Since Schwitters in Britain opened at the end of January many of you have been asking about the artist’s intriguing ‘porridge sculptures’…
Together with all German and Austrian émigrés who came to Britain during the Second World War, Schwitters was interned by the British government and spent a year and a half in captivity. Schwitterss camp on the Isle of Man was named after the square it surrounded – Hutchinson. The camp, like many of those on the island, was set up around existing houses and delineated only by the barbed wire fence that surrounded it. Hutchinson was full of artists and intellectuals who ended up there together completely by chance. Schwitters made life-long friends there and painted numerous portraits including one of the artist Fred Uhlman that is on display in our show.
Food in the camps was rationed and the captain of Hutchinson, Mr H. O. Daniel, commissioned dieticians to produce a book with suggested menus that could be followed in the camps. A staple ingredient was porridge! Artists materials were also in very short supply and it seems that Schwitters decided that a better use for his porridge was to use it as material to make sculptures. Sadly these works have not survived, and we have not been able to find any photographs of them – if anyone has seen any photographs of them we would love you to get in touch with us.
Many of Schwitterss fellow internees remember his porridge sculptures and have written about them in interviews and in their memoirs. Uhlman was rather unimpressed when he went to sit for his portrait to be painted; he later recalled that:
the room stank. A must, sour, indescribable stink which came from there Dada sculptures which he [Schwitters] had created from porridge, no plaster of Paris being available. The porridge had developed mildew and the statues were covered with greenish hair and bluish excrements of an unknown type of bacteria.