IN THE FOUL RAG AND BONE SHOP OF KURT SCHWITTERS
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
W B Yeats ‘The Circus Animal’s Desertion” (1939)
One of the important things that Art does is to turn something close to nothing into something. Artists often transform the humble and grungy into something that we admire. Yes, sometimes they even look sublime. Picasso was one of the very first artists to use things like scraps of wood and a piece of tablecloth fringing in his practice. Artists have since utilized found materials, such as junk on the street to all kinds of everyday objects.
One of the earliest, most radical artists, Kurt Schwitters(1887-1948) who was essentially a Dada artist, coined the word, Merz. Merz, like Dada, doens’t have much meaning. He accidentally found this word fragment from the German word Kommerz (Commerce) which also sounds like Herz(heart) and Scherz(a prank). Merz is Kurt Schwitters’ individual Dada, meaning his own practice of using found objects / fragments for making collages, assemblages, and even houses(the famous merzbau). It was after the World War I when he started collecting discarded things on the street as if he was trying to create something new from the rubble of the war; art can be made from destruction. One of the most shining reincarnation moments in art history.
In 1919 he wrote ‘The word 'Merz' essentially means the totality of all imaginable materials that can be used for artistic purposes and technically the principle that all of these individual materials have equal value. Merz art makes use not just of paint and canvas, brush and palette, but all the materials visible to the eye and all tools needed.. ..the wheel off a pram, wire mesh, string and cotton balls – these are factors of equal value to paints. The artist creates by choosing, distributing and reshaping the materials.;” The act of using discarded things for making art begets the constant displacements and unexpected juxtapositions. When things are taken out of their original context and put in a new, strange setting, it changes our existing frame to perceive and, actually, think. It makes us aware of the certain forms and meanings we often ignore, bringing new light to things. Schwitters also said that Merz meant “freedom from all fetters” which means freedom from conventional artistic practice.......