Catalogue entry

Gunter Demnig born 1947

T03421 Blood Trail (Kassel/London) 1981

Marking machine made from bicyle parts 800 x 500 x 2185 (31 1/2 x 19 3/4 x 86); blood on acrylic primed canvas 5620 x 600 (223 x 24); overall dimensions 800 x 5620 x 600 (31 1/2 x 223 x 24)
Inscribed ‘Blutspur Demnig 81 Kassel-London Tate Gallery AM 23.9.81 Gunter Demnig' on canvas b.r. Presented by the artist 1982
Lit: Jürgen Wilhelm, Harry Kramer, Georg Bussman, Duftmarken Kassel-Paris, exh. cat., Halle des Nordhaus, Kassel, 1980; Gunter Demnig, Harry Kramer, Blutspur Demnig 81 Kunstakademie Kassel-Tate Gallery London, Kassel 1981, repr. p.1 (detail), p.2; Gunter Demnig Spuren, Kassel 1981, repr. loose leaf folder

This work consists of a three-wheeled machine, adapted from parts of a bicycle and resembling a road or sports ground marker, and a strip of canvas 600mm wide, marked with a line of pig's blood. These objects survive from a 680 kilometer journey made by Demnig between 7 and 23 September 1981, from the Kunstakademie, Kassel, to the front steps of the Tate Gallery. The artist undertook the greater part of this journey on foot (Kassel to Amsterdam via Cologne and Eindhoven, and Harwich to London) but also travelled by car (Amsterdam to the Hook of Holland) and by ferry (the Hook to Harwich). On the way, Demnig visited the Cologne Kunstverein, the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, presenting five metre strips of blood-marked canvas to a representative of each gallery.

While walking, Demnig pushed the ‘Blutspurmachine' or bloodtracing machine illustrated. This laid a continuous trail of animal blood from two plastic tanks attached to either side of the front wheel. Demnig chose to use pig's blood as it is a cheap and available waste material. The machine has two lightweight cycle wheels on which it runs and a third, foam rubber covered ‘tyre', which is the marker and which is constantly replenished via a trough beneath the tanks. The main frame of the machine is painted white. On arrival at the Tate, Demnig continued the blood trail over a strip of canvas and presented it and the machine to members of the staff of the gallery.

Gunter Demnig documented his walk in Blutspur Demnig 81, a booklet with a fold-out section superficially resembling a tourist map, which contains photographs, maps, press coverage of the walk, and two short introductory essays by Harry Kramer, ‘Blutbilder' (blood picture) and ‘Kassel - London, hin und Zurück' - (Kassel - London, there and back). This booklet gives the dimensions of Demnig's tracing machine and shows the exact time of his departure from Kassel (10.30 am on 7 September 1981). It reproduces photographs of the route and records the principal towns and villages he passed through. It indicates that the machine consumed 20 litres of pigs blood per day; also reproduced is a receipt from one of the abattoirs that supplied the blood.

Asked why he chose blood as a raw material (questionnaire from the compiler of 23 March 1988), Demnig wrote, ‘The most important argument: Blood is the symbol for life, what one inherits. Genetic coding is determined in the blood. In every culture, blood has a very special meaning.'

On 9 September 1981, Demnig wrote to the director of the Tate Gallery outlining the project and offering his machine and the strip of canvas as a gift from the Kassel Kunstakademie. On his return to Kassel he wrote again to the Director (letter of 5 October 1981) identifying his walk as a public work of art but suggesting that, in such a context, the artist becomes an anonymous worker (he noticed that passers by tended to look at the machine and at the trail it left, rather than at the artist). Demnig referred to the trail he created as abstract, ‘a dark gleaming line' which would become progressively weaker as time went on as it became affected by rain, cars and oxidization, so that it eventually became a black shadow (perhaps remaining visible as such for months.) In the same letter Demnig noted that over the fifteen day journey from Kassel he averaged around forty-five kilometers per day and used, in all, two hundred litres of blood. He also related how the blood would begin to smell after about four days (he used a chemical agent, ammonium oxalate, to keep it liquid) and suggested that, in the context of his walk, the visual arts could be seen as something of an endurance test, ‘an athletic discipline'; the journey became increasingly difficult as the blood gradually foamed up and spilt, which necessitated regular clothes washing in the evenings. He stated that, at the end of the journey, the machine had fulfilled its function. In a letter dated 19 October 1981, reproduced in the booklet already referred to, the Director replied suggesting that, with the artist's agreement, the machine and canvas should be destroyed. Demnig replied on 25 November 1981 authorizing the destruction of the machine and the canvas, following the creation of a photographic record. The Director wrote again on 24 February 1982, asking the artist to reconfirm that he would agree to the destruction of the tracing machine. Demnig replied (7 March 1982) that he did authorize it:

