Thinking about other German artists ahead of the 2019 Joseph Beuys in Connemara Residency (www.beuysconnemara.space) I turn to Hanne Darboven. Her work endlessly fascinates and confuses me, and I find it hard to pin down this interest.
Maybe it is the use of rigid systems, including mathematical equations, and vast amounts of framed material. Or perhaps it is her use of handwriting, which today seems so poetic, and the collecting of vast amounts of things, be they objects or postcards.
The scale of her work ‘Cultural History 1880-1983’ is vast, rooms and rooms totalling 1,600 framed pictures. Together they are overpowering (I have not seen them in person, but feel they would quickly give me a headache, yet I would want to keep looking at them) and remind us that history too, is overpowering and not just something which can be neatly bound into a 400 page book.
Finally, her house-studio (pictured above) shows the huge variety of things which she collected, itself another art work.
Flicking through a biography of Joseph Cornell, I find this photograph of the artist from 1969, sitting in his back yard. There is something deeply enigmatic about it, the way he looks away from the camera. I wonder if I am ‘overlooking’ and connecting him with his equally enigmatic work?
In the introduction to the biography, the author Deborah Solomon states that writing about artists’ lives is often frowned upon by art historians, keen to separate life and work. And for Cornell, who led a largely private and self-contained life, this act might seem intrusive. I have often wondered if biography really is a form of fiction, for to write about someone (particularly if you have never met them) requires plenty of imagination.
Yet I am curious to find out more about Cornell, to go beyond his art, those compressed boxes of something much greater than mere nostalgia for the early 20th century. I am intrigued by his friendship with Marcel Duchamp, who he helped to construct the series of Boite-en-valises. Or to think of him wandering around the long-closed junk shops of New York, buying odds and ends which caught his eye.
I am just finishing my text about the 2018 Joseph Beuys in Connemara Residency.
“Looking for Joseph Beuys turns into work, into a paper-chase which eventually will yellow, curl up and fade into a temporary blot on the Irish landscape, which this summer having turned yellow in parts (fields said to be the consistency of toast) are also red.”
Over the summer, I searched for traces of Beuys in Ireland as well as on Fogo Island. I met several artists who had met Beuys, as well as producing several butter-sculptures in tribute to him. For me, the Residency (based in a cottage in Connemara in which he may have stayed) is an exercise in the possible. By speculating on various details of Beuys’ time in Ireland (and elsewhere) I am creating a new layer of context for the artist, albeit one based on my own subjective experiences.
This year’s research has also provided a number of other leads, including the Block Beuys, a series of his works which are in the Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. This museum is not an art gallery but a more wide-ranging institution with natural history and geology collections. I also discovered a variety of links between John Latham and Beuys, which together have created some confusion around the concepts of ‘flat-time’ and ‘fat-time’, which need further investigation.
Having previously written about my rock enthusiasm (Erratic Behaviour, August 19th) I am now working on a new publication which blends together artistic research and photography. I was amused to find there is a type of rock called ‘chert’ which seemed like a made-up name, something I have been doing myself, with names like ‘dedge’ and ’tilted’.
I have found there are many specimens of cherts in museum collections, and taken one of them as the focus for my research. This has two parts:
- I write about the rock, with no further research, i.e. just what I know from memory
- I write about the rock, researching further details I consider important
And there’s a third section, in which I publish specimens from my own rock collection, which have largely evaded categorisation…
In the summer, I visited Fogo Island, where I offered a rock classification service and spent time at the Museum of the Flat Earth as a Visiting Artist.
Alongside these activities I also visited a number of museums on the island. For a small place, Fogo has quite a few of these dotted around the island. I was drawn particularly to the historic houses, such as the Bleak House Museum (pictured above). They provoke feelings of nostalgia through their decoration schemes and objects, but also a feeling of anxiety that the local culture contained in them is on the point of disappearing.
The museums are curious in that they are quite different to anything I have encountered elsewhere. They are not carefully curated as per the best practice of local or regional government, and perhaps this is a form of unconscious resistance to such normalisation. Over the past 150 years, most large museums have changed greatly, and this is why those that have changed less (such as Pitt-Rivers) are so compelling. They are the past, the closest we will get to time-travel, to escaping a world of instant information which can be so dissatisfying.