Joseph Beuys: Man Is Sculpture: Démosthènes Davvetas
Joseph Beuys, Straßenbahnhaltestelle – ein Monument für die Zukunft (Tramstop – A Monument for the Future), 1976
Joseph Beuys was born on May 12th, 1922 in Cleves from 'a wound drawn together with plaster' : a phrase he himself uses in his autobiographical notes. Who could imagine that this child was destined in the world of contemporary art, to become the exemplary artist incarnate in whose work the idea of the 'wound' (or Wunde in German, a word close to Wunder, miracle) would play a principal role?
During the Second World War, Joseph Beuys (again by his own account), whose ambition it was to become a doctor, found himself in the Luftwaffe at the age of 18 as a bombardier. He had such traumatic memories — his plane crash, the death of many of his own friends and imprisonment by the Allies — that he gave up the idea of studying medicine. His life from then on was haunted by nightmares and plagued by feelings of guilt and anguished questions about the future of Man and mankind. Just as Joe Bousquet, who had himself been physically injured in the previous war, had tried to come to terms with his injury by turning towards writing and poetry, so Beuys turned towards art. In 1944, he enrolled in the class of Ewald Matare, a teacher at the Academy of Fine Art in Düsseldorf.
Beuys shares with Bousquet the sense that an injury is above all a moral trauma. The theme of injury would remain 'radioactive' in Beuys' work until his death, becoming a fundamental component of his artistic language. This theme does not weigh down on the past, but, as with Bousquet, is at the origin of a penetrating analysis by the great German artist on the life and destiny of Man in general: Man is therefore at the centre of the work; he is the sculpture; a sculpture gifted with thought, sensitivity and will.
To thought would devolve the inquiry on traumatism: What is it? Where is it? What are its consequences? In short, it becomes an investigative task. To sensitivity would return therapeutic activity: how to heal or dare to heal and see the process of healing. As for will, its task would be to inscribe this endeavour into an historical perspective. Beuys' drawings, his sculptures, his performances, his writing, his political action — everything in his work demands the presence of an anthropological constituent, a constant which conceals creative strength, energy, knowing nature and the will to change it on the condition that Man understands that he is the master of his material and of the possibilities opened up by science. Thus, with the key that is formed by this anthropocentrism, it becomes easier, as we make our way through a series of works, to interpret compositions such as Fat Corners and Fat Chair, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, And in us . . . under us . . . landunder, Celtic, Coyote and Tram Stop.
A Decisive Stage: Fluxus
The determining phase in Beuys' work occurred around 1960, when the controversy around Fluxus began. The title is derived from the famous concept of the 'panta rei’: ’Into the same river we both step and do not step. We both are and are not.' (Heraclitus, Fragments). Fluxus represents a sort of continuation of the ironic uprisings and methods in art matter begun by Yves Klein and Manzoni — the extension of an American style Happening. However, Fluxus differs on a fundamental point: during a Happening what occurs is reinforced and amplified by the participation of the audience, whereas in Fluxus we can see that there is a tendency to establish, without its formal exclusion, a disciplined relationship with the audience which prevents the 'ceremonial' progression from turning into chaos.
Fluxus aimed to bring together musicians, dancers, painters, poets, sculptors and all other types of artists into an anti-egocentric, anti-nationalist and anonymous platform as a melting-pot of different nationalities and viewpoints. Like the demonstrations of its predecessor, Dada, Fluxus aimed at releasing the individual from any type of physical or intellectual and, in particular, political repression.
The fact that Fluxus neither set up any discrimination between artistic disciplines nor burdened the multiple space of art with artificial barriers was natural; having both a revolutionary and anti-authoritarian character, Fluxus refused to separate art and life. It assumed John Cage's viewpoint that everyday life can be seen as theatre wherein everything can coexist. The obsolete idea of artistic specialisation gives way to the common ground of communication where, inevitably, everything is oriented towards the power of the image, the action, the performance —towards a superior output of mediatory possibilities.
In trying to go beyond the strict limits of painting or sculpture and of the national and geographical frontiers of art, Fluxus gives value to the mobility of materials and is akin to the old dream of Total Art. Any material, no matter what sort and even the most humble, can contribute to the combined, entire idea — the global concept. Anyone can be associated with these actions since, being an open, outward movement, it does not allow for ideological enclosure. Rivalling Marcel Duchamp, Beuys is more inclined towards energy and artistic effect, rather than the final product, the work of art.
