Joseph Beuys

Score for Action with Transmitter (Felt) Receiver in the Mountains


Not on display

Joseph Beuys 1921–1986
Graphite on paper
Support: 241 × 172 mm
frame: 670 × 540 × 27 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


Score for Action with Transmitter (Felt) Receiver in the Mountains is a pencil drawing on a small sheet of white paper that was probably torn from a sketchbook given its torn left edge. The drawing combines abstract linear forms, handwritten words and depictions of mountains together with seven lines of Morse code in the middle of the drawing, roughly in the middle of the sheet. There are some areas of shading, some delicate pencil work detailing the mountains and what appear to be geological strata and various linear tremors (perhaps denoting lightning) across the drawing’s surface. ‘Sender’ (‘transmitter’ in German) appears in the middle of the page, while ‘empfänger’ (‘receiver’ in German) is written further above this. There is a further word written at a ninety degree angle along the left-hand margin, but the artist’s scrawled handwriting makes deciphering it near-impossible. The drawing is signed, titled and dated on its reverse. As the art historian Ulf Jensen relates, the appearance of the transmitter/receiver in Beuys’s art had clear biographical roots:

Beuys received his first training as a radio operator in 1941 after volunteering for the Luftwaffe … The radio operator controlled a single device which functioned as both transmitter and receiver. Beuys repeatedly included technical sketches of such procedures in his work … Beuys repeatedly returned to the theme of the interdependence of transmitters and receivers. In his diagrams, he represented this relationship with the sign ‘S ––––––––(reverse E)’, in which the letters stand for the German Sender (transmitter) and Empfänger (receiver) … The open side of the reversed ‘E’ receives the pulse emitted by the ‘S’ and reflects it back. The information model thus contains two poles which must both be active in order to facilitate an exchange.
(Ulf Jensen in Ackermann and Malz 2010, p.80.)

Although transmitter and receiver are written out longhand in this drawing, the diagram to which Jensen refers can be seen in many other works, including German Student Party 1967 (Tate AR00677), a five-part draft manifesto for Beuys’s first political party. Its presence in what is essentially a political document demonstrates the porosity of science, art and politics in Beuys’s conception of his practice as an artist. Jensen further clarifies that: ‘Beuys regarded communications technology as an opportunity to disseminate thought-provoking impulses across continental boundaries. He sought to involve the achievements of science and technology in the active evolutionary process.’ (Ulf Jensen in Ackermann and Malz 2010, p.80.) The specific subject of this drawing had preoccupied Beuys long before 1973: there exists a pencil drawing from 1958 with the title Transmitter and Receiver in the Mountains (Collection Froehlich, Stuttgart, reproduced in Ackermann and Malz 2010, pl.69). The difference between the earlier drawing and Score for Action with Transmitter (Felt) Receiver in the Mountains is this later work’s designation as a ‘score for action’. In Beuys’s corpus of drawings, there are many such works, including Score for Siberian Symphony 1966 (Tate AR00674) and Score 1967 (Tate AR00678). Beuys’s scores tend to record conceptual rather than musical notations. A score does not necessarily relate to one particular performance; as with Score 1967 it can document a period of preparation or experimentation but is always fragmentary, charting a thought process through drawing rather than providing the end result.

The two poles of transmitter and receiver are divided in the drawing’s title by the word ‘felt’ inserted in brackets. For Beuys, felt was a signature material that also had links to his personal history (see Felt Action 1963, Tate AR00700). Felt is a conductor and preserver of warmth, and consequently a producer of energy. Finding a link between felt and Beuys’s various electrical equipments, the curator Mark Rosenthal explains: ‘As opposed to the cold state of death, Beuys created situations in which warmth and therapeutic healing could occur. These contexts take various guises, including the battery, transformer, and other kinds of machines, all of which produce energy and change. These works evince the rule of chance, not rational intellect.’ (Rosenthal 2004, p.75.) In an interview conducted in 1984, Beuys speculated that: ‘One could say that sound, which disappears after it is cast out, is a kind of drawing … An auditory drawing reaches a receiver, and maybe the receiver starts to draw. This kind of transfer … is one of the essentials. It sounds a little bit abstract, this reason why I try to draw, to start this experience in the field of art.’ (Quoted in Rose 1993, p.18.) An attempt to chart such physically intangible auditory outputs could likely be the motivation behind Score for Action with Transmitter (Felt) Receiver in the Mountains.

Further reading
Bernice Rose, ‘Thinking is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys’, MoMA, no.13, Winter 1993, pp.16–23.
Mark Rosenthal, ‘Joseph Beuys: Staging Sculpture’, in Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments, exhibition catalogue, The Menil Collection, Houston 2004, pp.10–135.
Marion Ackermann and Isabelle Malz (eds.), Joseph Beuys, Parallel Processes, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2010.

Stephanie Straine
February 2011

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Online caption

Although many of Beuys's works on paper were used to capture early ideas for sculptural works, his 'scores' often relate specifically to his 'actions'. While not all were eventually realised in performance, the scores outline the essential components of the 'action'. Unlike musical scores which use universally understood forms of notation, Beuys's scores tend to be a combination of notes and sketches which could only be fully understood by the artist. In this drawing, we see jagged mountain tops as well as lines of Morse code, ready to be transmitted or received. The title also mentions felt, one of the artist's favourite materials.

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