1. The almost accidental discovery that art emerges unexpectedly disturbs our common sense and provokes in us an uncommonly critical attitude. Theoretical contemplation is only dangerous to the
artist when it is speculative, i.e., when the sensation of the finished work does not both anticipate and follow the work. I have never hesitated to reflect on my own work.
2. Contemporary painting, which has overcome the mannerism of geometric abstraction, finds itself in a disorganized state, i.e., one of giddiness, after finally finding its own champions.
3. The following essay is based not only on my own work but on a new concept of painting.
When we talk about painting we are talking about color. First, last, and always, the ultimate significance a color can achieve is that it fulfills its own unique creative function; only then can it attain its freedom, its greatest intensity; color is itself!
If I set one color in contrast to another, I may possibly intensify the first, but at the same time I am restricting its freedom, because there is a governing relationship between the degrees of intensity and dependence. A color can have several meanings. However, its virtual objectification, i.e., its intrinsic energy, is achieved when it strikes its own vibration; that is its life, its breath. (Leonardo da Vinci or Mondrian, for example, sought the "balanced relationship" between different color spaces, not color contrasts.)
The possibility of expressing "one color by all colors" must be contrasted with the possibility of expressing all colors through one color. This idea makes sense only because it is possible to bring one color into play so that it becomes completely self-sufficient. We can achieve such intensity of color vibration through a continuum of deviations from an ideal monochrome, or through a continuum of graduated value of the same. The primary condition for vibration of color is that some elements remain stable throughout chromatic modulation; in this way color is given its freedom.
I impart vibration to a color, i.e., I give the color structure, or I give the color its form. There is nothing more to say regarding the notion of "form" in the traditional sense. Overcoming polychromaticism through color itself means that we must give up composition in favor of a simple structure zone, i.e., the simple "coming together" of all creative elements. The painter accomplishes unity in a work, among other means, by knowing precisely the function of each simple constituent; in the place of "interesting" detail we substitute a completely insipid structural element that is only meaningful when it is related to the whole. In this way the structural element achieves its individuality, its unique significance.
To speak of such an element by itself is meaningless. (The "images within the painting," the "effects," the predomination of isolated single forms, do not exist any more.) In other words, "structure" in the sense of "unity," overall form, is destructible, but its elements remain in their unadulterated diversity. Once this is recognized it will mean exciting results for the painter.
To me such an element of structure is, for instance, a number of parallel straight lines in a horizontal or vertical arrangement. The pattern of such lines is infinitely variable; the principle involved is the simultaneous and recurring sequence of the lines. (These lines need not be exact.) Every zone in between two lines displays an immensely rich color - form structure; accidental creation is given a real chance - the lines arrange themselves. Individual parallel zones gradually transform themselves from zone to zone, while at the same time they retain their distinct but mutual character- in this way they are brought into vibration.
The artistic method in this case is an open mechanical arrangement. The mechanics of artistic activity get stimulated and directed by the sensitivity of the artist's hands - hence it escapes the danger of mechanical repetition, which continues to be uncreative. In principle, all parallel zones have the same intensity of presence.
Consequently there is nothing more to be said about composition or variations of formal themes. These are contradictory to the pictorial structure, which is dynamic. Parallel zones have not only a static but also a dynamic being. The dialectics of static and dynamic elements produce virtual vibration, i.e., pure, perpetually creative movement, which cannot be found in nature. It is free of all suggestive illusion; it is directionless and therefore never finalized. Time cannot be actualized in it.
After twenty years of classical neoplastic painting, Mondrian turned away from this kind of work: "The vitality of uninterrupted succession, which really constitutes time, constantly disrupts balance," The three paintings of the Boogie-Woogie series of 1940-1944, his last and most distinguished works, ore the expression of a new, i.e., dynamic and balanced, relationship, which counteracts static balance. With this a structured movement is achieved and hence vibration.
This promises a new pictorial space. By pictorial space I understand the continuous integration of a number of individual spaces. The differentiated pictorial spaces become proportional to one another, producing a certain order. Above all, the new structural order of pictorial space will be determined by the space value of color and its frequency. The clarity of relations of pictorial space is determined by the eye alone. The ability of the eye to achieve this is an extraordinary quality. Consequently every mathematical-statistical configuration becomes unnecessary. In turn, only through the structuring of color space is vibration of color possible at all. Movement will not only be realized on the surface of the painting but will also leap out at the observer unexpectedly. Depth of image becomes irrelevant. Representational-physical pictorial space should be done away With, even when it appears abstract. Likewise, atmospheric pictorial space is a kind of naturalism.
