The Merz Barn
Although at first sight, the Merz Barn project might seem out of character for a small arts trust that is allegedly dedicated to promoting new community-led, process-based and non-institutional contexts for critical art practice, it does in a way fit with our other interest and area of work, which is also about promoting new research into the origin and history of artists’ critical legacies and practices. This is increasingly important today, as many of the early pioneers of environmental and critically or engaged art practice, from the 1960s and 1970s at least, now begin to age, and as we have also begun to experience in Britain, some have also, sadly, passed away. For us Kurt Schwitters as an artist represents a powerful and living link with two of the pioneering experimental and radical impulses that went to form early Modern art: Dada and Merz.
Because of this, and, for other reasons that we hope the Merz Barn project will make clear later on, Schwitters is revered by both younger and established artists today, as a continuing and vital source of inspiration and critical relevance. The question then arises how best to honour, document and promote the historical and critical legacy of DADA and MERZ without in any way institutionalising or fetishising them. As the 100th anniversary (1916 - 2016) of DADA approaches, the question of how to re-negotiate and free up the histories and ideas of past artists, particularly outside the institutional mechanisms and bureaucracies of art, is a creative and intellectual challenge for all contemporary artists, and is of particular relevance to the Kurt Schwitters Merz Barn project. Finding the best way of keeping Schwitters' legacy fresh without institutionalising it, or occluding the MERZ core of originating critical integrity, is a creative problem and intellectual dilemma with which we are now trying to grapple. This is not just a problem for Littoral, and we aim to promote involvement of the public and the arts community in key aspects of the future planning and development of the project.
Honouring the legacy of Kurt Schwitters in England
In having recently taken on the ownership and responsibility for safeguarding Schwitters’ last surviving Merzbau building, the Elterwater Merz Barn, we have also inherited an exciting opportunity to do something different in terms of planning and implementing a new type of independent art research and pedagogical institution for artists - as well, of course, as honouring Schwitters’ ongoing legacy in Britain through promoting public access to the site, academic scholarship, and educational and artistic projects at the Merz Barn and elsewhere. The Trust also owes much of the originating critical impetus and focus for its current programmes to Kurt Schwitters and his major contribution to the development of modern art and architecture. It was Schwitters’ Merz Barn that originally gave us the inspiration for the seminal ArtBarns project in 1999, from which several of our current major project development strands, including Rural Shift 2.1 and New Fields 2.2 have sprung. Many other contemporary artists, architects, poets, musicians, and writers acknowledge their debt to Kurt Schwitters, and the inspiration that he has provided them, and for countless future generations of artists, through his extraordinary pioneering Merzbau architectural installation projects.
A memorial to the Entartete Kunst artists
That Schwitters managed to achieve and sustain this important critical programme and artistic legacy in his relatively short lifetime (he died aged 60, in 1948), is quite remarkable, considering that he had also been persecuted by the Nazis as a degenerate artist, Entarteter Künstler, and had to flee his home in Hanover into exile, first to Norway and then to England. Yet apart from the Kurt Schwitters Archiv at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover there is as not as yet any museum or permanent gallery dedicated to the memory of this great artist, or commemorating those of his contemporaries who were also persecuted and forced to go into exile by virtue of their having been designated as Entartete Künstler. Subject to further consultation with the local community, and with regional and national cultural and funding agencies, the site of the Merz Barn at Cylinders could include the establishment of a Kurt Schwitters Contemporary Art Gallery and/or Merzbarn Museum.
New research and residential centre for art students, artists and architects
In addition to undertaking the restoration of the Merz Barn building and associated botanic gardens, farm fields, and landscapes at the site in Elterwater, the Trust is also considering establishing an annual Summer School and residential study centre programme for artists and architects and art students. This could also become a centre for our future professional development, training and pedagogical work promoting ‘deep practice’, the ‘immersive aesthetic’ and related ‘art and the policy sphere’ initiatives for interested younger artists and art students.
For more detailed information about Kurt Schwitters, the Merz Barn, and the artist's other Merzbau projects, and future public events, and plans for the Merz Barn and the site at Cylinders, please go to: www.merzbarn.net
LITTORAL is a non-profit arts trust which promotes new
creative partnerships, critical art practices and cultural
strategies in response to issues about social, environmental
and economic change.
LITTORAL 42, Lodge Mill Lane, Turn Village, Ramsbottom
BL0 0RW, UK
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1706 827 961
Reg. Charitable Trust No. 1002365;
Pivate Limited Company No. 2526443
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Art and the experiences of cultural displacement; working without right angles - new rural design, craft and architecture projects.
Research seminar 3.00 - 9.00pm Thursday 19th Juy 2012
Kurt Schwitters in England
The Merz Barn Project in Cumbria