The Orwell Leg—Trousers for the 21st Century

[Das Orwell-Bein — Hose für das 21. Jahrhundert]

  • 1984
  • Blue jeans, variations within the edition, with circular holes
    Approx. 90 x 45 cm.
  • Edition: unlimited, only about 35 copies made, signed on the label, unnumbered
  • Publisher: Editions Liliane et Michel Durand–Dessert, Paris
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 485

On New Year’s Eve, 1983, Beuys participated in a TV broadcast, called Good Morning, Mr. Orwell. This broadcast, which took place via satellite at locations around the world, was organised by the artist Nam June Paik, a friend and colleague of Beuys since the early 1960s.1 Throughout the event, Beuys wore jeans whose right knee had been removed—a garment that formed the basis for The Orwell Leg—Trousers for the 21st Century.2

Beuys said of The Orwell Leg that ‘everybody in the world should make this [sic] trousers to themselves [sic], to struggle against world-wide materialism and repression….’3 As the fateful, Orwellian year of 1984 began, society had not yet arrived in the era of Big Brother. It was, however, rife with injustice and inequality, problems that preoccupied Beuys deeply. Perceiving them to be the product of a limited materialistic worldview, Beuys attempted to redress them by promoting the virtues of intuition, a form of experience he held to be superior to reason. While reason for Beuys was a material faculty, whose locus of operation was the brain, intuition was a spiritual mode of experience, which could arise at any point within the body. It was for this reason that he chose to call attention to his knees in his Orwell Leg jeans. Beuys viewed intuitive experience as the basis of all creativity, most notably social evolution. It was only by harnessing its powers, he contended, that a new and more progressive society might develop—perhaps, as the Orwell Leg suggested, in the 21st century.

  1. For more on Paik’s event, see Nam June Paik, Art for 25 million people: bon jour, Monsieur Orwell ; Kunst und Satelliten in der Zukunft ; eine Anthologie von Nam June Paik aus Anlaß d. Ausstellung “Good Morning, Mr. Orwell” in d. Daadgalerie vom 28.11.-9.12.1984 (Berlin: Daadgalerie, 1984).  

  2. Beuys, in Jörg Schellmann (ed.), Joseph Beuys: Die Multiples (München, New York: Verlag Edition Schellmann, 1997) 491.  

  3. Ibid. 

    Photo 1

    © Mario Gastinger, Photographics, Munich

    New York Subway Poster1983 Capri Battery 1985