Joseph Beuys did not create art only to express the ‘self’. His goal was to empower ‘others’.

a. Joseph Beuys did not create art only to express the ‘self’. His goal was to empower ‘others’. Activating others was a means of erasing rigid social hierarchies, distributing the power that was concentrated in the few, and establishing a dynamic society comprised of independent and creative artists-citizens. The Utopian society he envisioned became part of his platform when he ran as a Green Party’s Bundestag candidate in Germany in 1982.

Beuys’s innovative means of fulfilling this utopian vision anticipated the emergence of Relational Art, a term that was first identified in the 1990s to account for the many artists who had begun to engage the public in their artworks. Relational art, instead of being exhibited for passive contemplation, invites active participation. Rirkrit Tiravanija, for example, has created many works of art that break down barriers to communication among strangers.

Relational Art coincided with the introduction of dating sites and on-line forums that anticipated the revolutionizing developments in social networking and social media in the early 2000s. These technologies seem ideal for fulfilling the artistic missions of both Beuys and Tiravanija. Do you think Beuys would have adopted Social Media to inspire creativity and foster discourse? Why do you think Tiravanija, who does have access to social media, has not been inclined to incorporate it in his vanguard art practice for empowering others? He is known for providing the ingredients for pad thai dinners that visitors can cook, eat, and share in the gallery.

b. While people power was channeled into politics by Beuys, other social institutions serve as the target for the empowering schemes in this book: Superflex into economics, Ant Farm into product design, Jeremijenko into science, Fournier into food acquisition, Franceschini into energy production, Yeh into marketable skills.

c. Nicolas Bourriaud (born 1965), the French philosopher, defined Relational Art as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.”3 The theoretical and practical basis of relational art consists of framing questions, providing experiences, and inviting participation, which Beuys activated before the term was invented. Nonetheless, he made a post-mortem contribution to Relational Art in 2007 when Ackroyd & Harvey organized “Acorns”, a gallery installation consisting of 250 oak saplings that were germinated from the acorns produced by the trees planted by Joseph Beuys in his seminal artwork, “7000 Oaks”. The Ackroyd & Harvey project initiated a three day conversation with guests examining the need for radical changes to the social order in order to address ecological and economic degradation. Since Beuys died in 1984, their homage to Beuys focused on the art form he introduced, not the content of the discourse he engendered.

d. Artists were proclaiming ‘power to the people’ long before the invention of the term relational art. Historic precedents abound in the paintings and cartoons created in times of political uprisings. Find an example of an artwork that instills power to the people related to the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, or the American Revolutionary War. Choose one artist in this section whose work also carries revolutionary intent. Compare the strategy, form, and content of both to Beuys’s Honey Pump.

3 Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics p.113

Images Related to Joseph Beuys
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Ackroyd & Harvey, “Acorns”, 2009

beuys 1

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Soup/No soup, 2012