By Lena Séraphin
The title, My Name was Everyone, is an homage to writer Kurt Vonnegut and his works, conveying a conception of art as a transformative force. Vonnegut published a short story titled Who Am I This Time? in 1968. However, it was published under the title My Name Is Everyone in 1961. The story shows people coming alive only when being in character and playing a role. Art is seen as positively transformative and transgressive. The numb, almost mechanical people in Vonnegut’s story are transformed by art and begin to communicate with it. Ultimately they find themselves in love.
I was acquainted with Andrea Meinin Bück via a plethora of disreputable articles in the French media 13 years ago. At the time, Meinin Bück, an Austrian photographer born in 1968, had a contract with the Vera Incessu Patuit Dea Foundation1. Her assignment was to document European cultural heritage on the verge of abandon. In her work, she visited cultural heritage sites that were threatened because of aggressive new construction and inadequate resources for renovation. She became increasingly disillusioned about the factors that drove the preservation of cultural values. Her burning interest resulted in radicalization. On one tragic night thirteen years ago, good intentions led to shocking consequences. Meinin Bück has been serving a life sentence for the murder of a French property agent since 2001.
Andrea Meinin Bück was both arrested and released in 1998, and finally convicted in 2001. The court processes have been obscure and even ambiguous as some forensic evidence has been neglected. The crime was committed in Arbresle, in South-eastern France when Meinin Bück conducted a commission for VIPD. Her project was to photograph the eighteenth-century Louis Quinze style castle, la Château Guereule. According to what was originally stated, a disastrous accident had taken place. A spring mistral resulted in power cuts and a large part of the telephone landlines in the entire Rhône district were mute. During heavy nightly rainfall the property agent Michel Le Boeuf had volunteered to ensure the wellbeing of Meinin Bück and her two assistants, Jean-Paul Klevemühle and Steven Aldrich, at the isolated château. Le Boeuf was mistaken for an intruder. He perished of a brain haemorrhage due to blows by a blunt object.
After his release in 1998, new substantial evidence was detected and numerous cross-examinations conducted. They led to a more accurate and more unsettling picture of events. Klevemühle, Aldrich and Meinin Bück had a joint project, which was de ned as a folie à trois syndrome. A throw of a single die had provoked the killing. The trio decided that the winner had the opportunity to manifest real power. It was a carrier bag from Carrefour stuffed under a staircase that spilt out the story: a stained wig, a VIPD yearbook titled Personality and Culture on the Verge of Abolition, tattered clothes with semen and cut-outs from papers. Surprisingly Andrea Meinin Bück was the sole person to be arrested for the murder.
Liebe Lena, 10/12 2001
Thank you for your kind letter and interest. Yes, I do get a lot of post, most of it is twisted fan mail of all sorts. Some see prison like a resort. My vacation is of a permanent nature, not really holidays when it lasts forever. I don’t have access to the internet so emails are not possible, but please do read my note as one of many to be sent northbound.
Meinin Bück acted according to her ideals, believing that she was taking society towards a better direction, but her dedication carried her to a borderline state. Sentiment and judgment became obscured. As a result of a more than ten-year-long correspondence we held a mutual art exhibition in 2011. It was titled The Don Quixote Complex. It depicted a journey to a destructive borderline and the way back to reality – a reality that frightens Meinin Bück. “I don’t need to give in to senseless intentions anymore, but it is difficult to distinguish what is real and what isn’t, to be who you are without assuming a role.”
Miguel de Cervantes’ novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha dates to 1605 and 1615. Alonso Quijano, the protagonist, assumes a new identity in order to measure up to the ideals he adopts from chivalric romance novels. Quijano’s case is acknowledged in the novel. He suffers from false identification due to too much reading. In order to expel the magical powers of fiction, holy water is sprinkled and books are burned as a means to exorcise fictionality. A blurring of fact and fiction as an identification process is described by Jay Martin as possession. “The identification does not stop at resemblance – it becomes total, incorporating the violent and depressive aspects of the fictional character without self-examination, in a completely unscrutinized, indiscrete manner. Fictions do not simulate life, they are a source of life.”
