Evening Lecture Roland Halfen
In his evening lecture Roland Halfen explored the sources of art in the 20th century. The art-historian and editor of Rudolf Steiner’s artistic work within the complete Edition of Steiner’s works, followed certain symptomatic developments in the course of the 20th century and arranged them in their phenomenal expression with the aim of discovering their common source. After drawing attention two the widening of sensual awareness, to which Rudolf Steiner already drew attention at the beginning of the 20th century, Roland Halfen went on to show the characteristic phenomena which one could call „dissolving boundaries“. Halfen made upon to show that there are seven of these which he underpinned with examples. In the summary I can only try to follow the main thread, because I can't bring the pictures.
Dissolving boundaries I: in the first example of the dissolution of boundaries between art and non-art Halfen showed us some of Marcel Duchamp’s „Ready-Mades“. Here examples from everyday life are placed in a different context, the viewer begins to look at them in another way. He displays the forms disconnected from their use. Here the viewer augments the visible and transgresses the boundary between art and non-art. Not only objects of everyday life are used but machines as well, and they can be drawn into the artistic process, as for example Rebecca Horn did with her painting machines. Josef Beuys conducted performances with animals such as coyotes, or hares, or a horse. They belong to the group which crosses the boundary between art and non-art. In the performance „I like America and America likes me“ Beuys spent a time with a coyote in a confined space and tried to build up a relation in the course of a few days.
Dissolving boundaries II: this group dissolved the boundaries between three traditional lines of art: i.e. architecture, sculpture and painting. In this sense Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York, built in 1958, is like a huge sculpture, interweaving shaped corpuses. Le Corbusier and Zaha Hdid or Frank Gehry have begun to design buildings as though they were walkable sculptures. In painting people like Emil Schumacher or Gotthard Graubner say goodbye to the window into another world and understand the painting as though it were a real object, in this way they transgressed physical space. Ai Weiwei goes even further and dissolves boundaries by placing 6000 stools, which had been used by wandering workers, in the context of a sculptural installation. The objects widen into space, opening one’s soul to a new level of experience.
Dissolving boundaries III: the traditional separation between an object of art and its surroundings is suspended by land art. Some people work with water, others with wind and Beuys' concept of the warmth sculpture or in sound installations show how the use of the elements merge the object of art with the surroundings, so that one discovers a whole, where before the parts had been seen separately. By changing the perception, the surroundings are placed in a completely different context and the sensual world is transformed into aesthetic qualities.
Dissolving boundaries IV: the boundary between the artist and his work of art, has been dissolved in dancing and ‚Bewegungskunst’ of the 20th century and in a similar way this has been taken up in the visual arts. For example Johannes Stötter’s body painting: he conceives human bodies in such a way that they seem to melt into their surroundings; or Marina Abramovich, who placed her own body at the disposition of her audience, allowing them to do her harm as they wished. The highlight of this form of dissolving boundaries was reached in Abramovich’ performance „the artist is present“ in which the artist opened herself up for a pure encounter with another person just by sitting on a chair, not moving, just looking at whoever chose to seat him or herself facing her.
Dissolving boundaries V: the traditional boundary between the artist and perceiver seems to have lost its existence after Abramovich’ performances. Yet there is another form, like the one in which Karin Sander allowed visitors to make a kind of personal portrait after their own body scans; or Dan Flavin used neon tubes in such a way that the visitors could become part of the work of art by moving about among the neon tubes, creating coloured shadows. In this way they became part of the coming into being of a work of art.
Dissolving boundaries VI: even the traditional boundary between creating piece of art and the perception is permeated. We no longer look at the objects but we increasingly become a part of their coming into being and this in itself is an aesthetic experience. That means the work first becomes real through the perceiver’s participation.
Dissolving boundaries VII: and finally even the boundaries between the present, the past, and the future are put into question. The times of those who went ahead and the avant-garde seems to have been transformed into a diversity of equal positions.
All of these phenomena of dissolving boundaries seem to have come about through the changed relationship of human beings to their physical body. The naive identification with one's own body and therein the differentiation of the parts of one’s nature, which lie behind the different expressions of art, seems to have come to an end. Even the usual sense of security transmitted by a world of objects seems to get scrutinised. Elementary physics and two World Wars have rocked the world as a secure place based on solid foundations. The world shows itself as a place for the interchange of processes and transforms objects into a phenomena of consciousness.
Rudolf Steiner described the detachment from one's body as a kind of unconscious crossing of the threshold. This throws man back on to his own consciousness. The way in which we think, feel and use our will has become disengaged from the natural context and tends towards disintegration. A new form of consciousness wants to discover, wants to participate, wants to understand and find a new form of security by becoming creative in every moment.
Instead of trying to bind all these different areas together, one should try to discover new possibilities by contemplating a single area. Marc Rothko reduced the visible and led one to a meditative space by the means of this concentrated reduction. This evoked a Religious sensation. This concentrated and transparent inner activity is productive, and gives one a new sense of security. Without this activity, there is nothing there. In this sense Rudolf Steiner required the visitors of the Goetheanum not just to perceive objects in its sculpted parts, but to unfold this inner activity to complete the Goetheanum.