Painting, as a dynamic structure that is entirely self-sufficient, points to a new vitality of painterly nuance. But this becomes true only when the painting discovers its concrete implications. Color can only be dematerialized and its purity brought to light in a strictly painterly discipline. Restraint, however, means plenitude. Infinitude of possibility is a beautiful thing for the artist if it does not lead to aporia. Such aimlessness must be conquered in order not to be destroyed by it. The neo-expressionist method was just such an aporia, a negative freedom. Following this, lyricism seemed like a refuge.
The exclusiveness of a completely nonrepresentational, dynamic pictorial structure, light years apart from nature, will be redeemed in a pure emotion. It will unveil a new reality, whose secret beauty we now only suspect.
Heinz Mack, “The New Dynamic Structure”, in: ZERO 1, Düsseldorf 1958; Reprint ZERO 1-3, Heinz Mack und Otto Piene, Cologne 1973, p. 14
Yes, I dream of a better world.
Should I dream of a worse?
Yes, I desire a wider world.
Should I desire a narrower?
My dreams are different from songs and sagas. I am working toward their being festive and visible from far off. I am not pining away from longing and resignation because no patron will give me smoke and light. I already have my 12 searchlights, they belong to me. But they are just the beginning, for I would like 12 times 12, and then more, and they must be strong enough to light up the moon.
The pictures of the old world were equipped with heavy frames, the viewer was forced into the picture, pressed as though through a tube, he had to make himself small to see into this channel; he was brought low to experience the realm of art. Man stood in chains in front of the old pictures and palaces; we needed 5000 years to outdo the Egyptians in building high, we needed 5000 years before we were in a position to build a tower as high as two pyramids - and then we learned to fly. What painting was able to bring as homage to the new state of things was the removal of the obstacle that pictures as well as statuary had formed up till then for the eye - but it was still in Stygian blackness, bowed down under the ulcers of memory, the superfluities of time past, and the suppurations of the psyche. The portraying of masses turned to the destruction of masses, but mass remained mass as long as man tried to throw light on the world inside him.
One glance at the sky, at the sun, at the sea is enough to show that the world outside man is bigger than that inside him, that it is so immense that man needs a medium to transform the power of the sun into an illumination that is suitable to him, into a stream whose waves are like the beating of his heart. Pictures are no longer dungeons, where mind and body are shackled together, but mirrors whose powers affect man, streams freely pouring forth into space, not ebbing but flooding.
Mind, which is really body, and body, which really exists in mind, do not wish to allow us to treat them as separate entities. I believe that painting elevates man when it corresponds to his physical nature. I believe that there are opposites in the human organism which "cause his heart to beat higher," that there are painted volumes that are so real that they make the lungs fill more deeply and that start up a pulsebeat that brings power and rest, contentment and wings to mankind. And my pictures must be brighter than the world around them, unrealistic in the sense that politicians have given to the word. Why must we paint darkness? We have the most complete darkness when we shut our eyes, we do not need to wait for night; night is only relative, we can run before it, and stay always in brightness. The dynamic that man has achieved enables him to overcome the apparently natural basic contrasts. But to praise brightness alone seems to me to be insufficient. I go to darkness itself, I pierce it with light, I make it transparent, I take its terror from it, I turn it into a volume of power with the breath of life like my own body, and I take smoke so that it can fly.
A picture is a skirmish, in which man is directly involved. We treat pictures as neighbors or friends, we have them as sharers of intimacy, and with them we undergo all our experiences, whether pleasant or painful. Even the biggest, broadest, most expansive picture forces us into close touch with it, draws us to it. A picture is pleasing to a man who has roots, who has a resting place, but is not so pleasing to a wanderer forging through new spaces. What remains of art, of the constructive ability of man, if we look down on the world from above?
The pyramids and Cologne Cathedral and all the skyscrapers of America are harmless algae in the sea of the transitory if we put distance between us and them. Centuries shrivel to moments when we think that they will roll on forever. Is not that moment the greater, when man is distance himself, is himself space, that moment when he experiences eternity? The man who uses his body to enclose his mind and his mind to lift up his body, who lives this timeless moment, this heavenly reality, in order to stride freely through space, this man has paradise in him. He follows the beams of light that he creates, they envelop him and the universe, the light passes through him, and he through it.
