A detail of Joseph Beuys's action is a living coyote. Not a painting of a coyote, or the abstraction of coyote, or a patch of coyote fur. On the first day of Joseph Beuys’s performance, the detail sniffed its creator and paced around him. On the second day it pissed on his copies of the Wall Street Journal. I love those old paintings in which you can see the diminished outline of the artist inside the sitter’s eyeballs. But the coyote was the first artwork to see its maker.
The feeling I have as this coyote looks out of Beuys’s performance is the same one I had when a river flooded my house last year. All of a sudden there were slugs and fish, plants and microbial beings, on the inside. I became aware of how all the other beings on the planet can sense human activity, right now. We used to call it ‘our creation’. Where do you put yourself, I wondered, when your body seems alien – a reflection in the back of an animal eyeball.
Beuys put himself in an enclosure with a coyote. In the images of the action he appears distorted and dark, and weirdly shrunk, given the ludicrous, towering ‘shaman’ costume that the coyote is looking at here. The coyote’s living presence changes the way in which we see the person alongside. Beuys often used the blood, fat or jaws of other species in his works. It’s like when you catch the sound of your own heartbeat or the taste of bone in your mouth.*
Coyote was produced to advertise an exhibition of photographs of Beuys’s action, shot by his collaborator Caroline Tisdall, and is on display as part of ARTIST ROOMS: Joseph Beuys at Tate Modern.
Daisy Hildyard is a writer who lives and works in North Yorkshire. Her book The Second Body is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.