Friday, December 17, 2010

Joseph Beuys (Part 5/7)

Joseph Beuys

People asks me what does it mean?
I can only say It means nothing, at least it means nothing in your understanding of meaning because art is not there to be understood. Art is the thing where you have to identify yourself because art contains elements of creativity which also exist in your being, all the use of the senses

Joseph Beuys: on Multiples

Joseph Beuys's activist strategies found their most obvious expression within the realm of objects in his commitment to the production of multiples. 

At the heart of Beuys’s practice was a particularly European form of multiples in which two- and three-dimensional objects are issued in editions. 

Marcel Duchamp pioneered the concept when in the 1930s he began producing boîte-en-valise (box in a suitcase), a portable miniaturized compendium of sixty-nine of his most well-known works. In the 1960s he authorized the fabrication of an edition of his 1910s “readymades,”

Proliferation of artists' multiples in the 1960s and 1970s had a variety of motivations and explanations, revolving around a desire to liberate art from an elitist straitjacket.

Multiples supplanted the individual artist by a collaborative production team and ideally, the individual consumer by a mass audience perhaps unable to afford or relate to the products of the modern art market.

Thereby making them more widely available and abolishing the idea of the “original” work of art.  In myriad formats, Beuys’s multiples were intended to be widely circulated and cheap to acquire, ranging from small-editioned objects to mass-produced political flyers and postcards, in materials as different as felt, wood, found objects like water bottles and tin cans, instruments, records, film, video, and audio tapes related to performances, these 572 works, rich with allusions to his biography and personal iconography, provide a complete picture of his diverse oeuvre.

Everess 1968. Multiple of two bottles, one with felt, in wooden box with rubber stamp

Fernsehscheiebe (TV Disc) 1968 felt disc with stamped paper on woodboard
SCHLITTEN (SLED)  1969B wooden sled, felt, fabric straps, flashlight, fat, oil paint, string

Ja ja ja ja ja ne ne ne ne ne (Yes yes yes no no no no ) 1969 Layered felt with recording tape, 32 minutes

Filzangung (Felt Suit) 1970 felt The felt suit is not just a gag. It’s an extension of the sculptures I made during my performances.  There, felt also appeared as an element of warmth, or as an isolator, Felt was used in all the categories of warmth sculpture, usually in connection with fat. And it’s derivative of that… Ultimately the concept of warmth goes even further. Not just physical warmth … another kind, namely spiritual or evolutionary warmth or a beginning of evolution.

Bruno cora-tee per la lotta continua vera (Bruno Cora-Tee for the True Continous Fight) 1975 bottle containing herb tea with a sealed top and printed label in a glazed wood box

OSTENDE on the beach or in the dunes a cube shaped house therein the Samurai Sword is a Blutwurst PLINTH 1970-82. Rolled felt in three parts, dried meat, metal, string, and glass display case, Dimensions variable

How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome  1971. Multiple of plastic shopping bag containing printed sheets, some with rubber stamp additions, and felt object
Institution and Noiseless Blackboard, with book Joseph Beuys Multiples 1971

Feldbett , 1982  field bed, electrical accumulator (copper, iron, wood), felt blankets  installation

Samurai-Schwert (Samurai Sword) 1983. Multiple of felt and steel

ohne Titel (aus PLIGHT) , 1985 felt 


Plight 1985 rolls of felt , piano 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jan Verwoert on Joseph Beuys: The Boss (e-flux)

