Wednesday, August 25, 2010


1. This is a brick-like tool generated by Bianca Hester during Ardi Gunawan’s performative exhibition: Sculptural Relations: embodiment, forces, event and material performance in 2009. Reinstalled and represented here by Ardi as instructed by Bianca over the telephone.

2. This is an anthology of 3-minutes video artworks by Kristiarne Anthony, Brook Shanti Fenner, Hind Habib, Therese Keogh, Andrew Kershaw, John Kyritsis, Lachlan Petrus, Long Pham, Catherine Pieper, Nellie Rogerson, and Hae Young Yoon. The project is curated and mentored by Light Projects: Tamsin Green and Leslie Eastman), adapted from the following lines of poem-scores:


“How to compute the equation of days is a problem not only for sundials[?] … When the couch became a sofa … You’re a long way from imitation … a purling future … Enter instance before verb images … ‘Brrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiing!’ an alarm clock clanged everywhere … Operatically outstretched … There and there and there … The hotel is grey and expensive…”[1]

Implementation (for Light Projects)

Select a bunch of video artists (max. 10 people) and ask them to decode one or several chosen lines of poetry written above, and then adapt them into a moving-image with a few “rules of the game”:

· No self-portrait

· “Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found” – [Dogme 95 Manifesto]

· “The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place” - [Dogme 95 Manifesto]

· No editing; editing should be made in the camera

· The duration of the video work should be no longer than 3 minutes

3. This is a re-formed IKEA bookshelf by Ardi Gunawan & Julien Tuckett interpreted from a diagram-based instructional score by Spiros Panigirakis (see collage above). Spiros generates the diagram-score as a result of his interpretation from the following lines of poem-scores:


“How to compute the equation of days is a problem not only for sundials[?] … When the couch became a sofa … You’re a long way from imitation … a purling future … Enter instance before verb images … ‘Brrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiing!’ an alarm clock clanged everywhere … Operatically outstretched … There and there and there … The hotel is grey and expensive…”[2]

Implementation (for Spiros)

Decode one or several chosen lines of poetry written above, and then turn them into a diagram-based instructional score for another actions.

4. This is a pile of transcribed prints comprising an interview between Nikos Pantazopoulos and Tom Nicholson, entitled "An Interview with Tom Nicholson on Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks and his text Actions Towards the Image". This project is specifically produced within the context of Ardi’s sub-curatorial project: “Instant Network” by Nikos. The transcription read as follows.

Nikos - The way that you have addressed this exegesis Actions Towards an image and I don’t know if this is a misreading, in some way though I feel like this writing is looking at action towards an anti – formalist object. Without you signposting it or without even clearly stating this I feel you discuss the idea of what image making can do as a type of device. Within your exegesis I think you claim through Beuys’s work why a variety of different art mediums are important for instance how drawing, the photograph, sculpture performance and social interaction all become important. There is a tradition of antagonism between all the art forms yet this tries to be inclusive.

Tom – I tried to focus on the way images are used within Beuys’ performances. And from that came a whole lot of things that spin off that idea. For instance, how he used drawings to designate future actions as a kind of score, how his performances included images, recorded traces of previous performances, and how he dealt with traces in a sculptural sense. The importance of these sculptural traces came to be very important so in a way the whole exegesis deals more with sculptural problems rather than imagistic ones. The question about the text’s relationship to formalism is a very interesting one. It’s not formalist in a classical sense. I am quite opposed to reading art like that. I think that in the exegesis there is a very conscious attempt to use a formalist methodology in an attempt to write “past” Beuys’ voice and “past” other hagiographic writing which relies on Beuys’ personal mythologised narrative about his work.

Nikos - What is hagiographic?

Tom - The biography of a saint.

Nikos - So you tried to avoid writing about the mythologised character that Beuys’s became?

Tom - it wasn’t a classical formalist reading. What I tried to extract by looking at the works in that way was a whole set of associations that are historical, narrative and implicitly political. For me the point was to not rely on Beuys’ encoding of his own work, which for me is mostly not that interesting and in many cases dubious in the way he mythologises himself. For me it was a way to write past the way others had written about Joseph Beuys and in particular the prevalence of allegorical and metaphorical readings of the work based on associations of materials to ideas. In this writing there is a very basic idea that A = B = C = D. In trying to navigate this very unlikeable terrain of Beuys literature I tried to assert the primacy of looking at the things and making sense of then, and to that extent there is a kind of formalist methodology. The main question for me was: what kinds of meanings exist in those objects? What kind of associations of a historical and political nature exists? I wanted to understand the political meanings he generated through sculptural and visual problems, and to that extent it’s very clearly anti-formalist.

