‘It was simply impossible for human beings to bring their creative intention into the world any other way than through action.” Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys strongly believed that art had the power to shape a better society and once stated that ‘It was simply impossible for human beings to bring their creative intention into the world any other way than through action.” This strength of conviction led Beuys to push the boundaries of established artforms to include human action and large-scale sculptural environments exploring universal social concerns.
I remember visiting the Tate Modern several years back, where i saw Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments and leaving the gallery feeling greatly inspired and with a sense of sympathy with the artist. This show focused on three areas of Beuys’ work which became increasingly central to his artistic output during the second half of his career.
I was about sixteen when I first became aware of Beuys work. I studied his performance “I love America and america likes me’. I was immediately impressed. I had not been open minded to the idea of performance art at this age, until studying this work by Beuys. I remember very clearly what it was that made me connect with this piece. In May 1974 Beuys flew to New York and was taken by ambulance to the site of the performance, a room in the René Block Gallery at 409 West Broadway. Beuys lay on an ambulance stretcher swathed in felt. He shared the room with a wild coyote, for eight hours over three days. It was the fact that Beuys left the plane and was carried out and placed into an ambulance with out walking on or touching American soil i was so intrigued.
I was drawn to this as i could relate to it. I could relate to it for several reasons why. I will try and explain but it’s hard for me to do so. Every time i get on a plane, i become overwhelmed with anxiety, not because i am afraid of flying, its not that, i like flying, its because i am terrified of leaving a negative or unwanted thought on what i touch or step on, and the fact that i’d leave that thought in a foreign country, and it would stay there for ever, perhaps manifest itself in to life. Normally, i would walk back over my foot steps when ever i leave an unwanted thought, and replace it with a counteracting thought, perhaps the opposite of the thought that made me uncomfortable. So when ever i am leaving or entering a country, and leaving the plane, my mind goes into over drive, and the loop of “happy”/ counteractive thoughts kicks in to its full. I can’t touch the ground of a new country with a negative thought. That would make me feel INCREADIBLY uncomfortable and the association with the first thought i had on this foreign land, would remain with me through out the time i was there. I would honestly try and fly back and start the process again [i would sometimes lie and make reasons for me to visit a place again]. With the knowledge of this, its not so difficult to understand why i could connect with this performance, and that is just a fraction of ‘I love America and America likes me’. Like Beuys, i often wished [It getting better now with the help of my Psycologist] i was carried out or lifted places, but for different reasons to his. For me, so that i couldn’t leave any unwanted thought when i walk. I use a push scooter to travel around london. This minimises the time i am touching the ground compared to walking and there for makes it easier for me to move forward, as there is less counteracting or conflicting with my mind, and creates a lesser need for me to go back and forth over my tracks.
It was about the connection with someone else. Some one i could relate to. Even though Beuyes reasoning for arriving in america and being lifted into an ambulance was about – ‘I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.’ In my mind, i found similarities with the artist, and an understanding. This was the start of my appreciation of Joseph Beuys.