Critical Context

Vienna: Lusthaus focuses on the daily activities, thoughts, and fantasies of fin de siècle Vienna, a city inhabited by Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, Gustav Mahler, and Johann Strauss, as well as Adolf Hitler. This historical period has been the subject of numerous books and major museum exhibits, such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s “Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture, and Design.” A revival of interest in art nouveau and a nostalgia for the humanistic values and beauty of the nineteenth century surround Martha Clarke’s work. She says her inspiration for this piece was derived in part from her observations at a 1984 exhibition in Venice about late nineteenth, early twentieth century Vienna titled “Dream and Reality.”

Clarke’s synthesis of text, music, dance, visual environment, and mise-en-scène is similar to the work of German choreographer/director Pina Bausch and theatrical directors Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, and Peter Brook. This total theater, or “theater of images,” allows these artist to create thematically complex, multilayered performance art. Clarke’s work is distinguished by her characteristic use of detailed movement sequences to further explore the themes of the text. Vienna: Lusthaus is Clarke’s second major performance work. Some of the extraordinary movement sequences in this piece reflect the choreographic influence of her seven years with Pilobolus Dance Theater. With this company she collaborated on such works as Monkshood’s Farewell (pr. 1974) and Untitled (pr. 1975). The addition of collaborator Mee’s spoken text for Vienna: Lusthaus brings another dimension to Clarke’s already rich, disturbing works. Her earlier work, The Garden of Earthly Delights (pr. 1984), and later works such as The Hunger Artist (pr. 1987) and Miracolo d’Amore (pr. 1988) similarly synthesize dance, gesture, design, and spoken or sung text. Each of these pieces demonstrates Clarke’s unique vision in her articulate use of the human body. In Vienna: Lusthaus, Clarke is able to evoke both the beauty and the underlying decadence that signaled the city’s gradual decay and destruction.