Dear Lena 17th September 2008
Steven, Paul and me slipped into being saviours on a mission of god knows what. We were sent to Italy by Vera, where a family was planning to sell their 17th century park. I mean the park’s actual future lies within a shopping mall. What might they have there then? A Gourmet Kitchen Exquisite World? Our idea of the lesson was to break into their home and give them a good fright. ‘If you sell the park, something bad happens.’ And when it didn’t work out I collapsed.
A visual transformation towards The Don Quixote Complex can be seen in Meinin Bück’s photographs from 1998, shot shortly before the tragic events, when her ever more utopian fight for building conservation led to the irrevocable. Was art making a catalyst, a triggering factor generating radicalization? I quote critic Harri Mäcklin’s response. “Meinin Bück’s photographs can only be described as eerie: derelict houses, over-grown parks where something unknown lurks behind wild bushes, faded signs of human presence, decrepit statues, and spider webs where rain drops form pearl necklaces. The images are dominated by melancholic anticipation, almost intolerable silence. The ominous nature of the works increases when you know what they drove their creator to do.”
Meinin Bück referred to a particular image, the Petite Dove, as an auto- portrait. When I commented on the genre, she described her entire production between 1996–1998 as auto-portraiture. This is an evaluation given in retrospect, a post-construction not including an intentional output. But even so, it has an impact on the self-portrait. In this case it depicts what the pictured person sees. The French philosopher Jacques Rancière discusses literary theorist and semiotician Roland Barthes’ concepts of studium and punctum as concepts reducing photography to transport. Barthes associates an optical relationship with a tactile relationship. He unleashes the beast as a mania of the gaze, which Rancière marks as a dispossession.
I suggested that Meinin Bück should continue with auto-portraiture making new works. She declined, and chose to reconsider some of her previous motives. She desired to possess her gaze and to regain authorship. With therapeutical guidance Meinin Bück reworked photographs, adding comments, line drawings, the routes of movements, points of reference and her signature with a black marker pen. Meinin Bück reflected on the process stating that her sombre shadow, the doppelgänger, had finally vanished.
There are many writers sharing authorship to Meinin Bück’s present life. The doppelgänger is a reference to her media-name coined in French yellow journalism. She was referred to as La Rouquine or the Redhead.
A pun inspired by her ginger hair has operated as a stigmatic baptizing. Both French and Austrian media have written about the crime according to a cultural script concerning female criminals. It is evident that morbid psychological games and pressure stimulated the events. The public contempt of Meinin Bück has been fervent and had an impact on the court decision. The sentence concerned a single defendant albeit three persons were in charge of the crime.
Cervantes’ protagonist Alonso Quijano embraced his fictional state. ‘There it seems to him that the sky is more translucent and the sun shines with a new clarity; before him lies…’ Another way to express a transgressive state is ‘The sky here will seem more translucent, and the sun will shine with a new kind of clarity.’ An uncertainty of what is accurate or faithful becomes evident when one compares translations. ‘Here it seems to him that the skies are clearer, and that the sun shines with a different brightness; and here his gaze…’. Differences seem to be inherent when moving from one version of the novel to another. Even short exclamations can be rendered in quite different words. Appraisal such as ‘That is a fine thing to say!’ can be as good as ‘That is really good!’ or even ‘Now that is a good one!’
A black swan is the odd event that changes the course of events. It is the inherent error or the unexpectable as a substantial element. In this particular case it could be a misspelling to the extent of the curse of events. Andrea Meinin Bück suffers from institutionalization and does not want to be released. And what are the odds for her to have singular authorship on her life? She claims that she has lost the inner notion of community. The title of this article, My Name was Everyone, is her way of expressing loss.
Lena 23.5 2009
Everything stopped in Guereule. All was calm and still the morning after the killing. Quiet like in Blütengasse. I was barefoot. Steven and Paul had already left, or fled like they said. I walked in the raped building and saw Michel on the bottom of the staircase. I didn’t know why he was lying there. I sat down and spoke to him. J’ai dit que je l’aimais. I loved him, I love you. Michel was the traitor I loved. I continued outdoors, to the patio, through the cherry orchard and continued toward Arbresle. The road was almost washed away by the rain. My step left imprints, left, right, left, right, left. I ran but the imprints were attached to me like soil is to earth. This has been my home and my world for more than ten years. In meetings we are guided to integrate both good and evil. To make a full picture, but we sit in a circle and my eyes wander off and look at the whiteness of the walls. It reminds me of the silence at home, in Blütengasse.