Nikos - Is this the way of looking at the work in an imaginary way, you mention an imaginary chain of events. So if you are reading the work in a formalist way are you also reading the work with the imaginary are you trying to do both?

Tom – I was trying to read the work through the kinds of chains of associations that objects and images generate. I tried to write the exegesis through the implicit associations that his forms make. Sometimes those associations are simply associations to pre-existing Beuys works, in the sophisticated way he creates chains between one work and another. In other cases the associations are to historical events or experiences, particularly the German experience of the Second World War. In some cases they are associations to political action. An example of this would be the associations formed through the nature of the stack, through the nature of compression and dispersal, and through sculptural processes, which Beuys was very brilliant at articulating as also being political processes.

Nikos - Could you describe a project with the use of the stack?

Tom - I can describe two projects. One would be one at the end of the spectrum that mostly resembles political activism: his Documenta V project in 1972 Büro für direkte Demokratie which he ran for 100 days in the Fridericianum as an organising office for Direct Democracy. He was in the office for the whole 100 days, greeting visitors and engaging them in discussion as they came in, and all around him he had boxes with different material.

Nikos - What type of material?

TOM - Leaflets for direct democracy and diagrams.

Nikos – Where did he get these leaflets from where they from different political parties?

Tom - No he generated them himself. That is the most literal way in which the form of the stack is imbued with political meaning because it is about the dissemination of an idea into a social field. The material exists in relation to a process of individuated exchange. The work relied on him having individuated exchange. It wasn’t him in a lecture theatre talking to three hundred people. It was he talking to people 1 on 1 and drawing on the blackboard at the same time as the conversation developed.

Nikos – So the blackboard drawings and diagram’s become a sketch or some sort of score or instructions?

Tom - They are about social transformation and in that sense they are prospective. They are about something yet to occur or that might occur. Mostly they are aids to conversation, ways of describing ideas and relationships between ideas. That work would be a very explicit example where the stack performs a very overt function in relation to a social or political process. There is also a sculpture such as Fond VII/2 (1967/84) which I would put on the other end of the spectrum in terms of being a more formal manifestation of the same idea. The work is sheets of copper and felt on top of each other. It is an extremely dense form where physical material occupies the least space possible.

Nikos - Was he responding to any other artists work?

Tom – Yes. He was very clearly responding to American minimalism. It very clearly responds to the work of Donald Judd and Carl Andre, but it also generates another set of meanings. I read it through the material associations of copper and felt, all squashed together in this very dense sandwich, but also through the associations of the stack of papers. It works as some kind of coiled spring, which is ready to be dispersed into a social field. The formal qualities of that Fond sculpture to me also contain the implication of the stack of leaflets. It contains the idea of political distribution. Between those two extreme ends of the spectrum I would place 7000 Oaks, what I think is one of his greatest things, in part because of how it manages to straddle these two ways of treating the stack. This work operates in formal terms, as a mass outside of the Fridericianum in 1982, a mass of Basalt blocks. It also becomes a way to indicate a process of social action that unfolds in the next 5 years from 1982 to 1987.

Nikos - Could you describe the 7000 OAKS project?

Tom - 7000 Oaks is a work that he began in the last Documenta that he participated in while he was alive, the 1982 Documenta. It was a massive and unruly stack of Basalt blocks literally shaped as a wedge on the open space outside the Fridericianum, the main space of Documenta. It’s called 7000 Oaks because each basalt block was to be planted next to an Oak tree in Kassel, of which there are 7000 in total. So if you go around Kassel today you see a basalt rock next to an Oak tree everywhere.

Nikos - What do you mean by Basalt?

Tom - Basalt as in Basalt rock.

Tom – The most widely known images of the work show him planting an oak tree next to a Basalt rock. Of course its that part of the work that it sets two-processes against one another – growth and dissolution - and it’s now the case that the trees are much bigger than the Basalt. Over that 5 year period between 1982 and 1987 that mass, that stack of Basalt rock outside the Fridericianum was gradually dispersed, until the last planting that happened at the following Documenta in 1987, the year after Beuys died. At that point the stack of Basalt rocks no longer existed outside the Fridericianum and were now dispersed around Kassel.

