A walk along the Thames river bank at low tide, near Barnes, mudlarking
Aesthetics and rubbish, Merz, found objects – art as a form of chance
Recycling, upcycling, Salvagepunk, bricolage, assemblage
Bricolage was a term used by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. He referred to the cultural significance of found objects as a “superabundance of objects, heavier, denser and imbued with many things that we have eliminated from them” (in Charbonnier, Conversations with Claude Lévi-Strauss, published in 1969).
Reinterpretation, realism versus abstraction, metamorphosis
In one of those strange series of coincidences, several things recently have reminded me of these pieces I did a couple of years ago. Firstly an article in the Guardian on the threat to the Merz Barn near Elterwater in the English Lake District, created by Kurt Schwitters in 1947 when he lived there in exile, which has had its Arts Council grant cut. The interior end wall art work had already been saved from the then derelict building by Richard Hamilton in 1965 when it was removed to the care of Newcastle University. It is on permanent display in the Hatton Gallery. The building itself, incomplete when he died in 1948, is still in situ and there are plans to create a museum. It was reconstructed in front of the Royal Academy in London last year for the Modern British Sculpture exhibition.
Merz (the term came from the 2nd syllable of Kommerz Bank, from an advertisement he used in a collage) – “the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials”. Schwitters also said of his assemblages or Merzbilder “The artist creates through the choice, distribution and metamorphosis (Entformung) of the materials.”
In a premonition of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Schwitters wrote in 1926 “New art forms out of the remains of a former culture.”
To quote from the caption to Schwitters work ‘(Relief in Relief)‘ on the Tate web site “Initially associated with the irreverent Dada movement in 1920s Germany, Schwitters developed an interest in collage and the complex visual inventions this technique made possible. He coined the term MERZ to describe his highly idiosyncratic approach to making art. Schwitters stayed true to these principles even when he left Germany after the rise of National Socialism and emigrated to Britain. He often took months over his constructions, painstakingly searching for the appropriate elements. In wartime Barnes, where glossy magazines for his collages were scarce, the artist used driftwood from the Thames.”
There is to be a major Schwitters exhibition at the Tate Gallery next year.
Their dystopian vision of a world surviving on salvaging rubbish is not such a fantasy as might be thought.
As part of the Metamorphoses – Transformations and Conversions festival at King’s College recently I saw the film Manufactured Landscapes based on Ed Burtynsky‘s photographic work. Images of people in China and Bangladesh inundated by, and living from recycling, all the detritus of the West are both humbling and horrific and make my efforts seem rather trivial.
As part of the 19th-21st October Bloomsbury Festival a temporary one person gallery appeared in Brunswick Square, another manifestation of Merz.
Designed by Peruvian artist Fernando Caceres and Philipp Dorstewitz it was constructed entirely from materials salvaged in the surrounding area, to reflect both the history of the Foundling Estate and its 18th century slums and the favela type constructions of South American city dwellers, but intended as a positive comment.
A good note to end on.
- Merz Barn faces closure (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘Degenerate art’ memorial planned (bbc.co.uk)
- ‘Degenerate artists’ tribute is a mistake (guardian.co.uk)
- Mudlarking (brilliant-london.com)