.... excerpt

1. The Questionable Authority of the Artist as Healer

One revealing example of an art historical interpretation of Beuys’ oeuvre that is wholly under the spell of the artist’s authority is found in The Cult of the Avant-garde Artist by the American critic Donald Kuspit.1 Kuspit reads Beuys’ entire practice through the image of the shamanistic healer that Beuys projected to the public, portraying him as the last representative of the venerable tradition of avant-garde artists who believed their task to be one of helping humanity to heal the alienation of modern life (in Kuspit’s view, Warhol’s consent to alienation sealed the decline of that tradition). As evidence for this interpretation, Kuspit quotes two programmatic statements by Beuys: “My intention: healthy chaos, healthy amorphousness in a known medium which consciously warmed a cold, torpid form from the past, a convention of society, and which makes possible future forms.”2 And in conclusion: “This is precisely what the shaman does in order to bring about change and development: his nature is therapeutic.”3 Now, the concept of healing raises a series of questions: whom does Beuys claim to heal? And of what? By what means, and by whose authority? Kuspit answers these questions succinctly: the Germans, of the trauma of national collapse, and through the healing energy of an original, pagan creativity that he taps, for them, by virtue of his authority as healer.
Kuspit then proceeds to interpret National Socialism as an expression of exaggerated faith in technocratic rationality (and hence as an exemplary symptom of modern alienation), arriving at the conclusion that recovery from the pathologies of this strain of rationalism can only be achieved by liberating a Dionysian creativity of the very sort Beuys claimed to have released. Kuspit writes: “The Germans had to be cured of their pathological belief in the authority of reason, which they readily put before life itself.”4 Beuys, the shamanistic healer, is thereafter portrayed as the antithesis of Hitler, the technocratic dictator: “Beuys was warm where Hitler was cold.”5 This interpretation is bizarre. Nevertheless, it unfolds the logical implications of the concept of healing that Beuys established. The figure of the healer is messianic in nature, and is therefore of the same ilk as the messianic leader of men. A direct comparison therefore seems obvious. On somewhat closer inspection, however, this juxtaposition necessarily leads to a result that directly contradicts Kuspit’s interpretation. The messianic goal of healing modern man of his alienation by tapping primordial forces does not distinguish Beuys from Hitler but links them. The assertion that the German people could be cured of the maladies caused by the decline and decadence of modern culture through the rediscovery of their mythical, pagan (allegedly “Aryan”) creative powers was, after all, the core of the ideology by which the National Socialists justified their claim to power. The motto “Am Deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen” (The German spirit shall heal the world) was taken to articulate the association of the idea of healing with just such an ideology.6

However, the fact that, in the course of history, the idea of healing came to be associated with this particular ideology does not discredit Beuys’ approach to it per se. The motif of mythical healing—the notion that a rediscovery of a mythical creativity would offer a cure to the alienations of modern society—has occupied a central position in modern social criticism since early Romanticism (at the latest).7 In this form and function the motif can be found in the work of many modern thinkers artists, including (as Rüdiger Sünner has shown) Friedrich Schlegel and Nietzsche, as well as Helena Blavatsky (one of the key figures of modern occultism, the founder of theosophy, and an inspiration for Rudolf Steiner).8 If Beuys was enthusiastic about Celtic myth, for example, and saw James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to be the expression of the buried mythical, spiritual creativity of—as he literally says—“Indo-Aryan” culture, it is certainly reasonable to assume that his use of the term stems from authors such as Blavatsky.9 Channeled through authors such as Adolf Lanz and Guido von List, Blavatsky’s teachings were, however, also a source of inspiration for Hitler and Himmler, who developed the racial doctrine implicit to some extent in theosophy into a justification for their “völkisch” (racist and nationalist) doctrine of national recuperation.10 One application of the concept of healing cannot be directly reduced to the other. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that, seen in the context of the history of ideas, the idea of modern culture’s return to the supposedly mythical powers of a premodern culture was the impulse behind both Romantic projects to reform life and National Socialist ideology. That this ideological aspect is never really questioned or even acknowledged by Beuys and his orthodox interpreters (such as Kuspit) exposes the limits of the interpretive discourse Beuys established: he never submitted his own key concepts to a critical, historical analysis.

