Joseph Beuys and the Celtic Wor(l)d: A Language of Healing

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LIT Verlag Münster, 2012 - Social Science - 401 pages
During the 1970s, the German sculptor Joseph Beuys made a number of trips to Ireland and Scotland. This interdisciplinary study of the artist's work in the "Celtic world" assesses whether the practice shown or developed during these visits could be seen, in any sense, as a language practice - more specifically, as a "language of healing" - and whether Beuys could be said to have interpreted and performed notions of "Celticity" in these places. The book reflects on the anthropological aspect of Beuys' work and includes interview material with artists who worked with or met him during this time. (Series: European Studies in Culture and Policy - Vol. 10)

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Here is an academically based book which the author has worked hard to make readable for anyone searching to gain deeper insights into the work of Joseph Beuys. Such books, written in English, are few and far between.
I appreciated the author’s willingness to firstly express her personal experience of the Beuys’ works that were exhibited at Tate Modern, London, in 2005. Her response to the works provided the reason for her focussing on the anthropological and healing aspect of his work. Thankfully, however, the book in no way exhibits a sycophantic slant.
As someone previously unfamiliar with the niceties of the specialist and academic discipline of modern hermeneutics I was grateful for the author’s practice of providing definitions and introductory explanations. This allowed me to fully appreciate the viewpoints taken and I enjoyed being exposed to what for me was a fresh line of investigation into some of Beuys’ work.
Much of the focus is on scrutinizing (through the prism of modern hermeneutics and Beuys’ own expanded notion of art and language) the Beuys’ Actions that took place in Scotland and Ireland.
Yet, on another front, I was particularly interested to learn, for instance, of Beuys’ understanding of ‘substance’ as including both physical and spiritual matter, and hence to gain further insight into Beuys’ engagement with shamanism and his/its relevance for today. Here I quote from the book:
‘In many respects, the figure of the shaman represented, for Beuys, forgotten human powers that needed to be rekindled not only in order for social, revolutionary change to occur, but to confront an imminent human and environmental crisis......Through engaging with his understanding of both the Celtic and pre-Celtic world and the role of the shaman in the history of human consciousness, Beuys sought to expand language itself and to investigate the role of language in all sculptural processes, as a means to stimulate people’s perception of and engagement with the shaping of both visible and invisible worlds’.
The book argues this case with a pleasing mix of objective academic rigour and subjective honesty.


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Chapter 7
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