I have arrived at the light ballet through painting and many other things, through my own methods and instruments. I only heard later that I was the son of half a dozen fathers, whom I did not know as such. Creative work always follows a course different from that in most books. The first steps were like those of a child learning to walk, they were made with full knowledge of this circumstance, it was a controlled archaic; the way in which light reacts to holes through which it is shone is such a complicated business that all those who are working on it at the moment, and those who will occupy themselves with it in the future, will have their work cut out. I experience with the light ballet similar degrees of sensation to what I feel while painting or looking at finished pictures. By this I do not mean to say that my acquaintance with projections and similar methods is like that with painting, but that it is not so important whether one paints or projects, the subject is not affected so very much - the difference is rather objective: I reach large spaces with articulated lights as media. I am sure that in my lifetime I will not get beyond the real beginnings, that is, assuming that I reach the real beginnings. Thus one will understand that I speak of the present state of the light ballet as archaic. In my imagination, the classical light ballet takes place in a large, perfectly hollow sphere, everyone can see it, can watch it or not, but I need a lot of time to get the searchlights.
My greatest dream is the projection of light into the vast night sky, the probing of the universe as it meets the light, untouched, without obstacles - the world of space is the only one to offer man practically unlimited freedom. (Why is there no art in space, why do we have no exhibitions in the sky? Are a few pilots perhaps artists weaving their perfect patterns in the sky? In the sky there are such enormous possibilities, and we amble along the rows of a museum while our old-fashioned pictures carry out an imaginary march-past!) Up to now we have left it to war to dream up a naive light ballet for the night skies, we have left it up to war to light up the sky with colored signs and artificial and induced conflagrations. Imprisoned mankind achieves wonders defending itself. When will our freedom be so great that we conquer the sky for the fun of it, glide through the universe, live the great play in light and space, without being driven by fear and mistrust? Why do we not pool all human intelligence with the same security that accompanies its efforts in time of war and explode all the atom bombs in the world for the pleasure of the thing, a great display of human inventiveness in praise of human freedom? As a spectator of this astronautic theater, man would not have to take cover, he would be without/ear, free, not bound by purpose.
Utopias have a largely literary worth. Utopias with a real basis are not Utopias. My Utopia has a solid foundation: light, smoke, and 12 searchlights!
I have something real to offer. Instead of narrowing the field of vision, instead of absorption, a view of something giving, flowing, pulsating. Not the shrinking of the world in the cells of human imagination, but expansion on every side, the shooting of the viewer into space, where he can breathe deeply of fresh air. In this heaven is paradise on earth.
Otto Piene, “Paths to paradise”, in: ZERO 3, Düsseldorf 1958; Reprint ZERO 1-3, Heinz Mack und Otto Piene, Cologne 1973, p. 148
Our projects of today are the realities of tomorrow.
Whatever exists in our imagination is on integral port of ourselves.
Experience is imagination carried over into the sensual sphere.
Immediate experience comes only when we ourselves participate. To obtain widest participation, the production of art must cease to be limited to the individual, as it has been till now.
Technology as a medium of composition offers great possibilities in the formulation of aesthetic
Since imitative values cannot arise here, originality is unimpaired. Thus the creative element in the phenomenon of movement is preserved.
To render the development of a movement visible as a dynamic state is a significant action. It is not a matter of routine but fertile in its repetition, in its very monotony, like the experience of prayer.
My objects constitute a spatial reality, a zone of light. I use the means of technology to overcome the personal gesture, to objectify, to create the conditions for freedom.
Günther Uecker, “Text”, in: ZERO 3, Düsseldorf 1961; Reprint ZERO 1-3, Heinz Mack und Otto Piene, Cologne 1973, p. 220
… Leave my mark on the world, I have done it! When I was a child. ... Hands and feet thick with color, applied to the surface; suddenly, there I was, face to face with my own psyche. I had the proof of my five senses: I knew I could function. Then I lost my childhood ... just as everyone else (no illusions on that score). And when I tried the same game as an adolescent, I quickly encountered Nothingness.
