www.beuysonoff.com is a cross-disciplinary art project with participants from Central and East Asia, who critically reinterpret and update Beuys ’s multi-faceted practices by addressing contemporary urgencies.
Mizuki Takahashi, Artistic Director of beuys on/off, talks to curators, activists and artists from several Asian countries about how they approached the Goethe-Institut Tokyo project. Which concepts, questions and narratives of Beuys' work do they take up in order to give a self-determined response from Eurasia 100 years after his birthday?
With his iconic uniform of a felt hat and a fisherman’s jacket, Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was one of the most significant artists from Germany in the 20th century. His life-story was an amalgam of fact and fiction which often served to render Beuys’ mystic character. Based on his empiricist approach to making art, Beuys transformed his life-experience into both tangible and intangible art forms including drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, debate, discussion, teaching and political action.
Beyond the conventional idea of substantial art, Beuys expanded the concept of art to educational, social and political realms, advocating the idea of “social sculpture” through which everyone can shape the form of our society. In this regard, for Beuys, everyone is an artist with imagination and creativity. Education is one of his important focuses and he coestablished the Free International University in 1973, aiming to open a pedagogical platform for cross-disciplinary study. With his deep interest in natural science, he was engaged with the ecology movement and cooperated in founding the Green Party in the end of 1970s.
Beuys had a utopian vision of Eurasia where polarizations were merged throughout his artistic career and his fantasy was often embodied through the collaboration with Nam June Paik. For his solo exhibition at the Seibu Museum of Art, Beuys came to Tokyo in 1984. During his 8 days stay in Tokyo, he gave lectures, conducted the discussions with students, and staged a performance with Nam June Paik. Despite his passion for Eurasia, Japan was the first and the last Asian country Beuys could visit in his lifetime.