That time when Joseph Beuys spoke to a dead hare ..
Joseph Beuys during How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt), Schelma Gallery, Dusseldorf, 26 November 1965

Joseph Beuys during How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt), Schelma Gallery, Düsseldorf, 26 November 1965

Even a dead animal preserves more powers of intuition than some human beings with their stubborn rationality.
– Joseph Beuys

Published: September 20, 2019

Joseph Beuys & How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare is a collection of still pictures and video clips that resulted from filming and taking photographs of Joseph Beuys as he went about a solo performance at the Schmela Gallery exhibition. Over the 3 hours that he performed, Beuys held a dead hare in his arms – whispering to it occasionally. While the performance with a carcass is rather captivating, what draws attention, even more, is the appearance of the artist. The entire head has been covered with honey, from his left feet hangs a felt sole that is loosely tied there but the one on the other foot is made from iron. At the end of the performance, Beuys can be seen sitting on a stool; one of the legs of the stool is wrapped in felt. Under the seat has been placed a radio made from wire and a bone. Is the felt cradling the hare in a seemingly protective manner?

Video: How to explain pictures to a dead

14 min 59 sec

English subtitles available

13 min 14 sec

English subtitles available

Analysis

Quite frankly, Beuys has a lot to say from this single artwork. Why does he use honey as a mask on his face? When you think of honey, you just have to appreciate the creativity that bees possess in being able to bring into existence such a nurturing substance. Beuys equates the power of the bees to his own which he uses to expand the human thought capacity beyond what is considered normal. Besides, who else ever convinced you that they could communicate to a hare, a dead hare? He also uses gold flakes on his face as part of the make-up. It is no surprise from this choice of material that Beuys considers himself to be capable of giving life. Were it not for the gold flakes, many would agree that the general performance lacks ritualistic tenor. What about the dead hare? Beuys thinks that the hare takes the place of human beings and their tendency to get lost in material possessions.

Joseph Beuys during How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt), Schelma Gallery, Dusseldorf, 26 November 1965

Joseph Beuys during How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt), Schelma Gallery, Düsseldorf, 26 November, 1965, photo: zeroonefilm / bpk / Stiftung Schloss Moyland / Ute Klophaus/beuys-der-film.de

Conclusion

It is rather creative of Beuys to use the hare as a humanity metaphor because when you think about it, the earth is simply a habitat. Does humanity have that much in common with simple animals like the hare? From the performance of the hare and Beuys on stage, it appears that the hare is inclined to women, the process of birth and the routine of menstruation; any form of chemical transformation that incorporates blood! Can you picture the hare pushing, rubbing and digging further into the ground? It is from such of sacrificial effort that human beings are revolutionized.

All images: Joseph Beuys Estate/ropac.net unless otherwise noted.

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