• 1982
  • Copper plate and iron plate
    31.5 x 44 x 1 cm each
  • Edition: 50 plus X plus 4 a.p., signed, numbered and titled
  • Publisher: Edizione Factotum–Art, Verona
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 465

This late multiple consists of a pair of notched, rectangular metal plates. Identical in size and shape, they can be stacked on top of one another to form a single, larger block. This conjunction embodies Beuys’s concept of the ‘element,’ which he used to describe the merger of opposing qualities within a larger, more balanced whole. Beuys employed the term ‘element’ for the first time in 1966 in the performance MANRESA. In this context ‘ELEMENT 1’ referred to a felt-covered wooden cross that was initially incomplete: the left arm was missing, and Beuys restored it in the course of the action with a chalk drawing. ‘ELEMENT 2’ referred to a wooden box containing an array of tools. These served as symbols of materialist, rational experience, which contrasted with the spiritual content of the completed cross. By means of Beuys’s actions within the performance, these two opposing powers – spirit and matter – were combined with one other to form a third element.1

In the Element multiple, the same aspiration toward unity is again at play. Element contains two components, which combine to form a third. When the copper and iron plates are placed on top of one another, they give rise to a new element, which conjoins the qualities that each of these two metals possessed for Beuys. Copper, for example, was aligned in his thinking with intuition, flexibility, and creativity, traits that he regarded as being more widespread in women than in men. Iron, by contrast, was linked to more inflexible and rational forms of experience, which he saw as being masculine in character.2 Believing female qualities to be socially neglected, Beuys frequently affirmed these in his work. Yet he did not wish to see them supplant male traits entirely. Instead, he attempted to unite the strengths of both genders in a balanced and superior conjunction of opposites. It is this holistic unity that the conjoined plates of Element evoke.

  1. For an account of the role of the three ‘elements’ in the MANRESA action, see Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys: Die Aktionen (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 151–152. 

  2. On these associations, see Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 28, 134, 239. 

    Joseph Beuys. Appeal for an Alternative.1979 Stamp Sculpture 1982