Fat — Felt
Next came the moment when materials such as fat and felt made their appearance. Both the technical and speculative aspects of Beuys' views on sculpture coexisted within these materials. The moment took place in 1964, on the occasion of a reading given by Allan Kaprow at the Zwirner Gallery in Cologne.
The works of this period such as Fat Corners and Fat Chair display his 'theory of sculpture' — from the indefinite to the defined, from heat (the 'chaotic') to cold (the 'crystallised'), from the spontaneous (the 'formless') to the intellectualised (the 'formed'). The transition was not made just in one stage but was the result of a progression, which Beuys has described himself:
My initial intention in using fat was to stimulate discussion. The flexibility of the material appealed to me particularly in its reactions to temperature changes. This flexibility is psychologically effective — people instinctively feel it relates to inner processes and feelings. The discussion I wanted was about the potential of sculpture and culture, what they mean, what language is about, what human production and creativity are about. So I took an extreme position in sculpture, and a material that was very basic to life and not associated with art. At this time, although I had not exhibited, the students and artists who saw this piece did have some curious reactions which confirmed my feelings about the effect of placing fat in a corner. People started to laugh, get angry, or try to destroy it.
The fat on the Fat Chair is not geometric, as in the Fat Corners, but keeps something of its chaotic character. The ends of the wedges read like a cross-section cut through the nature of fat. I placed it on a chair to emphasise this, since here the chair represents a kind of human anatomy, the area of digestive and excretive warmth processes, sexual organs and interesting chemical change, relating psychologically to will power. In German the joke is compounded as a pun since Stuhl (chair) is also the polite way of saying shit (stool), and that too is a used and mineralised material with chaotic character, reflected in the texture of the cross section of fat.
The importance and consequences of Fat Chair and Fat Corners were recognised by Beuys:
Now, 15 years later, I can say that without Fat Chair and the Fat Corners as vehicles none of my activities would have had such an effect. It started an almost chemical process among people that would have been impossible if I had only spoken theoretically.
Interrogations Concerning the Role of the Audience
From now on Beuys' beginnings took a more insistent turn: everything indicated that his temperament would draw his course towards its most extreme limits and that it would not remain fixed. For him the world was not fragmented but whole. Equally, his art created conflicting forces that both created and destroyed in the same instant. Beuys was certain that such a route would, in a chain of events, pass through situations which were not always pleasant. It is precisely there that the artist's strength is revealed: in the deep-seated resourcefulness which allows him to turn every experience to the advantage of his creative development, and Beuys showed that he possessed that strength many times. One of the most typical examples was at the Festival of New Art, held at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1964, where, with other artists, he took part in various actions entitled 'Kukei', 'Akopee No!’, 'Brown Cross', and 'Fat Corners'. However, at the time of the third stage of the programme planned for the Festival which dealt with word, image and sound, the performance had to be stopped because of the booing from the audience and one of the students punching Beuys in the face. Beuys remained unperturbed and did not renounce his standpoint despite the riot.
These events, as well as his participation a month earlier at Documenta Ill (where he presented drawings and sculptures from the period 1951-56 including Queen Bee I-III) played an essential role in what was to follow. Firstly, because his thinking began to be 'infiltrated' by the political factor, and moreover, in an imperative way. Secondly, because he began to consider the creator/community relationship of his actions from a different angle and preferred to put himself in a less vulnerable position in relation to the public.
It should be stressed that the first ideas, which had been the initial theoretical substratum of Fluxus, on the 'collective mind', ‘anonymity' and the role of the audience in general, paved the way for a new critical phase marked by a change in speculative foundations. Beuys didn't find himself particularly in favour of the tumult and agitation, or the spectators' propensity for destroying certain performances. Nor did he feel the need to continue being left to the exclusive domination of chance during an action. To the contrary, he was looking for a concentration of a different nature to that which presides over the ordinary control of Time: meditation, the control of material and space, dialogue with the audience. This kind of attitude, however, should not be analysed as an absolute inclination to control everything with no account of invisible parameters, surprise, the unforeseen, which can all interfere with the more or less lasting development of the action. Rather, it must simply be seen from the point of view of a ritual. An open ritual which can then provoke a series of questions, the equivalent of a method which once again would include in its project the awakening of the forces of the mind. This is why Beuys from now on would place the creator further in the background in the course of his subsequent performances, rendering him more obscure in his relationship with the audience, yet without meaning that communication with the community would be cut off. It was merely another form of dialogue which he would set up in the ritual of the following works.