There are a few important contexts that framed 7000 Oaks. One was that Beuys had contributed to every Documenta since the 60s and the previous to contributions to Documenta in 1977 and 1972 were overtly social and political in nature: in 1972, The Office for Direct Democracy, and in 1977, The Free International University alongside his great Honey Sculpture that pumped honey around the Fridericianum and into the class room where The Free International University was being conducted. So the previous two projects he had conducted at Documenta also had these social and expansive qualities, processes of disseminating into the public sphere political and philosophical ideas. That process is one important context for 7000 Oaks. Another is what Kassel looked like in 1945. It was all rubble from Allied bombing. For me what is very strong in that 7000 Oaks work is that that mass of Basalt rock, that wedge, very strongly resembles what that square looked like in 1945. In a complex way what that the work sets up is a gesture towards that destruction, in which a creative force is brought to bear on what visually resembles the ruin of a terrible catastrophe. That gesture is figured through the nature of the tree, as well as through the nature of the social organisation that was necessary to realise the work. A significant aspect of that work is that it could only be realised with hundreds and hundreds of people planting trees. It mobilises a whole set off social relationships. It suggests that a way to deal with Germany’s Nazi past is to deal with this past through the formation of social relationships.

Nikos - So that becomes the integral part to the work?

Tom - Yes absolutely

Nikos - Can you describe what you mean by the misunderstanding of the legacy of the “idealist metaphor?”

Tom - It was Buchloch who made that point about Joseph Beuys. I agree with what Buchloch says.

Beuys himself occasionally falls into that, but a lot less than Buchloch claims. It’s mainly a pitfall of other people’s writing on Beuys. Beuys himself is more focussed on his process and rarely lapses into one-to-one relationships of meaning between materials and ideas, which is what Buchloch is talking about with the term the “idealist metaphor”. It is very common in the Steiner reading of Beuys, for example where Beuys’ use of materials is read in a very literal way into the cosmology of Steiner, which I find uninteresting because his work is much wilder than that.

Buchloch’s argument is right in that the ready-made objects by Duchamp refuse idealist readings completely. That is what is disturbing or aggressive in Duchamp’s work, and important in those works. Beuys takes the legacy of Duchamp and introduces the narrative back into the found object, something that Duchamp completely refuses. In that sense, there is in Beuys a relationship of dependence and also refusal towards Duchamp. He inflects those works (using found objects) with narrative and associations that Duchamp would never do. There is a type of nihilism in Duchamp that Beuys repudiates, which becomes the overt subject of his work “the silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated”.

To link Duchamp back to the 7000 Oaks, you could say that Beuys uses biological processes as a ready-made. The tree when it is planted will grow and grow and grow for many many years. Every time you visit the tree its form has changed. You could say the same about the basalt rock, that it uses a long-term geological process as a kind of ready made. This is where I think his thinking is interesting, the relationships he sets up between sculptural processes, biological processes and social transformation.

Nikos- I’m still not clear about the “Idealist metaphor”.

Tom - To read a sculpture through idealist metaphors would be to read it through its components each representing an idea, in a literal or one-to-one relationship. I don’t think that Beuys work is interesting through idealist metaphors. The classic way to understand his work in this way would be to read the work through the mythology he created about fat and felt. So, the felt stands for the story that he was wrapped in felt and was kept warm that way. The fat stands for processes of transformation, for the fact that when fat is heated up it becomes malleable and can shift. Therefore the work is “about” survival and redemption, and implicitly a way to shed the Nazi skin. But I don’t think that is how you read or experience his work when you stand in front of them.

Nikos - Can you enter this work without previous knowledge of his artworks?

Tom - Everyone knows that a tree grows and everyone knows that a block of rock doesn’t grow. In a work like 7000 Oaks we see Beuys at his most interesting. He uses the process of transformation that are embodied in materials in very interesting ways. As soon as you see the block next to the tree, you start to make a narrative through knowing what these two processes are and what their relationship between them might be. That’s where he is most interesting, when he creates a narrative around the materials he uses rather than his own biography.

Nikos - About another project he did at The Dusseldorf school of Art could you discuss what the minister of education meant when he said “I cannot and will not let myself be made into a possible art object”. And can you draw parallels between this happening to him as an educator and the 7000 Oaks project?

Tom - That happens at the same moment as his 1972 Documenta work. On his return to the Düsseldorf Academy he is fired from his teaching position. In a paradoxical way it releases him into a wider ranging international activity. This is a paradoxical effect. The blackboard drawings, which I see as an important way to understand different parts of his work, fit together and evolve very directly out of his teaching. If you look at photographs of him while he was teaching, there is always a blackboard in front of him. So while he was teaching he would draw diagrams, and the blackboard became a way for him to facilitate and indicate an exchange of ideas. Teaching became for him - this may sounds bombastic or like hubris - a potentially a revolutionary process. It was central to all those lecture based works. And it’s not for nothing that he institutionalised himself as The Free International University. It was the reclaiming of a space for exchange and social transformation, which came out of working at an art school.

