How to get from Beuys’s “Social Sculpture” to Poggi’s “Social Aesthetics” and back to Beuys again

Text by Simona Vidmar

Ever since the 60s the objects, installations, actions and manifestos of Pino Poggi have made us contemplate on the never ending phenomenon of Joseph Buys as well as on the concept of art, which has been gaining new dimensions.

“Der erweiterte Kunstbegriff”

Beuys’s contemplation on sculpture is not an academic one. He concerns himself with form. He believed that the main problem of art is that of the most appropriate form. Through centuries art has searched for and created the most sublime, the richest and the most beautiful objects intended for people to enjoy, to admire, to make people want them and to live with them. That is why it could be said that art is the discipline which is able to transfer the question of the most appropriate form to other social fields. It does not matter whether we work with metal, wood or social components – the main idea always remains the same.

In his programme essay from 1972 Beuys invited artists to transform the basic concepts of art, art actions and sculpture: “Only if the definition of art radically expanded art and all the activities connected with it, art could be proven the only evolutionary and revolutionary force at the moment. Only art is capable of disclosing repressive effects of a senile social system; disclosing with the intention of forming a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART. This social sculpture or social architecture – the most modern branch of art – will be effective only if all living beings are the creators, sculptors or architects of the social organism. Only a presumption which sees art revolutionized to such an extent could change art into a politically productive force, powerful enough to track down every individual and to make history.” [1]

The first and the most important step in the realization of the social sculpture and realization of social living as a work of art is the “revolution of concepts”,[2] such as the concept of art and some basic concepts about society. A new quality in thinking and functioning will make the transformation of art from an aesthetic experience to socially- evolutionary usage possible. And all individuals should be hold responsible in the process – every single activity, such as thinking, talking, forming ideas, working… influences, changes and transforms the society of people.

This axiom cannot be disputed, every single creative movement creates forms and is a part of the social sculpture. Therefore this could be regarded as sculpture as well. Art as such is lately regarded as a synonym for a person’s ability to work. Beuys points out to the society, which can be viewed as a surrogate for a work of art with its physical appearance, presence, warmth and energy. So what is the meaning of a materialized sculpture and of Beuys’s works, like a cyber installation Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz (1974-77), a contemplating action I Love America and America Loves Me (1974) or an ecologically-interactive project 7000 Oaks, (1982)? A materialized sculpture or an art action functions as a model or as a conductor for the invisible sculptural qualities of thinking. Namely, the materialized energy of thinking is capable of arousing (very efficiently) perceptional and thinking abilities in other people. With his model “the expanded concept of art – a social sculpture – a personal responsibility” Beuys showed how to rediscover art as a means of a social and political power.

“The Social Aesthetics”

In his manifesto from 1965 Pino Poggi briefly presented the goals and the principles of his work and announced a new branch of art Arte Utile, the so called applied art. “Arte Utile carries a message. (…) An action relating and dealing with the current events is the most efficient one. Arte Utile is an impulse for a society’s renovation.” [3]

There are three main problems in Poggi’s art: the problem of works of art/actions being informative enough; the problem of works of art being up-to-date or the problem of mutual dependency between a social situation and a social action; the problem of reforming the concept of art and the facts connected to it. In the 70s, in his third manifesto, he still concerned himself with the applied art and added in a somehow poetic way: “An Artist, trying to establish a dialog with the Society, needs an aesthetics which enables him to communicate: a SOCIAL AESTHETICS.” [4]

The concept of social aesthetics as a new branch of art was mentioned here for the first time. What in fact is social aesthetics? How does Poggi deal with those earlier mentioned problems?

All branches of art are based on aesthetics – whether we talk about sculpture, painting, poetry, music, or architecture…

And it was aesthetics that has kept the communication with our environment alive through the centuries. Simple, one way exchange of the ideas concerning beautiful: creation – reception – transformation. That is why Poggi feels that aesthetics is the main problem in the process of transformation, it is a concept which outlives all the metamorphoses of its creation. The things that stay variable are the character of art, the manner of perception and the power of transformation.

Poggi’s demands and conditions are once again loud and clear. Art which is capable to communicate with a society – “social aesthetics” – is the art of action, of interaction and of interactive installation. Actual up-to-date problems which are always due to the inadequate information or manipulation with information by the media can always be solved with an actual work such as protests or pedagogical research… [5]

The involvement of spectators can sometimes be crucial – like in AU-action – or sometimes it is the wanted contemplative characteristic of a work that is essential – the installation Everything is Different Without The Blueness of the Sky, for example – but above all, the involvement of spectators remains the central and the wanted manner of art perception. A consecutive dynamics and up-to-dateness make a work of art more powerful in expressing itself and this creates the wanted possibilities for the transformation of recipients.

What Pino Poggi strives for is a selected and oriented information, socially obligated and in a form of an aesthetic message to become a common art practice. A practice that would be able to shake the characteristics of social systems from the foundations. It would be interesting to start with the concept of art.

The “social sculpture” and/or the “social aesthetics” – the branches of art powerful as an evolutionary and a revolutionary force.

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[1] Tisdall, Caroline: Joseph Beuys, London 1979; [2] Harlan/ Rappmann/ Schata: Soziale Plastik, Materialien zu Joseph Beuys, Aschberg 1976; [3] Pino Poggi, Manifest Arte Utile I, 1965; [4] Pino Poggi, Manifest Arte Utile 3, 1980; [5] Relating to Poggi’s protest against pollution, for a “green” Munich in 1977 and to his pedagogical research named Biscuit, presented at Biennial in Venice, 1970.