Retracing the Spiral with Joseph Beuys

Date posted: November 30, 2011

In a panel discussion, Retracing the Spiral – Beuys and the National Eisteddfod,held at the museum last week, an interesting point was made about the tendency for history (and memory) to become linear, highlighting that we mustn’t forget the impact of artistic and social actions at the time they were made and in relation to other things, we must not lose this essential (natural, human, spiritual, political) energy, for history is always hybridized and complex.  Essentially, Beuys was caught up in a period of change, of industrialization, that was to utterly transform society and the individual’s relation to the world around them; these objects (currently displayed in Cardiff) then seem to have absorbed this dynamism, absorbed and condensed it within a solid yet transient form, reverberating from another time, and still all the more resonant today.  Beuys himself wrote “to witness the extensive and horrific forms of destruction in the world is now an experience fundamental to humanity.”[1]

Joseph Beuys, ‘7000 Oaks’ 1982

(Image link here)

This display at the National Museum guides the viewer through Beuys’ passion for opening up the dialogue between objects, to a dialogue with the public through performance.  One final work that resonates from the displayed posters is that of Beuys’ work 7000 Oaks, created as part of Documenta 7, 1983.  By proposing to plant seven thousand oak trees, each next to a column of rock (that remain unchanged), Beuys instigates a dialogue between natural and man-made forms, an act engaged in transformation that goes far beyond its initial inception, even death.  Essentially, the work deals with the positive performance (one with a legacy perhaps), oddly enough a similar thought arose at Chapter’s discussion on False Memory only two weeks ago – that of the impact of the positive action through art, with the potential to change our relation to the world, if only slightly!

“In the face of this collapsing culture, the world which arises in the soul as draft, plan, or hope, will only become reality if we can link it with our own will and work.  Then the reality of the spirit will show itself, out of which the new world alone can grow.”[2]


[1] Beuys, Joseph, ed. Volker Harlan, What is Art, 2004, Clarview Books, p.106.

[2] Beuys, Joseph, ed. Volker Harlan, What is Art, 2004, Clarview Books, p.107.

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