On 26 February 1972 Beuys presented Information Action as part of his contribution to Seven Exhibitions, a series of solo shows by different artists at the Tate Gallery.
About the performance
In the Duveen Galleries, in what is now Tate Britain, Beuys lectured on humanity’s innate creative capacity and the power of direct democracy to shape society. He chalked his conceptual schema onto the three leftmost blackboards (the fourth was used in a subsequent action at Whitechapel Gallery) and engaged the crowd in a free-form and often tense discussion.
Not simply receptacles of ideas, the blackboards helped to determine the relationship between the artist and his audience, clearly signalling Beuys’s role as instructor. The format of the talk also served to position Beuys at the work’s centre. Photographs show the artist surrounded by onlookers, with a microphone to project his voice.
One audience member suggested that the microphone worked at cross-purposes with Beuys’s aims, reserving for him a power of speech that had been undemocratically denied to everyone else. Others agreed, and they held a vote to decide whether to keep using it.
The microphone survived, but the debate points to the work’s most profound lessons. Whatever Beuys’s intentions, democracy appeared not as an abstract ideal but as the means through which relations between people are organised. The microphone did not merely amplify or record what happened, but structured what could happen in the first place.
Four Blackboards and Information Action embody some of the fundamental problems of political and social life – who gets to speak, by what authority, and how? Beuys’s proclamation that ‘everyone is an artist’, that all people have the power to shape the world, was at its root a search for form. The legacy ofInformation Action suggests that he had not yet found the right one.
Text by Jonah Westerman.
Performance at Tate is a research project that aims to explore the role of performance in the history of modern and contemporary art at Tate since the 1960s. A collaboration between the University of Exeter and Tate, the two-year project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.