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Title: Investigating Kurt Schwitters' Merz Barn Wall as a Living Fragment
Authors: Mullender-Ross, Heather
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This practice-based research project challenges the static and stable characterisation of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall as a historical remnant of a past artwork, by investigating its temporal, material and ephemeral possibilities. By using a variety of arts practice-based methods, the Wall is framed as a ‘living’ fragment to be explored, reconfigured and experienced anew. The research is driven by the following interconnected research questions: • How might a sustained practice-driven interrogation of material relating to Schwitters' Merz Barn Wall, generate new readings and experiences of it as an expanded, time-based artwork in the present? • And what forms of creative practice can be developed as articulations of these new readings? Methods such as reconstruction, re-staging and re-performance are used as strategies for connecting with Kurt Schwitters’ working methods and for perceiving the relational dynamic of his artwork in respect to site, gesture and the forming/deforming of material. Moreover, these methods are used as a means of questioning and re-thinking how we currently experience the remnants of Schwitters’ ‘Merzbau’ structures within their new institutional settings. This methodology is guided by Rebecca Schneider’s theories on the use of performance as a tool for illuminating hidden contexts and meaning embedded within archival matter, and through which historical material can be processed, reconfigured, shared and experienced today. The project encompasses an exploration of artwork, materials and contexts connected with Kurt Schwitters’ exiled period in England (1941-1948). It focusses on selected actions and artworks that were re-made, reperformed and continued to develop in conjunction with Schwitters’ newfound circumstance. The project concentrates on the acts of reconstruction, conservation, maintenance and re-contextualisation that were a consequence of the Merz Barn Wall’s separation/dislocation from its original site. This practice-based research examines how archival materials held in the Hatton Gallery can communicate the temporal conditions within which the Wall was constructed and through which it continues to unfold; the recorded gestures of intervention that have come to define and continue to form how it is seen and experienced today. The archival environment is framed as a synthesising space in which fragments relating to Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall can be re-configured to communicate more effectively the spatial, temporal and continually evolving dynamic of his ‘Merzbauten’, as defined by Gwendolen Webster. This environment is used to encourage a more active and mobile form of spectatorship. A body of creative practice has been generated as an articulation of new readings of Schwitters’ work, which includes: a series of watercolour paintings, a site-responsive filmed performance and an interactive installation comprising artists books, found, painted and printed ephemera. This research has been disseminated through a series of targeted solo exhibitions held in the Hatton Gallery between 2017- 2020. The artwork was displayed in the gallery adjoining the Wall, with the intention of encouraging dialogue between exhibits, facilitating new reflections and sensory experiences of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn Wall, as a time-based and expansive ‘living’ fragment.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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