Georg Decristel

Georg Decristel occupies a special place in the world of Austrian performance art. Decristel worked in the overlapping fields of sound and music, language and writing, drawing, photography, and object art, with his performative work focused on playing an instrument: the Jew’s harp. Playing a Jew’s harp entails a certain overlap between music and speech, with the oral cavity or even the entire body serving as a resonance chamber. In this way, the player becomes his or her own instrument. The great significance of the Jew’s harp to Decristel is also shown by the fact that he not only collected Jew’s harps, but also constructed a number of them himself and taught laypeople how to play.


Decristel’s conceptual approach—influenced by concrete poetry and Fluxus—was to deal experimentally with found situations, investigating their acoustic, spatial, temporal and/or location-specific structural parameters. The locations the artist chose for these concepts included sites both outdoors and indoors, both public and private, and both urban and rural. The list of his chosen places also encompasses art’s institutional context, including galleries, special events, and exhibition openings. Decristel was a constant occupant of this realm, albeit on its peripheries rather than at its center: he deliberately sought out the zone of transition to the realm of the everyday. His presence was international; he made appearances in Italy, Belgium, France, the USA and Canada, and maintained a close friendship with performance artist Terry Fox (USA).


Decristel sometimes referred to his artistic activities as “strolling performances”: the artist would wander through his chosen scenarios playing a Jew’s harp, according an important role to the element of chance. As an itinerant Jew’s harp player who called himself “Georg the Resonance Chamber,” he would go out into nature or appear in private situations just as often as he graced artistic events, always enlisting his audience as co-players. His presence was improvised and conceived to be something ephemeral, much like sounds perceived as either music or noise. Decristel’s had a poetic description of this: “…in spiralen, trete ich auf trete ich auf der stelle…” 1


Decristel’s art manifested itself materially in various kinds of texts, which he often complemented with drawings; there also exist tailor-made concepts for those performances where he desired to set certain parameters in advance; a further important body of work is represented by his sonograms [Sonogramme], sheets of A4 paper of a fragmentary nature onto which he transcribed the sounds of the Jew’s harp as line-like structures—not notation, but graphic “visualizations,” as he called them—of sound. The sonograms were conceived as Xerox copies, large numbers of which were placed on the floor of the exhibition space to form a carpet of sorts for the audience; in this way, they themselves became part of the performance. Decristel’s oeuvre also includes photo series showing the artist as he played the Jew’s harp.

Similar to the principle underlying his photocopies was how Decristel included various technical means of recording and duplication in his sound works. He also used music recorded on a cassette for live appearances: “there thus arose streams of sound, in that I fed in (played) the newest cassette recording and added the Jew’s harp sounds to it live … in identical or divergent frequencies; this gave rise to acoustic rainbows superimposed on one another (see also monochrome painting).”2


“Decristel,” writes Heinz Gappmayr, “was on a constant quest for new insights and modifications. A precondition for this was the artist’s existential concernment, his philosophical realization of the world’s riddle-like quality. It is this to which his works, both acoustic and visual, refer. For him, art was something transcendental. The intensity with which he searched for artistic solutions found its match in his day-to-day life, where he distanced himself from trivial interests out of resistance to conformism and banality.”





1 Roughly translated: “in spirals, I perform, I take form,” quoted in: Grundmann, Heidi. “fast nix tonband mit knacks (georg decristel)” [almost nothing tape with click (georg decristel)]. In Georg Decristel. weg bewegen moving away. Eine Auswahl aus seinen Werken [Georg Decristel. weg bewegen moving away. A Selection of his Works], edited by Sonja, Michael and Stephan Bahn, p. 17. Innsbruck: Skarabaeus im Studienverlag, 2003.

2 Quoted in: Grundmann, op. cit., p.19.

3 Gappmayr, Heinz. “Georg Decristel und sein Werk” [Georg Decristel and his Oeuvre]. In Georg Decristel. weg bewegen moving away. Eine Auswahl aus seinen Werken, op. cit., p. 140.



1937, Hall in Tirol / AT – 1997, Innsbruck / AT


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Photo Cora Pongracz / Part of the work "Photo Actions with Cora Pongracz and Chris Althaler", 1970-1980
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