I did not like Nothingness, and this is how I came to know the void, the deep void, those depths of blue!
As an adolescent I wrote my name on the sky's bock in a flight of fantasy - real or imaginary - stretched out one day on a beach at Nice . ... I have hated birds ever since that day, I have hated them for trying to pierce great dark holes in my greatest and most beautiful work. Away with all birds!
Having arrived at the monochrome adventure, I no longer needed to force myself to function; I functioned naturally.
I was no longer myself. I, without the "I", became one with life itself. All my gestures, movements, activities, creations were this life, original or essential in itself. It was at this time that I used to say that "painting for me is more than a function of the eye. My works are but the ashes of my art". I monochromed my canvases with devotion. And out of this arose the all-powerful blue, to dominate now and forever. Then I became uneasy. I brought models to the studio, not to work from, but simply to work in their company. I was spending far too much time in the studio. I did not want to be so alone in the magic blue void that was developing.
Here the reader will smile, no doubt, ... But remember, I was still free of the vertigo that all my predecessors had experienced when faced with the absolute void. A void which must be and is the essence of pictorial space ... But how much longer would it last?
In the old days, the painter used to go to the subject, work out of doors, in the landscape; he had both feet on the ground. How healthy! Today easel painting, fully academized, imprisons the painter in his own studio, face to face with the terrifying mirror that is his own canvas. In order not to retreat by shutting myself inside the excessively spiritual regions of creative art, with the plain common sense that is so necessary in our bodily condition and that benefits from the presence of flesh in the studio atmosphere, I employed nude models.
The shape of the body, its curves, its colors between life and death, are not of interest to me. The affective atmosphere of the flesh itself is what I value.
The flesh ... ! ! !
For all that, I took a look at the model now and then....
... I very quickly perceived that is was the block of the body, that is to say the trunk and part of the thighs, that fascinated me. The hands, the arms, the head, the legs were of no importance to me. Only the body is alive, all- powerful, nonthinking. The head, the arms, the hands are only intellectual articulations around the bulk of flesh that is the body.
The heart beats without thought on our part; the mind cannot stop it. Digestion works without our intervention, be it emotional or intellectual. We breathe without reflection.
True, the whole body is made of flesh, but the essential mass is the trunk and the thighs. It is there that we find the real universe, hidden by the universe of our limited perception.
For a long time, then, the presence of this flesh in the studio steadied me during the enlightenment brought on by the execution of my monochromes. It preserved in me the spirit of health, the health that lets us participate, carefree and yet responsible, in the order of the universe. Strong, tough, powerful, and yet fragile, like dreaming animals waking in the perceptual world, like things vegetable and mineral entranced in this world of ephemeral perception....
...This health that makes us "exist". The nature of life itself. All that we are. As I continued to paint in monochrome, I reached the state of disembodiment almost automatically. This made me realize that I really was an Occidental, a proper Christian, believing with reason in the "resurrection of the body and in the resurrection of the flesh". An entire phenomenology took shape. But it was a phenomenology without ideas, or rather without any of the recognized conventions.
What appeared was clearly divorced from form. It became immediate experience. The mark of the immediate, that was my need.
... The stages are not hard to understand. At first my models laughed to see themselves transposed in monochrome on my canvas. Then they became accustomed to it and loved the shades, which differed from one painting to another, even during the blue period, when it was always the same hue, the same pigment, the same technique. Then gradually, pursuing the adventure of the immaterial, my work ceased to be tangible. My studio was empty. Even the monochromes were gone. At this moment my models felt they had to help me. They rolled in the pigment and painted my monochromes with their bodies.
They became living brushes.
I had rejected the brush long before. It was too psychological. I painted with the roller, more anonymous, hoping to create a "distance" between me and my canvases, which should be at least intellectual and unvarying. Now, like a miracle, the brush returned, but this time alive. At my direction, the flesh itself applied the color to the surface, and with perfect exactness. I could continue to maintain a precise distance from my creation and still dominate its execution. In this way I stayed clean. I no longer dirtied myself with color, not even the tips of my fingers. The work finished itself there in front of me with the complete collaboration of the model. And I could salute its birth into the tangible world in a fitting manner, in evening dress. It was at this time that I noticed the "marks of the body" after each session. They disappeared again at once, since the whole effect had to be monochrome.
