The Creative Maladjusted / by Chris Hall

In February 1970, SPK (Socialist Patients’ Collective) was founded in Heidelberg, Germany.  Their mission as described in their manifesto:  to “turn illness into a weapon.”  They believed that Capitalism was the cause of mental illness run rampant, and that there could be “therapy through violence.”  At its peak, it was composed of nearly 500 people, nurses and their patients among them.  Some members became militant, making bombs before being arrested.  SPK dissolved in July 1971, though many members were absorbed into the radical terrorist group, RAF (Red Army Faction), also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, which had its run until April, 1998.

I don’t condone violence as a method to changing things, but I do admire the spirit of SPK, and am intrigued by their idea that mental illness (or rather, as Martin Luther King would say, the creatively maladjusted) can be transformed from pathology to liberation.  Artistically speaking, though, there has long been a history of alternative mental conditions and notions of liberation, from the first shamans who could go into a trance to combat enemies and illness, to Arthur Rimbaud’s idea that the seer must undergo a “systematic derangement of the senses,” up to Antonin Artaud’s notion that art must be a “Theatre of Cruelty,” to shatter false perceptions and realities, the idea being that if I am mad, so must you be, in order to remove the blinders placed upon us society.  

Concerning purposeful derangement, there is the problem of going too far.  You might not ever come back.   Too many artists have tread this path, gambled, and lost.  

Gerhard Richter, Confrontation 2, 1988

This is a portrait of Gudrun Ensslin, one of the founders of the RAF (Red Army Faction).  On October 18th, 1977, Ensslin and two RAF compatriots committed suicide while in prison.  The details are up for debate, but some have suggested that they were all murdered by prison officials.  Richter's paintings from this series, depicting some of the people and events revolving around the RAF, suggests to me a sad loss and pessimism concerning revolutionary ideals.