7000 Oaks, in a visually and sculpturally dramatic way, indicates a process of social dispersal. In the beginning there is a mass of basalt rock, and over the years that mass of basalt diminishes as the basalt blocks spread out over the city of Kassel. In that sense it indicates the idea of dissemination, which is central to the idea of teaching. In other words you have a conversation and the ideas that are generated through that exchange are dispersed into the social field.

Nikos - This would be good time to talk about a short circuit or a long circuit? I.e. making a work within a small community or a larger framework or larger community.

Tom - He starts to make a lot of work overseas after 1972 and he becomes an international figure. He begins to make work in Scotland, Ireland, and New York.

Nikos – I don’t mean it in that kind of International art star way but about making and generating work within a small local community or making work with a larger framework or audience in mind.

Tom – His work was an ever-expanding circuit in a way. It’s what is interesting about his work. It’s also what is problematic, when his work starts to enact the idea of him as a charismatic messianic leader. It’s important to note that he is a founding member of the Greens, so he engages with the highest end of political thinkers, people who are dealing with politics at a national level. He involves political thinkers in his work. His works reflects on German culture in a post war period in a very ambitious and public way. He becomes an important national figure of scandal when he gets sacked. From quite an early stage his work is feeding off and feeding into a really large community and a politically engaged community. An interesting moment for me is when he makes contact with Fluxus in the early to mid 60’s, and this liberates him from being a fairly conventional sculptor or maker of watercolours into something more expansive whose work has this relationship in it. By this relationship I mean that the work stands in relation to a group of people and a set of social relations and in turn the work feeds back into this system. The work relies on a feedback mechanism between the social sphere and form making. It’s his exposure to Fluxus that affects that really important shift in his work. The things that he does in those Fluxus events are not his most interesting things, but in this respect he is like most of the Fluxus artists. They don’t make their most interesting things within Fluxus, but Fluxus is the trigger, an incredible liberation, which allows a whole lot of things to fall into the work and become a work.

Nikos - Can we talk about the photographic element in his work, could you discuss his approach to image making and here you might also talk about your own work? I am aware that Beuys uses the blackboard to make images and I know that you use photography within an action, and maybe if you could also talk about the attempt at avoiding frontality?

Tom - His interest in photography is that he is deeply suspicious about it. The particular formal qualities in the photographic records of his work reflect his desire to resist the finality or freezing of his “project” in photography or the photograph. There is really only one great photographic work by Beuys and that is ARENA in which he assembled photographs and images into 100 massive frames. Part of what is interesting bout that work is these assemblages of photographs and images are not literal in their connections. He tried to “open up” photography so that it would never be just a documentation of a project but a thing in its own right. This is clear in the way he dealt with the “faulty” photograph, marred by over and under exposure. They become formal more formal in the way they generate meanings, not documentary. The main object of my interest in his work – and the main trajectory in the exegesis - is how Beuys lodged his aspirations for his work in the formal properties of things that he made. This is not to say they are formalist works, but that those forms and processes and the associations that are generated by them are the central “content” of the work, their politics, not absurd over-statements about politics.

Nikos - Beuys seems to me in his work to appear very comfortable in front of the camera and also to be performing for the camera. I’m uncertain how he would be sceptical of photography as a document when he’s performing for the camera and aware of it as a tool to disseminate his work, like a politician or as propaganda?

Tom - He is very uneasy about it. He is also very aware of how necessary it is, in a paradoxical way, for the work to circulate. Otherwise the work would only be seen by a small number of people at the actual performance or action. In ARENA he realises that there are other ways for photography to exist. Its not photography as documentation but photography as a way to process a set of formal associations, a very particular set of compositions. They are not chronological or structured around a linear narrative, but associations of form and of thinking. What was interesting for me was his performance Eurasienstab, and the fact that he used the 16mm film of the performance in subsequent performances. He used the moving photographic image not as documentation but as something embedded in another as a way to create an echo, to consolidate a chain of associations from one performance to another.