These marks, pagans in my religion of the absolute monochrome, hypnotized me at once, and I worked on them secretly, always with the complete collaboration of the models, in order to share the responsibility in the event of spiritual weakness.
My models and I practiced a scientifically exact and irreproachable remote control. Thus I was able to present "The Anthropometries of the Blue Period, " first of all privately, at Robert Godet's in Paris in the spring of 1958, and then in a far more perfected form on the ninth of March, 1960, at the Galerie Nationale d'Art Contemporain.
... Hiroshima, the shadows of Hiroshima; in the desert of the atomic catastrophe they constituted evidence, terrible evidence beyond any doubt, but still evidence of hope for the permanence (though immaterial) of the flesh.
This demonstration was rather technical. My particular aim was by this means to tear down the temple veil of the studio. To keep nothing of my process hidden, and by so doing, perhaps to merit the "grace" to receive later new reasons for amazement through such new gimmicks of technique just as valuable as they had ever been, and just as unimportant. The results continue to astonish even me ... "With or without technique, it is always a good thing to win" had been my motto in Japan, competing in the judo championships. They taught me in judo that one must achieve technical perfection in order to be able to ignore it; that one should be able to show one's technique to one's adversary, and although he knows everything, still win.
The shreds of the temple veil of the studio enable me even today to obtain excellent winding sheets. Everything is of use to me.
My old Monotone symphony of 1949, played by the little classical orchestra under my direction at the show of March 9, 1960, was intended to create the "silence after": after all was finished, in each one of us present at the exhibition.
Silence ... That is really my symphony, and not the sound of its execution. It is this marvellous silence that grants "good fortune" and sometimes even the possibility of true happiness. If it only lasts a second, that second is of infinite duration.
To conquer silence, to shatter it, to take its skin and wrap oneself in it, never again to suffer from spiritual cold. I feel like a vampire sucking the blood of universal space!
But to return to the facts: still there in the studio with my models, in 1956 I was reading the journal of Delacroix when I came across these lines: "I adore this little vegetable garden, the gentle sun shining over it fil1s me with a secret joy, such as one feels when the body is in perfect health. But how transitory al1 this is; I have found myself in this delicious state many times in the twenty days I have been here. It seems there should be a 'mark,' a special memory for each of these 'moments.' ''
What an artist needs is the temperament of a reporter, a journalist, but in the wider sense of these words, one perhaps no longer understood today.
I understand the spiritual mark of these captured moments. I have caught it with my monochromes. I have the mark of the captured moments of the flesh in the imprints snatched from the bodies of my models …. But the captured moments of Nature?
... I bound outside and down to the river. Among the rushes and reeds. I dust color over everything I see there, and the wind bending the slender stems sets them with delicacy and precision against the canvas I present to trembling nature; I obtain a mark of plant life.
It begins to rain; a fine spring shower. I hold out my canvas to the rain and it is done! I have the mark of the rain, of an atmospheric occurrence.
I have an idea also. For a long time I have wanted to temper the whole of nature, with the aid, perhaps, of solar reflectors or some other scientific technique not yet discovered. When the first steps have been made with the architecture of the air, which we are working on at the moment in collaboration with the architect Werner Ruhnau, they will permit us to live naked in immense regions that we will have regulated and transformed into a veritable paradise on earth. Then it will at last be only natural that the model should leave the studio with me. And that I, I should take prints of nature, and that the model should all at once be there, taking her place in nature and in this way marking the canvas where she feels it best, in the grass, among the reeds, by the water's side or under the waterfall, naked, either static or in motion, as a true subject of nature, fully integrated at last.
All aspects of the "subjects" of nature interest me. Men, animals, plants, minerals, atmospheric states, I am interested in all these for my naturometries.
I shall give up the use of color. I think. I shall work with the perspiration of the models, mixed with dust, and, even, perhaps, with their own blood; with the sap of plants, the color of the earth, and so on ... and time will turn the results I obtain into the blue monochrome I.K.B.
Fire is there too, and I must have its mark!
We are coming into an anthropophagous era, frightening in appearance only. It will be the practical realization on a universal scale of the famous words. "He who eats of my flesh and drinks of my blood will live in me and I in him." Spiritual words, certainly, but words that will be put into practice for a time before the arrival of the blue era of peace and glory. Practiced in perfect Edenesque liberty. A freedom won by man from the immaterial sensitivity of the universe.