The effect of Fluxus, even in the most grandiose and decisive moments of its progress and display, is characterised by a certain determining antithesis which has marked the whole of Beuys' language. On the one hand, there exists an unreserved investiture of oneself, in the 'spirit' of a revolutionary use of new materials for artistic expression and, as a consequence, a radical refusal of the image of the artist as an antisocial and marginal genius locked in his studio. On the other hand, however, can be seen the persistent, unwavering determination never to become integrated with groups, organisations or movements.
While confident in the journey he had begun, a journey similar to that of an explorer who investigates every region of human expression hitherto unknown, forbidden or impenetrable to art, Beuys had only explored a part of himself in Fluxus. The other part was reserved for the freedom of a continuing personal
creation. Besides, he was still an outsider, an observer and a protagonist. He was someone who knew how to delve deep into the spirit of the time, not so as to show it in the heart of a form of reality, but, above all, to transform it into a further element of his thought, which, in having a total expression, propelled his artistic language to the furthest depths of humanity's memory.
Time — Space
Beuys has always used Time as well as Space in a particular way. In Beuys' own language, Time and Space as weapons against the materialism of everyday life, its bad organisation and stereotyped production, or as a way of remembering the existence of human dignity, take on different dimensions from their usual ones: they become the field of action of his proposition: supreme Man, the administrator of his production capacities.
We can see an example of this way of perceiving things in And in us . . . beneath us ... landunder, an action which took place in June 1965 at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal. During this happening which lasted 24 hours — from midnight to midnight —Beuys, who was curled up in a chair, from time to time would shake his feet and head over a tub full of margarine or would, occasionally, with his ear against a carton, listen to the fat with which the carton was filled. Then he tried to touch the objects which were out of his reach without sliding off his box. Before curling up again, he started a cassette recorder and with a concentrated expression let his head go back to the carton of fat to carry on listening once again. On occasion, he would take hold of one of the two builders' shovels which were left standing against a blackboard and grip it close to his chest.
In this action, it is not the materials which represent the centre of gravity (moreover, some of them, such as the margarine, tape recorder and fat had previously been used) but the anthropocentric factor which, explained in this rather absurd, irritating way, leads to the idea that Time and Space are not exteriorised or far away from Man, but within him in all his possibilities. It suffices to have the will power to attempt an approach to things which seem to be beyond likely limits, so we reach a stage of continual dispute with ourselves and thus of strengthened conscience.
It is natural that this proposition which dominated Beuys' intellectual problematic necessitated new sources of energy. It was vigorously taken up in different forms inherent in the cyclical process of his 'alphabet' since the scheme of traditional thought seemed to him to be exhausted.
Indeed, the law of one permanent 'rational' system was not enough for him: he needed something else, something capable of provoking an awakening of the mind in the form of spiritual relaxation which would reinvigorate the intellect with new strength. It is through the perspective of the necessary resources of Man's spiritual energies that we must consider his next action in 1965 at the Schmela Gallery in Düsseldorf: How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.
It went thus: the exhibition hall remained closed to the public who could only see what was happening inside, either through the gallery window or on a screen. Inside, Beuys had put together the following objects, some of which are familiar to us: a stool with one foot wrapped in a sheath of felt, and two bones placed just beside him in which were hidden microphones.
Beuys, his head smeared with honey and gold leaf, held a dead hare in his arms which he carried from one picture to another. The shoes he was wearing had two different soles: one of iron (concealing a microphone) and the other of felt. He sat on the stool and began to murmur in an almost incomprehensible way, explaining painting to the hare and deliberately refusing to address the audience.
Here we find ourselves once again confronted with a metaphor of the artist who invents a ritual through visual representation of his own code. The hare isn't there to suggest the death of art — a point which many have misinterpreted; on the contrary, linked to the ancient goddess Mother Earth, the hare is a symbol of regeneration and underground incarnation; it becomes the power whose aim it is to arouse the dormant ratio — reason. Felt (whose qualities as a preserving and protective agent are already familiar); gold — leaf or powder — (which has its cultural value); iron (a metal linked to energy); the microphones (transmitting the voice, which is not only for Beuys the vehicle of the message, but also, by its very existence, a sculptural material with an energising value); honey (by origin, the rise of the vegetable towards the animal and an energising substance which connotes a perfectly structured community); so many elements are used here by Beuys not as an attempt to propose an aesthetic motion but as the wheels of the mechanism of his thought that is guided by a desire: that of drawing out 'dead' intellect from its lethargy (the reason for which Beuys 'honeyed' his head) and — organically uniting thought, action (praxis), matter and form — achieving Creation.
