He was always the youngest in the group. In 1966, the core participants in what he—with Valie Export—would later dub “Viennese Actionism” applied for government funding to attend the Destruction in Art Symposium in London. The group sent him, just twenty-two years old, to the ministry to argue their case. He remained their go-to spokesperson. On June 7, 1968, at the Kunst und Revolution event in Lecture Hall 1 of the University of Vienna, it was he who introduced the wild proceedings with an “Inflammatory Speech,” his raised right asbestos-gloved hand in flames. Ending quickly in a cry of pain—kerosene on his naked forearm caught fire—his oration, titled (after Lenin's pamphlet) “What Is to Be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement,” gave way to the more scandalous, though perhaps less cunning, actions of his older comrades. Otto Muehl, a “former middle- school teacher,” as one “memory protocol” described him, screamed obscenities while whipping a bandaged man until he bled. Gunter Brus, after undressing onstage, cut himself and (again the protocol) “masturbated for about 20 minutes” before shitting and pissing in the audience's direction. Oswald Wiener, his speech drowned out onstage by grunting, was falsely heard to say that the shitting should move from the lecture hall to St. Stephen's Cathedral, the city's holy of holies. Meanwhile he, the event's “inflammatory” opening speaker, was the only actual student to address the Austrian Socialist Students’ Union (the hapless host of Vienna's infamous “hot quarter-hour”), and he had come well equipped. He brought with him a water bucket to extinguish his burning glove and wore safety goggles to protect his eyes against flames and, as things turned out, against blood, excrement, and urine.
When he died this year, just four days short of his seventy-ninth birthday, Peter Weibel seemed perennially youthful. He had led the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe for almost a quarter century, indefinitely postponing his retirement by mounting art exhibitions—sometimes as many as seven in one year—that reshaped the definition of art exhibitions. It was Weibel, earlier and more consistently than anyone, who gave museological form to our posthuman, postmedium, anthropocenic condition. Sprawling, experimental, and provisory, these exhibitions yielded mighty catalogues: about surveillance, futurity, and digital art, about forgotten contemporaries (like Vilém Flusser) and emergent stars (Weibel was early in celebrating William Kentridge and Olafur Eliasson). Of these many shows, the four co-curated with Bruno Latour, who passed away five months before Weibel, were the most significant. Weibel and Latour called them Gedankenausstellungen (“thought exhibitions”). With challenging titles like “Making Things Public,” “Reset Modernity,” and “Critical Zones” and conceptual in what they displayed and how, they blurred the lines between science and art, gallery space and laboratory, aesthetic object and political debate while remaining fun to visit and popularly appealing.