Schwitters in Britain


2 small dogs

Like many new arrivals to Britain, Kurt Schwitters wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms. Fleeing the Nazi's via Norway, Schwitters spent his first sixteen months in this country in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. At the camp, he proved to be a consummate bricoleur making artworks from porridge and linoleum flooring. It actually fits in nicely with his "Merz" concept, nominally a response to the turmoil of war, which involved re-purposing broken fragments of materials for his art.

Schwitters is known as a master of collage, and there are plenty of nice examples on display. They are great demonstrations of both the concept of assemblage and the concept of virtual capacities. In Schwitters collages, we can see how a bus ticket has the capacity to allow an individual to ride the bus, but it also has a less obvious capacity to function as a block of colour in a picture. Both of these capacities are virtual and inherent to the bus ticket itself. When Schwitters actualises the virtual capacity of the bus ticket to represent a block of colour, he does it in conjunction with similar capacities of other objects. This creates his collage, an assemblage which has new and different capacities from those of the various components that form the assemblage. The assemblage can, for example, represent two small dogs, something the bus ticket couldn't do on its own. At the same time, as part of the assemblage, the ticket loses its capacity to serve as bus fare.

Schwitters in Britain is at Tate Britain until the 12th of May, 2013

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