On the question of how I use images, I mainly use drawn images in actions. When these images become a banner or a flag to be used in an action, they set up a relationship between two screens, one being the banner within the action and the other being the photograph or the video image, which captures the action. There is always a shifting relationship between those two screens, and for me the pixilation of those banners was a way to set two systems of pixilation in relation to each other, the pixilation of a standard definition video, which is pretty coarse, and the pixilation of the faces on the banners. Their inter-relation creates a kind of chimera or mobile moiré effect, a presence that only exists in the residues of the action. I would probably describe the way I make still photographs of waving flags in a similar vein, as a way to set up a relationship between the screen of the flag and the screen of the photograph. It becomes a play with time, and with the way the flag it creates a kind of smear on the surface of the photograph, something that only exists in the space of the photograph but also threatens to fill it up, to flood it. In a very basic way this is how I became interested in images in performance. And in this way I came to Beuys through How to explain picture to a dead Hare. The very classical rhetorical position about performance art is that would eradicate mediation. It would reject the nature of the image and investing meaning and importance in living things, a tacit, or in some cases very overt, response to the question of how to make-work directly after the Holocaust and Hiroshima. It was a way to stress living things not objects.

Nikos - This idea of the refusal of the image and investing meaning and importance in living things seems idealistic and also hypocritical, since performance artists like Joseph Beuys and also in art education, we are conditioned to learn about art through attending art lecturers and forums. Where we discuss ideas such as making work in the real time and real space and we do this by sitting in a lecture theatre and discussing work that happened in history and rely in turn on the image, the photograph and video to discuss these problems. This seems like an oxymoron, like idealistic antagonism.

Tom - That position in relation to performance art was only ever a rhetorical position because of course every artist relied on the image. The most interesting artists did that in a very sophisticated way, like Yves Klein. Leap into the void the making of the performance the image were separate. He did jump out of the window, but then he falsified the photograph to record it. Beuys, like any other artist, had to grapple with how the image of an ephemeral event would register the event. One of the things that are interesting is that he used objects to record events not images. That’s why the vitrines are important. What is interesting about the images, which he used within the performances, is that, in a deep-seated way within the work, he was dealing with the relationship between images and actions. The idea of an unmediated action is a purely rhetorical position. It was never possible and it never really occurred. Beuys embeds that problem within the work and the work generates meaning through that difficult relationship, between a set of actions and a set of filmed actions.

Nikos – In many ways 7000 Oaks is one of his most simple projects. It is the most economical in many ways not relying on the moving image, and or a blackboard. But it involves social engineering and government co-operation and natural materials.

Tom - It is an economical idea. It is very big and it would have cost hundreds of thousands of Deutschmarks to realise. But it defers his presence. In many of his later works he concentrates meaning in his own presence, whereas 7000 Oaks relies on other people planting the trees. He planted the first tree outside the Fridericianum but other people planted most of the trees. It doesn’t partake in that self-mythologising. It has a very complex set of associations, and chief amongst those is the Oak tree itself, which the right wing in Germany after the First world War planted to commemorate fallen soldiers in a very chauvinistic nationalistic way. 7000 Oaks was a way to recuperate the symbol of the Oak away from German nationalism and into something more open-ended.

Nikos - Why the number 7000?

Tom – I’m not really sure why 7000 I always associated the number with the 7 days of the week, with the 7 days of creation.

Nikos – Also could we discuss the works site specificity, how it’s situated outside the museum space and also how its growth relies on it moving away from the institution.

Tom – Yes this is a good way to describe it. It also moves away from the authority of the artwork. If you walk around Kassel today you see them in all sorts of funny places, on nature strips with bikes and other things propped up against them. What’s extraordinary is that whenever you see one you have in your mind that massive wedge outside the Fridericianum so that the work has an extraordinary imaginary presence. In terms of its physicality it moves away from the monumental and toward something much more quotidian. It doesn’t dissolve into everyday life completely though. It retains the trigger to an interruption that a great artwork has. It doesn’t do it in a bombastic way. You walk down the street and you see a tree with a basalt rock next to it, which on the one hand makes no claim to separate itself from life, and on the other hand it triggers the image we know, about this extraordinary massive form we know through photographs and a related process of dispersal through the city. So it has a force outside everyday life. It interrupts us, and the resignation with which we might regard everyday objects.

5. This is an exchanged object from Utopian Slumps with furniture/object available on Guilford Lane Gallery.

6. Institutional white board (found on site).

7. Plinth (found on site)

8. Gallery wall turned to large-scale plinth

[1] These lines of poetry are sourced from different poems in the anthology book: Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets, eds. Michael Farrell and Jill Jones (Glebe: Puncher & Wattmann, 2009).

[2] Sourced from Ibid.


return to (non-chronological) archive

1 comment: