I visited the Schwitters exhibition at Tate Britain during the early stages of my project. I had been reading Gail Marcus book 'Lipstick Traces' and I had become interested in the Dada movement. Lipstick traces is a large book spanning 20th century culture but its coverage of the birth of Dada in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire is extensive. It is particularly interesting to see how the Dadaists were trying to reinvent spoken language itself and in this exhibition there is a excellent example of Kurt Schwitters reading his own Dada poem of sounds, vowels and utterances that flow repeatedly into a loop.
The work shown here however is the work Kurt Schwitters primarily undertook whilst as the title suggests he was in Britain after the Second World War. Dada was born in 1917 so a number of art movements and various manifestos had passed before the body of the shown work had been made. I think Schwitters certainly came through that period and made work during it but to perceive him as an artist of Dada doesn't fit with my perception of the movement.
I think I predominantly took away Kurt Schwitters inventiveness and his early use of collage techniques from available materials. His work was built from found objects and scraps which presaged the later use of such material in British pop art by people such as Richard Hamilton. Schwitters I feel was using items such as packaging wrappers and transport tickets because that was what was available to him and they acted more as tokens of time related to memory and to perhaps add interest and form to his collages. Whilst some may see these as being a conscious self reflection of a new age of advertising that would later be so comprehensively dealt with by Warhol I do not get a feeling from looking at the entirety of Schwitters work on display that he was making such statements.
Unsurprisingly after the First World War he like most people of the time felt that the world had disintegrated entirely and completely broken down. The Dada movement responded with their nihilistic art which reflected the sheer horror and collapse of humanity into a vortex of distortion. Schwitters found himself part of this hopelessly fragmented age and his task like other artists was to reconstruct the new out of the broken past.
There is much evidence here of Schwitters resourcefulness and his inventive reuse of materials. What is equally evident is how Schwitters went on to develop of very geometric order to his work. His canvas sculptures were a beautifully balanced amalgamation of low value objects that represented an external order one might have longed for given the dreadful wars that Schwitters generation endured. There is a wonderful symmetry and balance to many of the pieces and a limited colour palette that again would be due to limited resources perhaps more than a wish not to experiment.
What inspired me in my piece was his geometry and the use of inexpensive or found materials. I had been looking at the work of Brockmann and the Swiss school in previous modules and I found a similarity between this latter graphic design and the earlier object canvases of Schwitters. I was also thinking of Susan Sontag's essay 'against interpretation' and considering the elements Sylvester had drawn to my attention regarding concreteness of form.
I had begun this project asking questions about the limitations of various mediums and how one might creatively explore across these so that sculpture and painting crossed paths for example. Schwitters was equally interested in framing what might otherwise be seen as sculpture and thus we have what appear to be wooden 3 dimensional paintings. He also produced flat collages and single sculptural objects but his framed 'paintings' interested me the most.
I made my sculptural painting by firstly creating an image that adhered to the graphic design proportions expressed by Brockmann in laying out a page. I then projected this image onto PVC rather than canvas as I was interested in exploring materials as Schwitters had done. Instead of drawing or using paint I again followed Schwitters example and substituted an available material for this. In this case the lines are created using electrical tape. The central nearly compete circle is made from window insulation sealant. I wanted to create a piece that reflected some of Schwitters material ingenuity and that equally paid homage to his balanced geometric compositions.
I saw this as a useful step in exploring new material use and in experimenting with how one might play across various mediums to discover interesting alternatives that took me beyond the single response one might have when they say I am going to make a painting or sculpture. I think it is always inspiring to visit a gallery and see the work of artists that were creating interesting inventive work under the most difficult of personal conditions. It makes one go back and think resourcefully and differently.
I certainly found this exhibition extraordinarily relevant to aspects of art today. 'Trash art' today has a very exciting and widely diverse range of artists that are working successfully with recycled, upscaled and found materials as well as the detritus of industrial processes. I will explore these artists over the coming weeks as I am personally very interested in this style of art. Schwitters is an excellent starting point in terms of linking back to a past period that similarly used found objects to creatively push expression forward.
Whilst these were the underlying factors I was also starting to create work that seemed to be echoing the eye and the lines I have difficulty with. I felt my early pieces were starting to develop as shapes that were concerning themselves with the eye and the broken line. I wasn't conscious of that but it seemed that in this piece one might interpret the outcome as something representing an eye or the broken material eye (hence the incomplete circle) and the lines I experience as distortion. I am happy that this isn't something that exists as immediately apparent even to myself but as my project is titled 'Ways of Seeing' there is clearly a subconscious underlying motif that I welcome appearing as I move along through to the idea of a final piece.