The contraption will certainly never be used in this form or for this purpose, and therefore demontage or destruction seems the reasonable thing to do. The trail which I made from Kassel to London has long since been washed away by rain and tyres, in spite of the oxidisation which preserved the blood spoor on the street for some time - the tool has become superfluous. To simplify transport and storage, it could be reduced in a press to a convenient cube.

I am sure the museum has no facilities for doing this, and therefore would like to ask you and your organisation for help to find out where and if in London the contraption could be compressed to a convenient cube. Its weight is about 20kg, the pipes have very thin walls, so that the volume would be greatly reduced.

I only hope that sending it back by plane won't make the metal detectors of the customs people go haywire'
(letter to Alan Bowness, 7 March, 1982).

Following this letter the Director of the Tate wrote again to Demnig (23 June 1982) stating that after discussion with the Trustees of the Tate Gallery he had decided to retain the machine and canvas as part of the permanent collection. The artist has agreed to the two sections being exhibited with the machine resting on the canvas, as if continuing to mark it.

Between 1980 and 1985 Demnig made eight works or ‘actions' in the landscape involving the continuous marking of his route. In 1980 he made an 818 kilometer long white trail of letters (‘DEMNIG-80 ATELIER KRAMER GHK KASSEL DUFTMARKEN KASSEL - PARIS' etc.) from Kassel to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This is documented in Jürgen Wilhelm and others 1981. Following ‘Blood Trail' in 1982 he made a trail of thread from Kassel to Venice, ‘Ariadne-Faden' (Ariadne Thread), linking the Kassel Documenta with the Venice Biennale. This work is fully documented with text and photographs in Ariadne-Faden, Kassel-Venedig Demnig 82, Kassel 1982. The next related exercise undertaken was the ‘Kreidekreis' or chalk circle describing a 40km radius around the city of Wuppertal, made in 1983. Here Demnig laid a trail of whitewash using a machine very like T03421. This work is documented in Kreidekreis Demnig 83, an exhibition catalogue produced for the Exhibition ‘Spuren Demnig 83', at the Galerie Brusten, Wuppertal (June-July 1983). The next related work, ‘Flaschenpost Kassel-New York via Bremerhaven', involved Demnig throwing a number of bottles into the sea. These were addressed to four major museums (including the Tate Gallery) and were thrown into the sea from a ship sailing between Germany and America. Demnig has produced a publication of the same name giving details of this journey (Kassel 1983) and it is also listed in Kreidekreis Demnig 83.

The next action to involve marking was ‘Kassel 22 Oktober, Zehntausend Tote' (1983). This was followed in 1984 by ‘Landschaftskonserven' involving a line of zinc cylinders which Demnig buried between the towns of Hamm and Reutlingen. This was documented in Landschaftskonserven, Kassel 1984. The most recent of these manifestations took place in 1985 (‘Staubspur Kassel-Köln').

At the time of his journey to London, Demnig was an assistant to Harry Kramer, a Professor of Fine Art at the Kunstakademie, Kassel. In the booklet documenting the walk, (Kassel, 1981) Kramer refers to the artist as having relinquished rational justifiable objectives in favour of a state that requires no goal. Kramer suggests that the places through which he passed became showcases for a certain time, then he passed on. The traces remaining were marginal; what remained was a souvenir of a past event. Its importance or lack of importance rested with the witness, who either responded, or ignored the event.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.507-9