While he frequently dipped into the history of ideas for his discourse, Beuys did not apparently feel compelled to consider the fact that ideas have specific histories—ones that, in certain instances, might make it necessary to reject them, and the traditions they have come to stand for. In his artistic practice, however, the critical reconsideration of traditional forms was at the heart of his approach. The postcard work Manifest (Manifesto, 1985) offers a poignant slogan for this. In handwriting it reads: “Manifesto the error already begins when someone is about to buy a stretcher and canvas. Joseph Beuys, November 1, 1985.” The absence of a similarly critical approach to tradition in Beuys’ use of theoretical concepts may not ultimately be that problematic in terms of the content of the particular ideas he cites. What does have a significant bearing on the politics of Beuys’ overall practice is his adoption of a speaking position that is inextricably bound to the articulation of certain ideas precisely because this position is traditionally justified by these ideas: the position of the messianic speaker whose mythical authority is justified and authenticated by the invocation of the idea of primordial healing powers. The use of the concept of healing is thus synonymous with the creation of an unquestioned—and, by virtue of its superior justification, also unquestionable—position of power. However, if Beuys’ liberating approach to conventions of sculpture and to the possibility of art in general is understood as evidence of a critical attitude, it seems only fair to assume that the creation of such an unquestionable power position can hardly have been his primary concern. In positioning himself as a speaker, then, it would even appear integral to Beuys’ practice to distance himself from the power mechanisms at play.
No doubt, the desire for healing was an important motif in Beuys’ oeuvre. The question is whether the specific way in which he dealt with this desire in his work does indeed have a considerable artistic and historical significance, not because Beuys succeeded in being or becoming the healer he purported to be, but precisely because he (whether consciously or not is hard to say) allowed the inherent contradictions of the concept of messianic healing to become manifest within his work. One example to start with is Beuys’ complex interpretation of the motif of the Messiah in Zeige Deine Wunde (Show Your Wounds, 1976). In the Christian tradition, the act of showing the wounds is the gesture by which Christ reveals himself to his disciples as the resurrected Messiah. Strictly speaking, therefore, there can only be one person who is entitled to show his wounds: the Savior himself. The title of the work, however, is an appeal addressed to another person. Beuys here effectively changes the monologue of messianic revelation into a dialogue and thus multiplies the available speaking positions: anyone who feels addressed by the appeal is here invited to adopt the messianic position. This moment of multiplication is in fact also the primary formal characteristic of the installation. All of its elements are doubled. The central elements in the work are two stretchers on wheels, underneath each of which a zinc box and an empty glass vessel are placed. Anyone who encounters death or healing here does not do so alone. Death or convalescence is presented as an existential experience in which our lives come to mirror each other. The claim to uniqueness associated with the role of the Messiah is thus eroded linguistically in the title and literally in the space of the installation.

jon verwoert - e-flux

 'Show Your Wound' was an installation created by Beuys in 1974-75 in a bleak pedestrian underpass in Munich. Elements used there can be seen in these negatives; a pair of dissecting tables and the heads of two iron agricultural tools, mounted on wooden sticks. The wound was a recurring theme for the artist. On a personal level it referred to injuries he received in the Second World War, his breakdown in the 1950s and his heart attack in 1975. More generally, he used the idea to reference events in Germany's past and the divide between Eastern and Western cultures.

Mixed media 
107.00 x 79.00 x 5.00 cm 

National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008    

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Joseph Beuys (Part 2/7)

Joseph Beuys - Infiltration for Piano 1966 / The Skin 1984

"... everything in the scale in the possibilities is involved from noise to concept,the sound of the piano is trapped. The piano is an instrument to produce sound, when not in use is silent but still has sound potential. When no sound is possible the piano is condemned to silence.

The relationship to the human position is the red crosses of emergency, if we remain silent. We fail to make the next evolution step.

Such an object is intended as a stimulus for discussion and in no way is to be taken as an aesthetic product it is vital that human kind should slowly learn to speak.

Everything must be expressed, negatives even those beyond language." 
    Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys (German, 1921-1986), Infiltration homogen für Konzertflügel (Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano), 1966, piano covered with felt and leather, 100 x 152 x 240 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris.     
Joseph Beuys, Die Haut (The Skin), 1984, felt and leather, 100 x 152 x 240 cm, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sheep in the snow, Joseph Beuys 1952

Joseph Beuys
Sheep in the snow 1952

There are very few accounts of this piece, in fact in most books it is not mentioned.

'Sheep in the snow' is part of his early works what is surprising is how often it is omitted as it alludes to the material he would later use in his most known pieces.

In this stage of his work, felt is represented rather than used in itself: a representation.

Joseph Beuys had not integrated probably into his work the idea of the substance and the materiality of the actual materials as sources of meaning, process and knowledge that later on he made part of his healing practice, discourse and teachings.

Joseph Beuys (Part 1/7)