Beuys signing Intuition boxes outside the Düsseldorf Academy of Art Photo: Wolfgang Feelisch
QUESTIONS TO JOSEPH BEUYS
Excerpts from an interview with the artist by Jörg Schellmann and Bernd Klüser, 1970
[ON MULTPILES AS VEHICLES]
S, K: Beuys, why do you make multiples? Can the reason for multiplying an object be found in the message it contains, for instance a particular quality which calls for mass production, or is it a questions of larger distribution?
B: Well, it's a matter of two intersecting things. Naturally, I search for a suitable quality in an object, which permits multiplication of that object, for instance the quality implying a series, found in this bottle of tonic-water [Evervess II 1 (1968)]. Just by being an article of commerce, this bottle can communicate much through repetition.
But actually, it's more important to speak of distribution, of reaching a larger number of people... You can look at it from a number of different aspects. Why is anyone interested in distributing a thing as widely as possible?
Joseph Beuys Felt Suit, 1970
sewn felt, ink stamp
Walker Special Purchase Fund, 1987
(c)1997 Estate of Joseph Beuys/ARS, NY
Joseph Beuys Evervess II 1, 1968
two glass bottles of water, felt
Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, Walker Art Center, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1992
(c)1997 Estate of Joseph Beuys/ARS, NY
The whole thing is a game, one which, with the help of this kind of information, counts on anchoring a vehicle somewhere close by, so that people can later think back on it. It's a sort of prop for the memory, yes, a sort of prop in case something different happens in the future.
For me, each edition has the character of a kernel of condensation upon which many things may accumulate.
You see, all those people who have such an object will continue to be interested in how the point of departure from which the vehicles started is developing. They'll be watching to see what the person who produced these things is doing now. That way I stay in touch with people; just as you have come to me because of what I've made and we can talk about it, I can talk to just about anybody who owns such an object. There's a real affinity to people who own such things, such vehicles. It's like an antenna which is standing somewhere and with which one stays in touch. There are also crossconnections between people, or ricochets. One person says: Yes, I've got such a bottle. Another one has such a wooden box and a third one says: I've heard something about political activities, and so all sorts of different concepts converge, and that's what I'm interested in, that a whole lot of concepts come together.
I'm interested in the distribution of physical vehicles in the form of editions because I'm interested in spreading ideas.
The objects are only understandable in relations to my ideas. The work I do politically has a different effect on people because such a product exists than it would have if the means of expression were only the written word.
Although these products may not seem suitable for bringing about political change, I think more emanates from them than if the ideas behind them were revealed directly.
To me the vehicle quality of the editions is important...
S, K: And is that quality more specific in multiples than in unique pieces?
B: I'd say it's more general. I think a multiple can be chosen quite arbitrarily if one sees the vehicle quality.
S, K: Would it be conceivable to use only one element as a vehicle?
B: Yes, that's conceivable. But when I stress the arbitrary spontaneous quality, I don't mean that the object which then emerges has no meaning in my oeuvre. I don't mean that. But the form is determined by circumstances.
S, K: Would you produce an object 50,000 times? Is there a limit?
B: I'm going to make an object with an edition of 10 to 20 thousand [How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome (1971)]. That's my next project, an object of great simplicity.
S, K: On the other hand, doesn't it bother you when an object with a very limited edition acquires the flavor of exclusiveness, like for instance in the case of the multiple with the fishbone [Friday Object "1st-Class Fried Fish Bones (Herring)" (1970)]?
B: No, that doesn't bother me. I'm interested in both principles. In some cases the edition has to be limited because it just isn't technically possible to do it any other way. After all, I don't feel like frying fishbones for the rest of my life!
A considerable amount of work goes into those wooden boxes [Intuition (1968)]--I think I've already made over 5,000--because [Wolfgang] Feelisch comes around quite often and every time it takes a whole day, and I have to make them all by myself, otherwise they just aren't right.
I'm beginning to wonder whether I shouldn't stop making editions altogether because of that. I think it is very important that the next edition, which will comprise about 10 to 20 thousand copies, is made largely in the factory.
[ON EVERVESS II 1]
S, K: Evervess II 1. The instructions on the lid of the wooden box to "drink the contents of bottle II and throw the cap as far away from you as possible" usually aren't acted upon because people are afraid of "damaging" the object. Are those instructions meant to be serious?
B: Actually the instructions are meant to be serious, but of course I knew that a lot of people wouldn't follow them. I believe the object is only right, if it's done. Before that, the object hasn't been in action. The directions for a small activity which one must perform oneself are contained in this object. And if people have carried out this activity and regret it, they have to go on from there and start another activity and procure such a bottle again. I'd have nothing against that!
[ON FELT SUIT]
S, K: Why doesn't the Felt Suit have buttons?
B: Well, that was dictated by the character of felt. That occurred quite naturally. It was tailored after my own suit and I think the whole thing has to retain the character of felt, in the sense that felt doesn't strive to be smart, so to speak. One has to conserve the character, omit mere trifles, such as complicated buttons, buttonholes and so on, and if somebody wants to wear the suit, he can fasten it with safetypins.
S, K: Does the association with convicts' uniforms on which the buttons and braces have been cut off as a sign of disgrace apply?
B: Of course I thought of that, but there's no direct relation. It isn't meant to be a suit which people wear. The suit is meant to be an object which one is precisely not supposed to wear. One can wear it, but in a relatively short time it'll lose its shape because felt is not a material which holds a form. Felt isn't woven. It's pressed together usually from hare or rabbit hair. It's precisely that, and it isn't suited for buttonholes and the like.
S, K: How should one take care of the Felt Suit?
B: I don't care. You can nail the suit to the wall. You can also hang it on a hanger, ad libitum! But can also wear it or throw it into a chest.
S, K: Does the suit's felt material play the role of insulating the physical warmth of a person?
B: The character of warming--yes, that's obvious. The felt suit is not just a gag. It's an extension of the felt sculptures I made during my performances. There, felt also appeared as an element of warmth or as an insulator. Felt was used in all the categories of warmth sculpture, usually in connection with fat: And it's a derivative of that. So it does have a bearing on the character of warmth.
Ultimately the concept of warmth goes even further. No even physical warmth, I could just as well have used an infrared light in my performances. Actually I mean a completely different kind of warmth, namely spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution.
Excerpted from a 1970 interview with Joseph Beuys by Jörg Schellman and Bernd Klüser as reprinted in Joseph Beuys: The Multiples (Cambridge, Mass., Minneapolis, and Munich/New York: Harvard University Art Museums, Walker Art Center, and Edition Schellmann, 1997).