No matter what one thinks, all this is very bad taste, and indeed, that is my intention. I howl it from the rooftops: "Kitsch, corn, bad taste," this is the new notion in art. And while we are about it, let's forget art altogether!
Great beauty is only a reality when it contains, intelligently mixed into it, "genuine bad taste," "irritating and intentional artificiality," with just a dash of dishonesty!
One must be like untamed fir . One must know how to be gentle and at the same time cruel, how to contradict oneself. Then and only then has one really joined the family of the principles of universal enlightenment.
... No, I am not literary. All my past exhibitions have been "events." With the first showing of "The Void" at Collette Allendy's in 1957. I liberated at one fell swoop the entire live theatre from the age-old yoke of perspective!
By publishing this text for all artists, young or not, I wish to make it clear that I spent the last few years following the path of the monochrome, here, there, and everywhere, then that of immateriality and nothingness (though I might add that they are still far from being achieved) and that I have not made an abrupt aboutface.
In fact, for some time I have been told repeatedly that the followers of the monochrome movement that I started in the contemporary international art world are baffled by my recent works....
... Well then - nothing could be more natural than the fact that I have reached this point, and I am sure that they will reach it too. At first they were baffled by my monochromes, which afterwards they took up with enthusiasm, each in his own way.
Today I feel - thinking of everything that has happened - like the worm in the Swiss cheese of the history of science, which eats its way forward, making holes. It creates an empty space around itself and moves on.... From time to time, it meets a hole, which it must circle around in order to move forward, in order to live, to have something to eat!
One day there is no more cheese, because it has eaten the whole thing; there is nothing but emptiness, an enormous emptiness. Then it hovers in space, free and happy, but only for a moment, because naturally it falls onto another cheese and continues to eat and create emptiness around itself. That reminds me of a poem I wrote when I was eleven, which my mother wisely saved for me. It says just what I have always wanted to say:
The soft scraping of a dead leaf
dragged by the wind,
A falling stone
There the small hole is dug
The silent space struggles.
Suddenly, steps, shadows,
A shepherd, his regiment of sheep around him
Their little bells ring so sweetly.
That's it! He has won!
The silence around him is...
... Behind him.
It is not with rockets, Sputniks, and missiles that modern man will achieve the conquest of space. That is the dream of present-day scientists who live in a state of mind romantic and sentimental enough for the last century. It is by means of the powerful yet pacific force of his sensitivity that man will inhabit space. It is by the impregnation of space with human sensitivity that the much coveted conquest of this space will be achieved. For human sensitivity is omnipotent in immaterial reality; it can even read in the memory of nature about the past, the present, and the future!
It is our effective supply of extradimensional power.
... Dante, in the Divine Comedy, accurately describes the Southern Cross, a constellation invisible in the northern hemisphere, and which no traveler of his time could have told him about. Swift, in his Voyage to Laputa, gives the distances and the rotation periods of the two satellites of Mars, unknown at the time. When the American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered them in 1877 and saw that his calculations corresponded to those of Swift, seized by a sort of panic, he called them Phobos and Deimos, Fear and Terror."
May the authentic realism of today and tomorrow flourish. I want it to live with the best of myself, in total freedom of mind and body. The universal cannibalism that is approaching, the anthropophagous era through which we are soon to pass, is not by nature cruel or fierce, nor inhuman; quite the contrary - it will become the living expression or rather the assimilation of a biological synthesis. It will finally free us from the few tyrannical aspects of nature vis-à-vis ...
Yves Klein, “Truth becomes reality”, in: ZERO 3, Düsseldorf 1961; Reprint ZERO 1-3, Heinz Mack und Otto Piene, Cologne 1973, p. 91
Group Zero is not a group in a definitely organized way. When in the middle of the fifties the activity of the younger artists in Düsseldorf increased more and more, no gallery proved to be willing or able to take real interest in their work and imagination. The result was that some artists found a solution of their practical problems in organizing what we called "night exhibitions," which consisted only of a vernissage at night without the exhibition lasting any longer.
