Tate and Grizedale Arts have commissioned artists Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost to make new work in response to the history and legacy of Kurt Schwitters in the Lake District for inclusion in the exhibition Schwitters in Britain at Tate Britain from 30 January 2013.
Kurt Schwitters was one of the major artists of European Modernism. Schwitters in Britain focuses on the artist’s British period, from his arrival in Britain as a refugee in 1940 until his death in Cumbria in 1948. Schwitters’s move to the Lake District culminated in the creation of his last great sculpture and installation, the Merz Barn near Ambleside.
The commissions by Chodzko and Prouvost are responses to the locality and history of Schwitters’s incomplete Merz Barn. Over the last year, Chodzko and Prouvost have developed their projects at Grizedale Arts, itself close to the Merz Barn, which is managed by the Littoral Trust. Chodzko and Prouvost share an interest in how memories and factual narratives about a historical figure can shift and be revised across time and through circumstance.
Laure Prouvost has created a dark muddy room at Grizedale Arts, which forms the setting for a new video work presented as part of the exhibition at Tate Britain. The room is conceived as the living room of Prouvost’s fictional grandfather. This invented relative is described as a conceptual artist and one of Schwitters’s close friends. Prouvost’s work draws upon the dual aspect of Schwitter’s work – his celebrated Merz works, as well as his conventional portraits and landscapes. The room also shares the features of a tea room, inspired by Schwitter’s companion’s nickname, Wantee, due to her habit of asking, ‘want tea?’
Prouvost’s invented grandfather has featured in previous work. He inspired her spoken word performance at Tate Britain in 2011 More from my lost grandfather, and the film The artist 2010. Prouvost combines language and images to construct invented storylines that seduce and disturb, whist exploring the slippage between fiction and reality. In this new installation Prouvost investigates how an artist has little control over the way their work is perceived in years to come, and the way what is considered art changes over time.
Chodzko explores the international context within which Schwitters was operating in the Lake District through the individuals and institutions who were in contact with him. He will reconfigure the office designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937 for Kaufmann’s department store in Pittsburgh. The office was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann whose son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr, a curator at MoMA had arranged the grant of $1,000 that MoMA wired to Schwitters while he was living in poverty in Ambleside. The office was later donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum and Chodzko reconfigures it here in the manner of Schwitters’s Merz structures in order to house a new video work.
As the final element in this process, Chodzko proposes that one of Germany’s leading banks, Commerzbank, from which Schwitters appropriated the word Merz, is relocating to the Lake District. Boxes of Commerzbank headed paper have been delivered ahead of the move and stacked up in the Merz Barn entrance in Elterwater, as though sealing it off. Before being presented here at Tate they have sat there for the last few months, covered in falling leaves and soaking up rainwater. Chodzko’s works often involve making a series of connections between individuals and locations. Previously he has placed adverts in various newspapers, inviting people who thought they looked like God to send in their picture; this evolved into The God Look-Alike Contest and was exhibited in the RA’s 1997 Sensation exhibition consisting of the original advertisement and the responses he received.