The Clairvoyant

Media Abstinence And Hedonism

Every now and then, the Viennese philosopher and hacker Günther Friesinger gets buried alive to “really be alone and offline once in a while” and holds the world record of 27 minutes. Currently, he is planning a brothel and escort service for creatives.

Antje Mayer: What drives you?

Günther Friesinger: This keeps me busy! (He piles seven books on the table, which Friesinger is the co-editor and co-author of)

Wow! Are you serious? All books of yours? Guaranteed no plagiarism?

Of course, and it’s a present for you: The Next Cyborg, Urban Hacking, The Art of Reverse Engineering, Mind and Matter, Geistiges Eigentum und Originalität, Geist in der Maschine, Context Hacking... I was already writing as an 8-year-old.

Me too, and better than today. You are so many things. How should I ever find a short subtitle for our interview?

Come on, it always depends on the context. I’m a hacker, author, philosopher, artist, curator and producer, manager of the artist group monochrom, director of the paraflows festival for digital art and cultures in Vienna, director of the Arse Elektronika Festival in San Francisco, producer of Roboexotica, the festival in Anger, and the Hedonistica in Montreal and Tel Aviv, a teacher of cultural management, production, and exhibition dramaturgy at different universities in Austria and Germany, a coach, consultant, journalist, programmer, and – above all – someone who makes things possible.

And still you seem surprisingly relaxed. Are you walking proof of the extinction of classic professions?

Yes, that’s sad because valuable, sometimes century-old expert knowledge is going lost, and the related tools, too. The dissolution of professions is already in full swing in the creative and academic realms. Only few of us have a fixed job and clamber from project to project. This wave will also splash over to other traditional disciplines in the future – professions like the shoemaker, bookbinder, tailor, or stove setter will not exist anymore. This is what I am preoccupied with at the moment: How will we work in the future? 20 percent unemployment is my prognosis.

"In daily life there’s always something around: media, other people, noise, in the coffin is just silence."

Hopefully this won’t include the two of us!

My team is prepared. Next year we plan our project “Creative Class Escort”, a brothel for creatives.

Artists can buy sex for an hour there?

You can rent an artist for an hour.

To have sex with him or her?

No, they have to be creative for you. You book an hour of music, painting, or dancing. There is also an escort service in the planning, where you can have the artist come to your home.

Bravo! Until now, everyone is making money, a lot of money with art, with the usual exception of the creatives themselves. The misery has an end!

The waiter serves chocolate cake with whipped cream. We are sitting in WerkzeugH in Vienna’s 5th district. A lot of old couches, sprawling plants, groups of students, everything has a bit of a self-made touch. Günther Friesinger wanted to meet here because he helped “make it possible” – the pub is the product of an urban intervention in 2006 by architecture students from Vienna University of Technology.

Before you take a bite you should quickly post the cake on Facebook, just like you do every day! I would actually expect a bit more intellectual posts from someone like you…

Why? I am a convinced hedonist. Philosophy, joy of life, cooking and good food belong together. Due to an allergy I have been cooking for myself every day for almost three years. But the beautiful thing about it is that you can’t be online when you do it. You’re completely concentrated on the ingredients and the movements. At least I only post my homemade dishes.

"I recommend media abstinence."

Is it true that you are also a farmer?

I was so stirred up by the discussion around the regimentation of seeds last year that I spontaneously leased a field in Lower Austria, and now I cultivate tomatoes, zucchini, and salad there with old seeds from Arche Noah in Schiltern.

Burying and digging up things is something you really like to do. Also yourself in particular…

Always a pleasure. I feel very comfortable being buried in a coffin and enjoy the silence and peace there. I hold the world record with 27 minutes. I could have lasted even longer but those up above got nervous. For clarification: Those of us from the artist group monochrom, where I am the managing director, initiated the art project “The Experience of Being Buried Alive” in 2005. We give people the opportunity to be buried alive in a coffin for 15 minutes.

How considerate!

Yes. When you are in the mood we can drive to Lower Austria and do it sometime!

Thanks for this generous offer! Weren’t you ever just a little bit afraid?

No, it is warm and quiet. Some people want to get out as soon as we turn in the first screw, but the majority loves it a lot. I always say, it is an meditative opportunity to be alone for once, to think about death and the self. In daily life there’s always something around: media, other people, noise – in the coffin, just silence.

"In 20 years there will be more wars around the globe."

In this light, it’s really a pity that we are typically already dead when we are buried. How do I communicate with above?

Best not at all. Some have a webcam with them, a cell phone is of course also possible; some write a live blog from the casket – but I recommend media abstinence.

What’s the meaning of life?

That’s a difficult question that everyone should ask themselves once. My simple conclusion: The meaning of life is life. I’m an atheist and don’t believe something comes afterwards. That’s why I’m a convinced hedonist. Whoever postpones things to the future doesn’t understand life. Live now! I am part of Generation X, which grew up with the Cold War and Chernobyl, with the knowledge that someone could push the red button at any time, and boom!

I was 14 when the Chernobyl cloud drifted over my family home…

I was 12. So you understand me.

"I always wanted to travel into space. Maybe I’ll still manage."

May I confidentially consult the Günther Friesinger voodoo doll: What will Vienna look like in 10 years?

Allow me to translate: She says that Vienna will have two million inhabitants again; in 20 years there will be more wars around the globe and in 30 years even more environmental disasters. We can’t do anything against it anymore; the train has left the station. In 60 years humankind will have reached a crossroads and we live in a Mad Max scenario.

Well, good to see that you’re still so happy. How will Vienna change because of digital evolution?

Vienna will become more open and transparent; nepotism and insider knowledge will cease to exist. A good example of this is the Viennese “Baumkataster” (tree cadaster), a database listing circa 120,000 trees in the city according to size and species. It’s the basis for the cool App “Fruchtfliege”, Public Fruits for Everyone, originally a crowdsourcing project. It lists Viennese fruit trees on public ground, whose fruits – as hardly anyone knows – are free for all to harvest. It’s sorted by harvest season, type of fruit, and it includes recipes. Vienna will once again be reclaimed by its inhabitants, thanks not least to the new digital tools.

Once I stole a lilac in the Prater park…

Thank you for your honesty. You are forgiven, but I think that’s not really permitted.

Why is it that people are inventing so many things in Vienna at the moment?

They’re not inventing more; it just became more visible. Earlier you would have brought your idea to the Patent Office; now you start a crowdfunding campaign. In the 19th century Vienna already had a population of two million, that’s why the Central Cemetery was planned so big. In order to ensure an appropriate disposal of the deceased, a pneumatic tube system for corpses was invented, for instance. A pretty spacey idea, don’t you think?

Downright eco-friendly. Apropos: What do you miss in Vienna?

An agency for temporary usage. There’s so much vacancy in Vienna. We urgently need to act. This was also stipulated in agreement by the Red-Green municipal government, but far too little is happening in this direction.

What do you love about Vienna?

The multiculturalism.

What makes you sad?

The Viennese winter with its dark shadows hanging over the city and this new Volk 2.0 movement and initiatives like #stolzdrauf! That makes me sick.

What have you always wanted to do?

To travel to outer space. Maybe I’ll still manage – before Mad Max.