The first exhibition which followed a certain theme was the seventh night exhibition, entitled "The Red Painting" (paintings the dominating color of which is red). Encouraged by the publicity which the previous events had raised, we (Mack and I) published a catalog-magazine called ZERO 1 (April 1958). It contained articles written by some critics and statements of the artists who took part in the exhibition. The main tendency was the purification of color as opposed to the informel and neo-expressionism; the peaceful conquest of the soul by means of calm, serene sensibilization. The leading articles in the catalog came from Yves Klein, Heinz Mack, and myself. Yves wrote on his monochrome painting, Mack on vibration, and my statement was concerned with the value of color as light articulation.
The title ZERO was the result of months of search and was finally found more or less by chance. From the beginning we looked upon the term not as an expression of nihilism - or a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the count-down when rockets take off- zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.
More important than ZERO 1 may have been ZERO 2 (October 1958). It was published on the occasion of the eighth night exhibition under the title "Vibration. " The show consisted of the works of five artists, mainly devoted to visual movement: Holweck, Mack, Mavignier, Piene, and Zillmann. In ZERO 2 the statements of Mack and myself have the serious character of manifestos, Mack's concern with "quiet and unquiet" and mine with "lightlight." The article of the theorist Fritz Seitz was a profound introduction to our problems.
The first reason something like a group formed was the integration of artistic imagination of individual artists from different parts of Germany (and - after some time - from all over the world) who, after having met, became friends. Another reason was my friendship with Mack and our human and artistic common interests which became apparent in his vibrations and my light-pattern paintings. After the vibration exhibition we met many artists who intended things related to our work. Most important proved to be our contact with Lucio Fontana, whom we looked upon, since our first personal meetings, as something like a spiritual father, although he did not influence us directly.
I met Fontana for the first time in 1961. But Mack had often seen him before, introduced by Piero Manzoni, who since 1959 had established many contacts between artists in different countries, especially between Milan and Düsseldorf.
While Fontana's encouragement to us was mainly a human impulse, another "temptation" came from Max Bill, who in 1960 included us in his show "konkrete kunst." But most of us (except Mavignier who had been Bill's student) succeeded in remaining on our feet as artists who do not want their spirit (and sensation) to be overwhelmed by the mind or even by intellectual visual research. One of our most important aims proved to be the attempt to reharmonize the relationship between man and nature - nature offers enormous impulses, from the elements: the sky, the sea, the Arctic, the desert, air, light, water, fire as means of expression and form – not putting the artist into the position of a fugitive from the "modern world" but rather having the artist use the tools of actual technical invention as well as those of nature.
The relationship nature/man/technology was one of the leading subjects of ZERO 3, published in July 1961. It was devoted to about 20 artists: the hommage à Fontana and the statements of Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Arman, Spoerri, Mack, and myself may have been most influential.
Yves Klein has perhaps been the real motor in provoking a Zero movement. His personal influence as our friend and his artistic power may have set loose our activity in 1957 toward Zero, even if our individual tendency to see light and visual movement as vibration and the struggle between light and darkness had only a loose connection with his ambitions. His influence, however, came from his personal genius and his universal attitude toward purification. Perhaps the most important Zero exhibition took place at the Hessenhuis in Antwerp in March 1959. It was organized by Pol Bury, Paul van Hoeydonck, and Jean Tinguely, assisted by Daniel Spoerri. The exhibition had no title, but the theme of the catalog was the Moholy term "vision in motion - motion in vision." Some of the participants were Bury, van Hoeydonck, Yves Klein, Mack, Munari, Piene, Uecker, Soto, Tinguely.
In July 1959 I organized, together with Mack, another exhibition of that type in Wiesbaden, entitled "dynamo 1." It opened the night before the start of documenta II and became the first of our exhibitions in Germany which stirred the common feeling on tachism and the like and gave an impression of the possibility for harmony between sensibility and mental control (or even identity in them).
Since the beginning of 1959, Mack and I had repeated meetings with Jean Tinguely, whose rousing talks encouraged our activities and gave us the impulse to motorize our light objects. From 1959 on we worked toward the compilation and publication of ZERO 3. After it came out ("ZERO edition exposition demonstration," Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, July 1961), an ever increasing number of Zero "happenings" and exhibitions took place, mostly organized by Mack and myself; sometimes in Italy by Manzoni and Castellani; or in Holland (as of 1961 the Dutch Informel group changed its direction and approached Zero), by Peeters and Armando (who in 1962 fixed a new name for their group - "nul" (Zero) - and settled spiritually in our neighborhood). Peeters was one of the organizers of the "Nul" exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam in March 1962.
