From South to North and Backwards

The post-Beuys era and the issue of the morpho-plastic process in motion

...and at all times there is water within it. It has two entrances, one facing North by which mortals can go down into the cave, while the other comes from the South and is more mysterious; mortals cannot possibly get in by it, it is the way taken by the gods. ["The Odyssey" by Homer, translated by Samuel Butler, Book XIII]

From the numerous references to ancient thought in the work of Beuys, we will consider here the concepts of movement, morpho-plastic but also literal, as expressed in his Sculptural Theory (Plas tischen Theorie) and particularly through the myth of Odysseus. The chalkboard drawing of 1977 from the installation The Capital Space 1970-1977 presents Odysseus "as a figure of the future who carries within him both the past and the present", according to Rhea Thönges-Stringaris[1]. "Just as with Homer," she continues, "still on the threshold of myth, he is easily recognized as a visionary prototype of modern man, the absolute representative of human emancipation. Polytropos already connotes the multifariousness of human nature and dexterity." Referring to the male figure in the chalkboard drawing, she writes, "There, around the knee area, he wrote the opening lines of the "Odyssey" in the original language, Andra moi ennepe/polytropon os mala..."

In Homer's Odyssey, the hero descends to Hades to converse with the blind prophet Teiresias; the oracle had foreseen a second odyssey in order to appease the offended Poseidon. After the restoration of political power, the hero must travel to the countries of the north, where men are unfamiliar with salted food and confuse the oar with the hayfork, unaware of the sea and its culture. However, what does this movement represent?

Beuys will also approach the Odysseian type through the modernistic context of Joyce. From his notes regarding Ulysses, it can almost be taken for granted that the artist would claim to have received a post mortem "request" from Joyce to "extend" Ulysses...[2] In some way, in Beuys two historic morpho-plastic movements meet in the broader European region (in the sense of his generalized Sculptural Theory): the Homeric man of the south who evolves toward a new noesis in the age of the dominance of the intellect (obvious in the photograph of Beuys wearing a cap which, according to Rhea Thönges-Stringaris and Christa Hayes, is a reference to the iconographic attribute of Odysseus) as well as the man of the north. As Hayes states, Ireland is logically the "mind of Europe", a belief that is confirmed in many of Beuys's drawings, some of which were made on blackboards during his public lectures in Ireland in 1974. Describing the relationship between Beuys and the Homeric prototype, Hayes states, "Another of his drawings presents an individual that is walking, the upper part of his body is covered by a peaked cap. This brings closer a solution as to how Beuys attempted to extend Joyce's Ulysses. As a visual artist, Beuys knew that the peaked cap is iconographically an attribute of Odysseus. With this link he had discovered a fundamental parallel between Joyce's most important works, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake."

At this point we can mention the artist's systematic study of and references to the literary text. He aimed at the text's extention toward a morpho-plastic expansion of human potentials, where his essential intellectual abilities can evolve. The transformation of the element (from land to water) in which motion is carried out is highly important."Beuys followed Joyce in turning the seafarer Odysseus adventures into a land-based and walking odyssey. Also, Beuys refers to Odysseus several times- always it seems with Joyce in mind. In 1977, owning at this stage at least three books with illustrations of Joyce's drawing of Bloom contained in them, Beuys chose to accompany a blackboard drawing of his own a ntlered Everyman with the opening lines of the Odyssey in Greek, just as Joyce had done... A drawing from 1957, when the Ulysses-Extension was begun, is titled Odyβeus[3]. Joyce, moreover, had, in Beuys's view, left his mark on the European landscape through his life's wanderings, as much as through his work. He, too, had followed the myth of Odysseus[4]. Knowing that Beuys had discussed his wish to transfer the Academy of Fine Arts in Dűsseldorf to Naples or to Capri, his comment to Rhea Thönges-Stringaris that Naples is my Greek city", does not sound strange at all- since it was on the Homeric path, if we think of Aeaea, the island of Circe, that researchers have situated in Monte

Circeo, to the north of Naples [(according to E. Bradford and E. Lessing, just as Mt. Posillipo, the land of the Cyclops, was located in the Bay of Naples (V. Berard, E. Lessing)]. This unrealised wish and the idea that it might come true one day, remains in my thoughts for many years...

"In Delphi muss man sich treffen... / In Delphi one must meet" [J. Beuys] The movement of man from North to South is central to the exhibition of 12 artists[5] that is focused on Beuys. This idea came about during a conversation I had with Rhea Thönges-Stringaris in Kifissia two years ago when she told me about the incident in Delphi.

"Delphi is the place to meet! (In Delphi muss man sich treffen) commented Joseph Beuys in 1982 when he unexpectedly encountered his friend and colleague, Rhea Thönges-Stringaris, at the site of the ancient Oracle. As she mentions,[6] in 1983, the artist was concerned with the idea of a Work-Installation (Rauminstallation), which he thought to install at the Delphi Museum. Bureaucratic reasons prevented the realization of his proposal and so the opportunity to have a unique work by Beuys, created especially for Greece, was lost. Another space, offered by a gallery in Athens, did not interest him at all. Beuys's interest in the theme of Apollo is not well known. His intention was the controversy but also the direct dialogue with the shamanist god of the Greeks, who was a determining factor in western thought but also in the arts, and whose first temple, it is said, had been built by bees out of wax and swans' feathers (another sign for Beuys). Two years later, in 1985, Beuys presented his last large installation,"Palazzo Regale", at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples- a work which, according to Rhea Thönges-Stringaris and Lucio Amelio, had its origins in the artist's experience during his only visit to Delphi."

Moving along the axis of the opposite points of the horizon (North-South), Beuys knew the topologi cal importance of the access point; the point of entry is different from the point of descent. It is the basis of the educative process, the starting point of the ritual toward the Sculptural Theory and the transformation of man and society.

Yiannis Melanitis, Curator


1. Rhea Thönges-Stringaris, Joseph Beuys, "I Iphigenia Aftos Ego" ("I am Iphigenia"), Arti magazine, vol. 18, 1994.

2. Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, CIRCA Art magazine 104, Summer 2003, pp.35-39.3 .Ibid.

3. Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Joyce in Art, Lilliput Press, Dublin, 2004

4. The relationship of German artists with Greek antiquity, which began in the 18th and 19th centuries and has continued to the present, is well known. We can refer to the well-known work of Hölderlin, Hyperion, to Goethe's Iphigenie, and Nietzsche's Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik... In the 20th century, there is Rilke's Duineser Elegien and Klee's readings of ancient Greek texts in the original (in a letter to Will Grohmann in 1944, Klee wrote that he had read Aeschylus in three different translations, one after the other, and to his wife he said that he had read Oedipus in a feverish condition, "as if it were directed at me".)

5. Rhea Thönges-Stringaris, Joseph Beuys, "I Iphigenia Aftos Ego", ARTI magazine, vol. 18, 1994.