In hexagonal and crystalline wax sculptures, honey — that energising and moving substance—is cast by the bee community. Similarly, Beuys intends to introduce into the structures of reason, movement, plasticity and warmth — essential materials in his theory of sculpture which flow into social and political concepts:
The nature of warmth is latent in honey, wax, and even in pollen and nectar taken from plants. In mythology, honey was considered a spiritual substance and bees were divine. The cult of the bee is fundamentally a cult to Venus ... It had spread widely and was influenced by all the process of the production of honey, a link between the earthly and the divine. The flow of a substance stemming from all the environment plants, minerals and the sun — was the essence of the bee cult. The allusion refers to socialism, as it was practised in the large clock and watchmaking cooperatives of the Republic of Bes at La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland). We can still see sculpted bees, the symbols of socialism, on the walls and stone foundations. This doesn't imply State socialism that functions like a machine but a socialist organisation all the parts of which function like a living body. In physiological terms, this organisation is not hierarchical — the queen bee links the head and heart, and the drones become cells which must constantly be renewed. The whole makes a unit whose function is perfect, but in an atmosphere of human warmth founded on the principles of co-operation and fraternity.
The bee is one of the themes that can be found again in Beuys' drawings and in a series of important sculptures: Queen Bees (Bieren Roigen), the first of which is dated 1947 and the last 1952. All are made in beeswax or wood: two incorporate small feminine figures.
This action took place in Frankfurt in May 1969, organised by the German Academy of Dramatic Art, and proceeded as follows: on a stage in a circle of rope, a horse was eating hay while a microphone placed on the stage allowed the noise of his hooves to be heard. Nearby, by various gesticulations and movements Beuys interpreted classic texts: Goethe's Iphigeniea in Tauride and Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which could be heard emitted from a tape recorder in a montage with C Peykmann's and W Wiens' voices. The materials Beuys used from beginning to end were, a microphone, margarine, sugar, a piece of iron, cymbals and a fur coat.
The procedure unfolded like a ceremony that places the artist in an enclosed position as regards the public and provoked different questions. Let us proceed stage by stage. To begin with, we have Goethe and Shakespeare's classic texts: Iphigeniea, a symbol of sacrifice and Titus Andronicus, a symbol of extreme violence. They are two poles (Germanic 'idealism' and Anglo-Saxon 'realism') which, in keeping with his 'Theory of Sculpture' come together in a glyptic movement. Then we have the horse who is innocence, beauty, freedom; the a-logos (the animal deprived of logos). Finally, we have the artist himself with his gesticulations, his movements, his voice and materials that are carriers of energy.
At first sight, there doesn't seem to be a direct relationship between all these elements. And yet everything can take on different dimensions — if Beuys is seen as the man who moves between conscience, history, and the 'prospective' search between the intellectual and the organic, between chaos and order, then, as the critic Caroline Tisdall describes, we have the unexpected arrival of Man, 'producer of time and space', the 'coordinator', the 'impeller', a man of heightened spirituality, initiated into 'gnosis' and gifted with 'intuition', who knows how to respect individuality but at the same time, how to play a social role — an image-metaphor that Beuys gives as 'for' Man and the artist. Such an image corresponds to his anthropocentric language which, among other things, offers something more in that it theoretically proposes the bringing together of both the individual and the community, and thus the experience of isolation and sociability.
Individual — Collectivity — Theatre (The Nordic Element)
Two actions displayed the similar intention of knowing how to live alone while at the same moment having communal space. This time however they had a Celtic theme. The first floor piece in Edinburgh in 1970 with Hennig Christiansen was entitled Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch), Scottish Symphony (Schottische Symphonie) and the second, in Basel, in 1971, Celtic + ~.
This was not the first time that Beuys alluded to Nordic mythology — ever since he had read and been influenced by James Joyce's Ulysses (in which he had discovered the spiritual values of the North) his tendency to draw from sources of 'a Nordic element' had never left him.
