A great final tour of the exhibition with a mixture of people who were engaged with the exhibition and knowledgeable about Beuys so we were able to have a broad based discussion about the work, the ideology and the materials used Beuys. All things fatty and felt like were admired and discussed as was his tightly controlled image and iconic ‘look’ – some picked up on his trickster character and ability to spin lots of stories and ideas together to create a series of rather confusing contradictions and double bluffs.
A surprising visual analogy was made between the poster advertising the 7.000 Eichen where the piles of basalt waiting to be planted resembled the piles of bodies found at concentration camps photographed at the end of the WW2. One member of the tour thought the connection would be obvious to anyone of the generation who directly experienced the Second World War.
It is interesting that Buchloh, a fierce critic of Beuys, felt he had sidestepped recent German history, yet years later on reviewing his original analysis of the artist, found that in fact Beuys was the only artist of the immediate post war period to really address issues relating to horrors of the Second World War.
Artists Ackroyd and Harvey were the guest speakers at Speakers Corner and they spoke about their project using acorns taken from the original Oaks used in 7,000 Eichen in Kassel. Beuys’s Oaks were planted 27 years ago and theirs are just 2 years old, yet the potential to spread the word about the importance of trees for the global community is huge. In his social sculptures like 7000 Eichen Beuys promoted the idea of regeneration, the passing of time and the connection between life forms on the planet and how they can be sustained and supported by the broader community in creative ways.
Ackroyd and Harvey posed a number of questions :
Why are we unable to find global agreement about the preservation of forests?
The creation of cities and civilizations, stretching back to the first city created by Gilgamesh to defend his people from outside threats , depended largely on clearing large areas of forest in order to both create the space to build cities and the materials with which to construct them. The Romans too cleared large areas of temperate forest to grow crops on and for domestic and industrial use. With ever increasing deforestation civilizations soon decline and the 20th century in particular has seen not only continued deforestation, particularly in tropical climates, but also an associated increase in desertification.
The suggestion was made, via an Antarctic survey and a meeting with comedian Marcus Bridgestock, that every small step that politicians and world leaders make to halt this destruction, should be supported and applauded by the rest of us (preferably whilst wearing a suit and tie !)
What do we need to do stop the drive for economic growth ?
This often means the wealthy increase their wealth at the expense of the
The drive to exploit the planet to create wealth is deeply embedded in the
west and increasingly in the rest of the world. Belief systems
that see-saw between Plato who lamented the loss of forests in his day and
Socrates who dismissed nature as kind of folkloric fantasy mirror similar
swings between a romantic view of nature and the thinking dominated by
logic, reason and the capitalist drive to make greater and greater profits from natural
We know that around 50% of forests are cleared for domestic dependence on fuel and that this rate of deforestation is not sustainable but there are some positive actions made by groups and individuals which could well lead the way to better understanding of how we might work together to ensure forests and other resources are sustained and regenerated for the future.
Manchester, for example, has a long term tree-planting strategy and has increased its stock by many thousands. This follows research that suggests that by increasing our tree stock by 10 % in urban areas we can lower the temperature.
In Turkey 2 business men have planted 850,000,000 acres of oak trees.
In the face of violent opposition 30 million trees in Kenya have been planted by women’s groups led by Wangari Maathai.
Ecuador recently voted on a new constitution that would give Ecuador’s tropical forests, islands, rivers and air similar legal rights to those normally granted to humans.
China, the Philippines and Haiti have taken steps to preserve and maintain their forests.
Polly Higgins, a barrister and environmentalist, started a website and blog – Trees Have Rights Too
which led to her going to Sweden to present the call for a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights at the Tallberg Forum
and later at the United Nations UK & Northern Ireland conference on Climate Change.
Forests: The Shadow of Civilization by Robert Pogue Harrison
A keen audience of 22 contributed to the talk with informed insights and knowledge about a range of environmental issues. It has been interesting to note that for the talks that I have been a part of that much of the audience has been made up of those interested in the subject of the talk (rather than coming at it from an artist’s angle) It would be interesting to know how many of the particpants spend time looking at the exhibition before hand and whether the work of Beuys in any way illuminates or resonates with their interest in war, education, forestry, bees etc !