Beuys, Joseph

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Beuys, Joseph (1921–1986) – German artist who termed himself a shaman. Tartars allegedly rescued Beuys after the Stuka plane in which he was the radio operator crashed in the Crimea during World War II. The Tartars revived him, badly burned and freezing, with fat and felt insulation, and these substances became a primary inspiration for Beuys’s work. Beuys regarded the plane crash as an initiatorylike experience, likening it to a death and rebirth, and he also endured a long-lasting breakdown that he viewed as a rite of passage essential to being an artist. Beuys’s words “Show your wound” espoused the view that vulnerability is the secret to being an artist—the term wound here perhaps alluding to the indigenous shaman as a wounded healer. The performance of Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me (performed in 1974) deployed shamanistic consciousness-altering practices: wrapped in an enormous piece of felt for hours at a time and wearing a felt trilby hat he termed “shamanic,” Beuys spent three days in a room caged with a live coyote, accompanied by a tape recording of chaotic turbine sounds. Beuys was an active campaigner for green issues and his environmental art, such as the planting of 7,000 Oaks (1982–87), has been labeled “community-based social sculpture.”


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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