Joseph Beuys, Ausfegen (1972-85)

Mark Rosenthal makes an interesting comparison between Joyce’s Ulysses and the work of Joseph Beuys: “Each vitrine offers a dense spectacle that is evocative of Beuys’ personal world. In this regard, Beuys’ great interest in Joyce, in particular Ulysses, enriches our understanding of his art, especially his vitrines. Ulysses teems with interlocking leitmotifs and a great range of references, but explanations are never provided. Whatever his symbolic intent, the characters and objects are given tremendous physical presence and visceral energy” (2004: 57). Many of Beuys’ works deal with waste or rubbish or detritus, Ausfagen lends a particularly convenient example.

Two elements in this work interest me here, they aren’t much for now but they might provide the basis for future research. The first element concerns the time of the work or, more specifically, its creation and reproduction of time. An event is marked by this waste, through the preservation of residues and leftovers. Beuys sweeps together objects, he inaugurates an artefact composed from assembled artefacts. But this waste creates another event, another event that is marked by waste, the event of display. Producing a waste-time, making and marking a convolved mixture of times.

The second thing that interests me about this work (really a continuation of the first) is the relationship between object and process, sculpture and change, the Action and the thing or things that it produces. Moreover, what is the status of Beuys’ broom? Sweeper or swept, waste or want? We cannot come down on one side or the other since Beuys’ vitrine displays the frame, the process of creation and reception. Beuys once said, “sculpture is not fixed or finished” (2004: 25). It seems  crucial to me that this vitrine and the history of display, conservation, and collections that it implies, should be spoken of in these terms – of process, series and movement. In short, we ought to inscribe how temporality operates within our interpretations of the work.

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