Saturday, January 08, 2011

Thoughts of art

This morning I went along to the biogarten's annual winter outing.  Following our gallery tour we all went for lunch in one of the traditional Brauerei (a brewery, or rather the pub attached to the brewery, which also serves traditional German food) in the old town.  At the end of the meal there was a sad announcement that one of the former gardeners had died - he was 78 but although he had stopped working in the garden a few years ago, he still called by most weekends for an hour or two to check things out, give advice and generally just be there.  So I knew him but didn't really know him, and certainly not the way that some of the others knew him.  There are some people there who have been involved since the beginning, nearly 30 years ago and that is a long time to have someone in your life for.  He was a lovely man and will be missed.

The gallery tour that we went on was a guided tour of some of the work of Joseph Beuys, Dusseldorf's best-loved artist.  It's the kind of modern work that leaves me feeling very much the philistine - if there wasn't someone there explaining the intent behind it to me, I would be thinking "well, it's just a pile of stuff in a cabinet".  In fact, a couple of people asked if part of the reason some of the stuff became 'art' was because he didn't want to have to pay for it to be disposed of.  That was in reference to the remains of what was a huge installation in a museum in Kassel (consisting of a huge pump in the cellar, which pumped large amounts of honey mixed with water through lengths of hose and where people could come and watch it and talk and discuss with Beuys.  A Danish museum wanted to purchase the setup when it was finished but he refused, saying that his participation and interaction with the public was a major part of the work and without that, it would not be the work of art he had created.  So he created a piece which basically consists of various parts of that work, laid out on the floor and yes, it really does look like a pile of various mechanical bits, metal pipes, plastic hose and metal drums that he couldn't be bothered to just dispose of properly. 
He also drew prolifically but we didn't spend much time looking at any of the drawings. 

What I did find very interesting was our guide's description of how his interest extended beyond conventional art and into social reform and how he believed that everyone is an artist.  Not in the sense that anyone who wants to can just decide to be a painter or scupltor and be able to do it.  But rather in the sense that the perfectly shaped loaf of bread that a baker has made is art, for example.  And that altogether all of the people who can create something, contribute to forming our society.  That's kind of the gist of it anyway, to be honest, my head has been swimming with the thoughts of this all day and I feel a bit like what I imagine it feels like to be on the verge of an epiphany.  It feels like there a very profound something just hovering on the edge of my consciousness. 

I also learned a new word today.  'Plastik' in German not only means plastic, it also means sculpture ('das Plastik', the neuter word is plastic and 'die Plastik', the feminine word is sculpture).  It may be that we have other words in English that I, in my arty ignorance, am unaware of but the dictionary just offers me sculpture.  Our guide explained the difference between 'die Skulptur' and 'die Plastik' (and I'm paraphrasing here): 'Skulptur' is when you take a piece of wood, or a piece of stone or whatever and carve, whittle and essentially remove parts of it in order to make the form you desire - essentially an art of subtraction.  'Plastik' is when you use various different materials to create the form you desire by building it up layer upon layer, so to speak - essentially an art of addition.  I'm sure this distinction is something any first-year art student is aware of but I hadn't really ever thought about it before and it's just another thing that is swimming around in my head and making me feel like there is something very profound to be understood there.

And after all those deep thoughts, which I can't quite properly express, I'm going to end on a far more prosaic note.  On the way home this afternoon I stopped into one of the bigger department stores and they actually had some small wide-mouth flasks.  I nearly didn't buy one when I saw the price of €36.95 but then I realised that since eating lunch out costs at least 6 and usually closer to 10 euro, if I use this flask to bring lunch to work and don't eat out for just one week, I have already made up the cost of it.  And in this weather it has been very difficult to persuade myself that a sandwich is what I want for lunch - I want something hot.  And now I can have it.  So I am happy with that purchase especially since it is a stainless steel one and so won't break after only four or five uses the way the last Thermos (glass) one did.  And then on the way home there was a crowd gathered around a shop that has been closed since before I moved here.  When I did move here it had a fantastic selection of kitchen implements in the window, including some giant sized potato mashers.  But I never seemed to pass when it was open and it took me a while to realise that this hardware shop just wasn't open anymore at all.  Then last year all the stuff was removed from the window display.  Nothing else happened although I had somehow expected a new and completely different type of shop to open up.  It looks like they're moving closer towards that though since today, they were selling off everything that was left in the shop and dumping the rest of it in a skip.  Oh how I wished I had more of a DIY clue because that skip was full of perfectly good, very useful looking things (electrical sockets and other bits and pieces).  There was quite a crowd and since we weren't actually allowed into the shop it was difficult to see what was what and I probably could have stood there all day and gotten plenty of bargains but I decided to move on.  Not before spending a whole 50c on a bag with ten packets of rubber gloves (which kind of feels like a lifetime supply to me) and five scouring pads and handing over 5 euro for a lovely kersene/paraffin lamp though.

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