About 1960, two tendencies within the spirit of the artists who had taken part or had been interested in Zero events developed clearly: the idealistic (occasionally romantic) trend, willing to provoke an alteration of objects and man from dark to bright (later on emphasized in ZERO, THE NEW IDEALISM, the manifesto of Mack, Piene, Uecker in Berlin and Brussels) - and the new realism (Nouveau realisme) of the late Yves Klein, Tinguely, Arman, Spoerri - in some ways parallel to pop art in
By that time (about 1961/62), many other groups were founded, especially in Europe, which felt either attraction to or love-hate for Zero, such as the Yugoslav group in Zagreb, gruppo t and gruppo n in Milan and Padua, the "groupe des recherches d'art visuel" in Paris (which also comes from the Vasarely line), the "academic kineticists" in Munich (with their ambitious foreman von Graevenitz), Nouvelles tendances, the "kinetic center" of Medalla and Salvadori in London.
Since the end of 1961, Uecker began to work closely with Mack and myself, and in 1962 we did our first collaboration: the salon de lumière in the Stedelijk Museum. Since that time, in addition to Zero exhibitions at various places, we have had several exhibitions together: in Brussels (Palais des Beaux Arts); in Krefeld (Museum Haus Lange); in Berlin; in the Hague (Gemeentemuseum); in London (McRoberts and Tunnard); at documenta III. Mack's and Uecker's work today is more concerned with light itself, while I try to penetrate darkness by means of smoke and fire on the one hand and projectors on the other. While Mack longs to alter vast landscapes, I try to influence the "human landscape" by the Light Ballet and my plays.
Mack, Uecker, and I now form, let's say, the "inner circle" of Zero (which, I repeat, is not a group in a definitely organized way). There is no president, no leader, no secretary; there are no "members," there is only a human relationship among several artists and an artistic relationship among different individuals. The partners in Zero exhibitions are always changing. There is no obligation to take part, no "should" or "must" (one of the reasons, I think, why Zero is still growing). We are fond of collaborating and occasionally doing teamwork (Mack, Piene, Uecker: "Light Mills"), but we are at the same time convinced that teamwork is nonsense if it tries to be an alternative to or rules out individuality or personal sensibility. For me the essence of teamwork is the chance for a synthesis of different personal ideas. This synthesis might be richer than the few ideas which a single artist usually is able to investigate.
We try to remain faithful to our concept of giving more beauty to "the world" without killing our spirit by the fixed terms of a program and believing that we might be the alpha and the omega. We try to work in our Zero zone and at the same time to remain open to the zero zones which "the world," man, and nature offer us in permanence.
Otto Piene, “The Development the Group “ZERO””, in: The Times Literary Supplement, London 1964; Reprint ZERO 1-3, Heinz Mack und Otto Piene, Cologne 1973, p. 46
What took place between 1958 and 1966?
In the interim many answers to that question have been forgotten; new ones are pending, to be found in times to come through the extensive researches of the newly established ZERO foundation. ZERO itself sought new answers to new questions, everything seeming to have already been thought, done and said in the studios and workshops of the painters and sculptors, in the media, by the critics, in the historians’ books.
But were we really aware of everything that had happened by then in art around the world? Modernism, a success story par excellence, the museums and the biennales, displayed the great inventories of world cultures and alongside, the facets of classical Modernism and its recent derivatives. What was there to be questioned?
But, anticipated initially only by Otto Piene and myself, its founders, then soon confirmed in our anticipation by Uecker, ZERO itself seemed to be a question that was looking for an answer. In short, we were goaded on by the question, how could we make a fresh start, having resolved irreversibly that we would abandon the old, secure niches. We were motivated to take on the crisis in order to overcome it by creative means, for all the doubts, all the vexation, all the isolation associated with such a tack, all the wilful criticism, the ill will and derision with which bourgeois society and its institutional transmitters of cultural values ostracised us.
The zero-point that was ZERO’s premise was a piece of fiction by which we hoped to be able to overcome ossified matrices of thinking and seeing, in favour of a more open world. We wanted, and had to, forsake the familiar territories in order to seek out new spaces whose coordinates were unknown. In these wayless spaces only the way was the goal. There were times when ZERO was animated by this spirit.