Kurt Schwitters and 27 Senses: Resonances in Norway, England and Time


In the 1990s, Hal Foster observed that ethnographic or politicized art practices were diverging from a neo-avant-gardiste precedent: an investment in the remobilization of historic experimentations such as those performed by the members of Dada. I argue in this article that, more recently, the artists Kenneth Goldsmith, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Karl Holmqvist, Jutta Koether and Eline McGeorge were testing Foster’s assessment of the ‘ethnographic turn’ and also what he refers to as the ‘archival impulse’ by reintroducing, from a curatorial standpoint, the potential of postmodernist breaks with linear thinking. Specifically, the collective considered the years Kurt Schwitters spent in exile as an inhabitable site and not an art historical narrative in need of retelling. Rather than seeking to explain paradigmatic shifts in the formal qualities of Dadaist assemblages through distanced reproduction, they embarked on an artists’ residency that would allow them to critically engage with the concept of Merz in idiosyncratic and ephemeral ways. I suggest that this allowed them to successfully arrive at what Foster calls a ‘productive tension’, evidenced in the subsequent installation of their group exhibition 27 Senses at Chisenhale Gallery in London, 2010.


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