The Celtic performance at Edinburgh had been inspired by the Arthurian legend. As Beuys said: 'On the way to Edinburgh' he had 'absolutely no idea what was the right thing to do'. All he knew was that he would be going to give 'a concert'. But, as usual, he had been cautious enough to order all kinds of materials that constituted the organic part of ideas and obsessions which accompanied him from his childhood years and, as time went by, had transformed into fundamental elements of his language: 'Films, a piano and a whole load of other things'. On the way he 'noticed an old stick' which he considered worthy enough to add to the list. He then spotted an axe in a shop which he 'bought'... Later on, he had a look at the hall where he would be giving the performance and, as is his usual way, started fiddling about with everything there. In this way he gradually reached an obsessive relationship with space, a vehement and conflicting dance with all the material surrounding him. The intervention of his partner Hennig Christiansen serves to heighten the rhythmical tension to such a degree that it didn't take him long to find the solution which could enable the performance to spring into life. He asked the question 'What is Scotland?' . . . and suddenly all his impressions, obsessions and ideas buried within him began to burst forth. 'Scotland, King Arthur's Round Table, the legend of the holy grail ... ' and became elements on which he would base the performance that he carried out.
This theme, as well as the ideas that gravitated around it would not end in the Edinburgh performance but would be resuscitated in the 1971 performance in Basel, which hardly differs in its material from the first performance with the exception that it brought out the relationship between the actor (Man and a strengthened conscience) and the community — the social space —in full relief. And this time, he gathers together the following material:
Three Philips tape recorders, an axe, a grand piano, a microphone, an aluminium ladder, a watering can, an enamelled washbowl with a piece of soap, a basin filled with water the handles of which were decorated with two torches, attached to them by elastic, painted in black, and bound in insulating Scotch tape; there were also white cloths and a blackboard, two film projectors and a screen.
Everything began when Beuys, in the presence of only photographers and cameramen, set about washing seven peoples' feet. Then about 500 spectators could come closer to watch him, lying on the floor pushing back a blackboard three times on which was chalked a drawing. Between each scene he would rub out the drawing and draw another. When it reached the piano, he got up onto his feet and with the blackboard beside him and a shepherd's crook in his hand — pointed towards the drawing on the blackboard — began to meditate in a concentrated manner. At that moment three films were played one after another in the same auditorium: Eurasianstaff, the performance entitled Vacuum … Mass and The Transiberian.
After that Beuys spattered the walls with gelatine and immediately after, using a ladder and an iron box, picked everything off the wall, bit by bit. Then, standing in the middle of the hall, holding the full box straight over his head with his arms outstretched, he poured the gelatine over himself. He picked up the blackboard on which was drawn a chalice and brandished it (in the same way) above his head like a shield, spluttering inarticulate sounds into the microphone. He let the board fall to his feet, leaving it upright, and sat astride it while he held the crook in his hand like a spear. He remained in this motionless position for more than half an hour and to finish the performance he went straight to a large bucket full of water, attached two torches to his thigh, filled a watering can with water and stepped into the bucket where Christiansen began to drench him with the watering can.
It appears here that the performance's development is cyclical — beginning with an act of offering to the others and finishing with a baptism. Again, this time, the characteristic elements of the artist's world are all reunited: life and death, creation, conscience, the individual, collectivity. The washing of feet — a symbolic image with Christian connotations — raises a socio-political meaning — that the individual is at the service of others (and it is here that the concepts of reciprocity and exchange should be located). However, going beyond individual egoism in no way expresses the individual's negation. To the contrary, during this performance, the individual manages his time and his space. The idea of the celebrant is especially present:
1) When Beuys keeps away from the audience and does not allow it to approach until after the time of isolation and concentration that he needs to take part fully in the ritual, which, like the cycle of life, comes to a close by beginning again.
2) When Beuys pushes back the board three times with his crook.
3) When he collects the gelatine and holds it above his head.
4) When he brandishes the blackboard with the drawing of the grail above his head.
5) During the films.
This individual (the man-artist) is distinguished by one fundamental trait: creativity. It intervenes through the widening of conscience (the board pushed back each time), going beyond polarities to one solid unit (the theme of the films), and total unity of the individual and surrounding fragments (the collect, lifting the gelatine above his head and pouring it over himself: reproduced on the immaterial level when the board and the drawing of the Grail are lifted: these two movements — the overflowing of the visible and invisible, the contents of the chalice — being synthesised in the final baptism).
