a film about Kurt Schwitters
Well its not really the beginning as I’ve been working on this project for about 6 months now since I fell in love with Kurt Schwitters’ work in the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany, last November. I make films with a group of experimental musicians called free improvisers, and I was invited to Hanover to show my work at a music festival. One of the musicians who came with me, percussionist Roger Turner, had introduced me to Schwitters’ work a couple of years earlier. I used to live in Cumbria and I knew about Kurt Schwitters coming to the U.K. from Hanover to escape the Nazi’s. He went to Norway first but ended up living in Ambleside - I had seen some of his work in the museum there - and in Tate Britain. I thought it was a interesting story but I wasn’t that impressed by his work to be honest. But the art work I saw in the Sprengel Museum in Hanover the day after the gig, was incredible. Schwitters not only made amazing collages and constructions from everyday things he found around him (his ‘Merz’ materials), but he was also a pioneer of installation and performance art. Here’s a link to more info on Schwitters on the Sprengel Museum Website.
I also make quite abstract films in the landscape which explore texture, rhythm, sound, chance events, light changes, etc. Schwitters’ work somehow seemed to be speaking the same language. You can see some of this work on my website link.
I am delighted that the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle have decided to commission me to make a film, my response as an artist, to Schwitter’s work - exploring the landscapes he visited, and the visual language he used. This film will be shown as a gallery installation in the room next to the Merzbarn wall (below) opening on June 28th 2012. This wall is the remains of an extraordinary installation Schwitters made in a disused Cumbrian barn in Elterwater, near Ambleside. Hatton Gallery website Merzbarn Wall website
I read the biography written by Gwendolin Webster about Schwitters and discovered that he had epilepsy. I know quite a few people who have it as well. They seem to have a tendency to being either over cautious and controlled in their lives or extremely devil may care and throw all caution to the wind. Schwitters seemed to have been both at the same time! I have M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome, which is hugely erratic - and how much I can and can’t control my life is something that informs my work as an artist. I wondered if the element of improvisation in Schwitter’s work results from the epilepsy? Is that why I respond to it so strongly? I will be addressing this question throughout the development of the project and report in this blog. The film will take me to Cumbria and to Norway and, as I won’t have much money, it will be a challenge in its own right for me to make this film.
Also reading the books about him and the poetry, it was obvious he loved the mountains. So do I. Here’s an extract from a poem he wrote -
Standing on a high mountain
I felt free
I danced to the music
the mountains make together.
Schwitters was also a fan of avant guard music and was a pioneer of sound poetry using abstract vocal sounds in his live performances. There will be experimental music and improvised sounds in the film, created by some of the free improvisation musicians. I run a monthly concert in London called Mopomoso with the guitarist John Russell at the Vortex Jazz Club. This gives me great opportunity to meet brilliant musicians. I have a Youtube site that is devoted to films I have made at these and other gigs. Helentonic on Youtube. There will be a concert in Newcastle of Schwitters inspired music when the exhibition opens in June 2012. More to follow.
I’m going to Cumbria next week to start filming.