Display Boards for Instruction I and II

[Schautafeln für den Unterrricht I und II]

  • 1971
  • Two photographs mounted on cardboard; Board I with zinc plate, sulphur, and handwritten text
    83 x 105 x 0.6 cm
  • Edition: 202 planned, 150 completed, signed and numbered on Board I
  • Publisher: Edition Tangente Heidelberg, Heidelberg
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 31

The Display Boards for Instruction I and II consist of a pair of fading photographs mounted on two cardboard panels. These grainy, high-contrast images depict a sandy landscape in which a featureless concrete structure is present. Affixed to the first panel is a grey metal printing plate, which has been smeared at its lower edge with a streak of yellow pigment. Inscribed below the plate in Beuys’s hand are the words:

(OSTEND/on the beach or in the dunes/a cube-shaped building/with ‘The Samurai sword is a blood sausage’ inside/PEDESTAL)

[OSTENDE/am Strand oder in den Dünen/ein kubusförmiges Haus/darin ‘Das Samurai-Schwert ist eine Blutwurst’/SOCKEL]

The samurai sword–blood sausage was a recurring motif in Beuys’s work, which he employed as a sign of Eurasian unity. Through its melding of an Asian weapon with a European food item, it symbolically united the two continents, enabling their complementary strengths to both balance and enhance one another. Particularly important for Beuys was the capacity of Asian spirituality to help temper the one-sided excesses of European rationalism and materialism. 

Beuys’s inscription suggests that the landscape depicted in the two Display Boards is likely the Belgian coastal town of Ostend. In the postwar period, reminders of the War were omnipresent in Ostend in the form of concrete bunkers and gun emplacements erected by the German military. These remnant structures are shown in both images, in each case serving as mute, yet obdurate reminders of historical disaster.

Beuys, however, had a plan to redress this tragic history, which he shared with his musical collaborator Henning Christiansen during a visit to Ostend in the 1960s. As Christiansen later recalled, Beuys spoke on this occasion of a plan to build a cube-shaped concrete structure in the area, with a samurai sword sausage housed within it.1 By enshrining a symbol of spiritual rebalancing in a structure connected to the War and its carnage, Beuys had planned, in effect, to erect a kind of cleansing memorial, intended to purge the area of its historical wounds.

The grey metal printing plate affixed to the first of the Display Boards enhances the work’s theme of Eurasian unity and historical recovery. Above a group of Beuys’s works are vertical columns of Japanese text, a pairing that calls to mind an interplay of Eastern and Western cultures. The yellow smear of pigment on the plate imbues it with a further layer of significance. The pigment derives its distinctive colour from sulphur, a substance Beuys employed as a bearer of spiritual warmth. Since the meaning of ‘warmth’ for Beuys encompassed, among other things, the powers of human love, this small, yet vivid colour highlight suggests that the Display Boards for Instruction instruct us to supplant the violent energies of war with more peaceful and progressive sentiments.

  1. Henning Christiansen, cited in Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys: Die Aktionen (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 313. 

    Photos 1, 2

    © Mario Gastinger, Photographics, Munich

    Felt Suit1970 How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome 1971