‘Lightning with Stag in it’s Glare’ – Joseph Beuys, 1958-85

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(image taken from; http://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/10858)

 A fascinating work, and one that I actually disliked when I first saw it in The Tate Modern – ‘Lightning with Stag in it’s Glare’  by Joseph Beuys. The piece represents Beuys’ intense fascination with nature, decay, and mans role in the wider world. The suspended bronze triangle; a relief form of a large mound of clay, and representing the size of Beuys’ studio in Dusseldorf, embodies the energy of a flash of a lightning bolt. ‘Blitzschlag took on the effect of a relief with extreme plasticity. The thin sheet of cast metal might be the skin shed by the clay mound, but it is also reminiscent of hot, flowing lava that has cooled down and taken on the shape of a sharply outlined continent on a map.’  The glare of the bolt illuminates a series of half formed creatures; representing primordial forms crafted from clay, and holding tools in their cores as a means of symbolising the way that humans can be described as clay beings, and when primitive, they were ‘half-formed’ as they learnt to create tools. ‘Beuys originally formed the 35 amorphous, primordial shapes, known as “Lehmlinge” (little clay creatures) by hand from the clay mound in Berlin and he grouped them around the stag as if writing a score. The core of every form is composed of everyday tools like spatulas, chisels, screwdrivers etc. The ends of the tools jut out of the bodies like heads. “Clay is a substance of the earth” – (Joseph Beuys)’ .

The aforementioned ‘Stag’ is represented by the ironing board upon it’s two casts of Ebony wood, and the whole ensemble is cast in Aluminium. This sheen demands a certain lustre within the sculpture, and highlights the way that the Stag is caught in the glare of the lightning’s flash. This causes it to shine out amongst the darker pieces of work surrounding it. It is intriguing, this means of highlighting a certain aspect of the work is very relevant to my own practice of whitening (purifying) an object through the use of whitewashing, as a means of purifying and objectifying an object to a level of symbolism.  Buys says of the Stage; “The stag stands there and the stag is not a human being. For the realms of normal consciousness, it is a part of nature. But how will nature continue to have power when every future form of nature will be one made by man?”. It is fascinating to think that Beuys shares these ideas of eventual consumption of nature by humanities desire to control and consume. Through this consumption, and a prolonged amalgamation of nature into the disease-like human experience, it will come to a point in which all that exists is humanity; there will be nothing that humanity has not spread it’s influence and inflicted it’s mark upon. At this point in the future, there will be nothing but humanity; and at this point, we will become a God of a world we have created. At this point, where is there to go.

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