This 'concert' of creativity, of conscience, of the individual's relationship to society is maintained as a cycle which constantly opens and closes, and is tirelessly reiterated in a sort of alphabet, a persistent 'work in progress'. Contrary to many others, this takes culture into its field of action which, Beuys thinks, is the way which allows Man to rediscover his integrity and dignity in a social perspective.
Coyote. I like America and America likes me
This particular action, at New York's Rene Block Gallery in 1974 took place in the following way. An ambulance took Beuys — who was wrapped in felt — from John F Kennedy aeroport where he had just arrived from Düsseldorf to the gallery and left him there with a recently captured Texan coyote. In the space of a few days both the artist — still muffled in felt from head to foot, apart from a stick held pointing outwards from his wrapped form — and the coyote managed not only to coexist but gradually and slowly succeeded in living together. Beuys talked to the animal, walking up and down playing a triangle that he had hung on his neck while noises, emitted from a tape recorder, filled the room. In that space of time, the animal had urinated all over 50 issues of the Wall Street Journal, the chronicle of American economic power. It had begun to get on so well with his 'master', becoming calmer and quieter as each day went by, that by the end of the performance he seemed sad and uneasy at no longer having company.
Beuys' fondness for animals was not a new thing. From the beginning of his artistic career, hares, sheep, swans, bees, horses, etc, occupied an essential place in his drawing, sculptures and actions. Indeed, animals embody the elementary forces of life, as opposed to stones and plants which can serve to transmit other higher forces. He recognised the meaning of collective consciousness with them; something distinctly more unreliable in Man, with his thought and freedom and capacity for both good and evil. He also finds many other qualities such as instinct and sense of direction which could be valuable to Man who, as Beuys
says, 'needs new sources of energy'.
The coyote in particular, which is gifted with a very powerful instinct, is one of the more symbolical examples of consciousness in the relation between the community and the individual. Being one of the principal animals regarded as divine by American Indians before the arrival of the white explorers, it took on certain symbolic functions of harmonisation between nature and Man. After the arrival of the 'colonialist liberators' the existing harmony was disrupted and from then on appeared the 'wound' — a growing injury which eventually led to the present deadlock of materialism and the inhuman exploitation of technology.
We notice that, remaining faithful to himself, Beuys has anchored the beginning of a work in this 'trauma', a machine for thinking which, leaning towards historical events, aims beyond them. He reaches the depths of one's soul through a revival of an ante-historic feeling from signs borrowed from reality. But let us take a step backward: Man today is generally acknowledged as a wounded being, which is a de facto condition of America, but at the same time, is a 'Western' situation. For precisely this reason, Beuys' performance began in an ambulance.
What is the vehicle's destination? It has to be the place where 'the wounded' exist: America and the Western world and their antagonism between Nature and Technology, Nature and Culture, Art and Science, and the 'Money-God' (evoked by copies of the Wall Street Journal). What is the aim of this operation? Nothing but the fundamental will to materialise a desire: that the wound closes and heals and that after that, physiologically, the two incompatible forces (the coyote on the one hand and the isolated individual enveloped in felt on the other) start to coexist in a harmonious symbiosis.
It is not easy to bring such an attempt to a satisfactory conclusion, for let's not forget that between these forces there exists a wide temporal abyss. We thus discover each opponent with his trumpcard. The animal has its instinct and its litter. The 'wounded', who resembles a caretaker or a shepherd (we can picture images from childhood games), has his crook, the triangle, the felt (the insulator of America but transmissive of warmth for the coyote), and above all, his essential 'anthropological materials': will, compassion, thought and knowledge as well as faith in Man.
The 'struggle' was intense. Each one made use of his own
domain, his field of action. The man rejects the felt wrapping (that isolated him) and risks coexisting with the animal who proves to be peaceful and content. In Beuys' alphabetic code, to be able to overcome the consequences of a crisis of positivist and materialistic thinking, Western Man needs new energies, and needs to recast conflicts and discussions in one solid unit which can only reside in a better attained development of consciousness.
The central idea of the Coyote suggests transformation. It entails a metamorphosis of ideology into the idea of ferocity; a metamorphosis of language into an energetic practice; a metamorphosis of the monologue of will into a dialogue between those concerned and a metamorphosis of distrust into communal and creative coexistence.
An interesting example of this performance's effect is the case of Jimmy Boyle, a Scot imprisoned for murder. After seeing some photographs of Coyote, he identified himself with the animal and not only did he begin a friendship with the artist, but he also turned his activities to writing and became an author.
This environment presented at the Venice Biennale in 1976 is founded on the idea of the monument. The word 'monument' signifies a link with celebration, with memory, and with the past. Traditionally the monument is erected on a central site with roads surrounding it so that it becomes the point of departure, the roads leading away from the centre.
Tram Stop is planned so as to exploit the principles of this spatial arrangement in two ways. Firstly, the notion of the monument is the centre from which every reference here takes its origin and, secondly, its structure follows the physical principles of a traditional monument. Tram Stop is made up of the following three elements:
I) The monument with a field canon in the centre and four primitive 17th-century mortar bombs clustered around it.
2) A tramline which runs all the way past the monument.
3) An iron tube full of water, embedded in a lagoon in which is fixed an iron bar bent at the surface.
Apart from these principal elements, there is a heap of rubble that comes from where the hole for the tube was sunk; through earth and water. It indicates the exact place Beuys used to get off the tram. Also, the metal bar coming off the water-filled tube is a schematic echo to the linear directions found in the three elements described above, moving vertically and horizontally. The metal bar plays a unifying role among the three constituents.
All the elements are, as is the case in all his work, the fruit of the combination of his life and history. To explain this further:
1) As a five-year-old in Cleves, Beuys would get on and off the tram at the 'monument stop', a monument erected by Moritz von Nassau in 1652. There he would sit on the mortar bombs, surrounded by the three natural elements: air, earth and water.
This intuitive moment from childhood has been interpreted into the work Tram Stop, not in order to relive the 'good old days', but primarily in view of a selection of material that can undergo a transposition of universal range. The work itself has kept similar linear directions:
a) The monument is erected vertically with the canon pointing upwards, referring to the air towards which it is pointing.
b) The tramline, the earth, emerges from and is set within it, thus the line is in contact with the earth, running along it horizontally.
c) The tube filled with water relates to the water into which it plunges and is contained by pointing vertically towards the bottom.
2) The first three elements of Tram Stop are all made of iron. One is rusted, rough and plain (the canon); the second is smooth, gleaming and rapid (the tramline); the third is submerged and full of water (the tube). These elements are united beyond their different functions, through a common material: iron — a solid and resistant metal.
3) Tram Stop also refers to the place where he was born and its physical characteristics. The link between earth and water is particularly accentuated in a region where there exist canals and lagoons; where earth and water constantly intermingle, each one skirting the other.
4) Moritz von Nassau believed that his monument should embody the struggle between love and war. Beuys' monument refers to the struggle of ideas, the inner struggle of the thinking man. This is manifested in the sad expression on the face of the Man Beuys sculpted at the top of the canon. He appears to be emerging from the canon in 'the active pain of doing' and 'the passive pain of suffering' (C Tisdall). Between the passive element (memory) and the present (the embodiment of this memory) a connection between the thesis and antithesis can be expressed. Their synthesis is the duty of the thinking man; he is the centre. He is the monument. Everything radiates from and towards him. He is the future, having the possibilities and capacities to change and redefine tradition.
Voglio vedere le mie montagne
The title of this environment is taken from Segantini. Voglio vedere le mie montagne was first shown in August 1971 at the Stedelijk van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven. The objects used were an old wardrobe with an oval mirror and a drawer, a box and a yellow stool, and above these, a mirror, a packing case and the frame of a bed in the middle of which was a small felt rug.
All these objects which had been assembled together on a sheet of copper (in the centre of the room was a bulb burning over a felt insulating circle while in the four corners were sealed jars of gelatine) were closely related to the artist's memory, for it was the furniture of the room he had as a child. However, its arrangement was not a simple biographical representation; as we know, Beuys sought to bestow another dimension to the things he approached, to give them a poetic place in space and to connect them to sources of energy by imparting to his works a shamanistic course characteristic of creation. This time at the exhibition in Holland a notice advised the public: 'The title of this work is not a direct reflection of what we see. The question arises of what is to be seen there.’
The notice gave another interpretation to the exhibited objects that was not only immediately realistic but, linked to a perspective which displaced them into the imaginary, bestowed upon them a symbolic prolongation. This is confirmed by the fact that, above the exhibited objects can be seen some words written in chalk. On the bed there is the word Walun meaning 'alley'. On the wardrobe can be seen the word adrec(t) — a Celtic word for glacier. On the packing case, the word Felsen — 'cliff', and sciora (a mountain range in Switzerland) written on the box. And behind the stool's mirror we find the word 'summit'.
All these matching elements construct a mountain landscape but not through a realistic representation. Here, the 'real' is used as a metaphor: an allusion to nature, its relationship with Man and with his personal memory.
There were also certain other objects such as a photograph on the wall, not showing the wardrobe in the same way as in the work itself; a second photograph on the bed, showing Beuys lying across the bed; and, above all, a rifle on the wall over which is written the word denken — 'to think'.
Thus we are able to see the Beuys lebensraum and see his transformation through Time. He appears as a 'partisan' who is fighting the confusion of thought. The rifle hanging there, airing, is an allegory of thought. The 'partisan' fights on the side of sensitivity, concentration of thought and the transformation of something into creation in society. Here, we have the artist's regular motif: unity of art and life through a binary relation —individual (personal experience) and social (going beyond the individual to a communal perspective) which depends on flux, evolution, movement and change.
In 1982, as a contributor to the Documenta 7, Joseph Beuys took advantage of the urban situation in Kassel to launch his project 7000 Oaks, as part of his views on social sculpture. He stated himself that it wasn't purely
an achievement of urgent necessity to the biosphere and to the pure matter of ecological coherence, but demonstrates during the procedure a much wider understanding of the ecological idea. An understanding which should increase more and more as years go by, because it is our intention to proceed with this activity continuously.
This action is situated between the limits of modern art and what Beuys calls 'anthropological art'. It is the praxis of a Shaman; a gesture that requires 'signalling'. Thus he placed a column made of basalt of about 1.20m next to each oak tree:
This kind of basalt column can be found in ancient volcano flutes. Cooled down inside the chimneys in a specified and particular manner, it finally brings about its characteristic facets and crystalline shape. With respect to the particular cool-down system which activates an artificial crystallisation-like process, the stone produces these regular 5. 6. 7. 8. cornered shapes. They have been found in the districts of Eifel, showing beautiful and organpipe-like clearness, and can still be found there today, but partly under preservation of the National Trust. However, I haven't been too keen on these fine and special organpipes. It has been of much more importance to me to have a material at my disposal, that I can find in the Kassel region and which shows the characteristics of basalt. Thus I made out the kind of basalt exhibiting a half crystalline and angular shape as well as having a certain amorphous tendency.
Founded on a well-defined plan, the plantation would stretch across many years so that for each tree a stone would be set aside in a storehouse and taken to the planted tree. We can now begin to understand the development of the whole venture: the fewer stones remaining in the storehouse, the more trees planted; and the process will continue until the final stone is taken. While the volume and height of the stone remain constant, the oak tree will slowly grow with the passage of time.
7000 Oaks depends on the movement, change and transformation of life and the social body. Moreover it is a metaphor that incorporates future behaviour into its perspective. Beuys stresses:
As far as the first 7000 trees are concerned it has been of great importance to me to obtain the monumental character though the fact that each living monument is composed of two parties — the living being, the oak tree, steadily altering due to the season of the year; and the other, the crystalline part, preserving its shape, quantity, height and weight. The one and only possible incident able to evoke a change to the stone could be, for instance, taking away a piece from it or, if something splinters off, but never by means of coming up, like the tree does. Hence the two things are united, a continually changing proportionateness happens between the two parties of the monument. For the present we should keep in mind that the above mentioned trees have an eye of six or seven years now, so the stone dominates at first. However, as years go by, the balance between the stone and the tree will be achieved and after a course of time of about 20 or 30 years to come, perhaps we may notice and become aware of it; and the stone gradually and step by step becomes an accessory to the evergreen oak or any other kind of tree.
7000 Oaks is a symbolic action attempting to show that a change in society can be achieved through everyday activity, and that now, more than ever, the search for a 'third course' is needed, passing beyond the bipolar problematic of Marxism and capitalism. Every tree represents a human existence and is a radical outline of the possible transformation of the social body to tomorrow's community: a community that will perceive the needs of Man and nature in a different way. As Beuys said himself during the discussion Difesta della natura that took place in 1984 in Bologna:
These trees have a life that stretches far beyond any human being and this immediately introduces us to the contemplation of the element of time.
This is perhaps what becomes apparent after certain moments in the life of this German artist, whose work has played such a fundamental role in post-war Germany and still continues to radiate in the history of human ideas.