By Monica Delgado

Premiered in the last Berlin film festival, German filmmaker Andres Veiel’s Beuys is a documentary that focuses on one of the most political passages in the life of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Through archive footage, (which includes installation recordings, happenings and interventions) and accompanied by interview extracts, photography and testimonies, we assembly the most political part of Beuys, the one dealing with his position towards the relationship of art and social transformation.

The documentary finds the “actionist” side of Beuys to be utterly fascinating, since it allows us better to contextualize his work, inspired by the ghosts of war and the concept of art as a tool of approximation to his audience, beyond the galleries. Actions like the ones in How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare or I Like America and America Likes Me shows not only the process of creation but also its reception. Beuys work was about how audiences reacted to it, as usual spectators, students and citizens that never set a foot on art galleries but were interested by his work.

There’s a special focus on the work 7000 Oak Trees (presented in Documenta 7, 1982, Kassel, Germany) since the primordial intervention in this Beuys work was not only to keep the spectator as an inactive being or a receptor, but as a future artist that could develop a creative wave from a vision of art as a social and cultural transformative tool. By planting 7000 oak trees around Kassel, an act that lasted a year after the death of the artist, Beuys changed the city and cemented his proposal of “social sculpture”. The documentary also relates this episode with Beuys political orientation, since he run as a candidate of the green party in 1979.

The value of this documentary is not to bring something new to the table about Beuys, but in how it constructs a political view of his surroundings, in many cases adverse to him, through archive material, material that portraits his convictions and places this central character in a social dimension.

CPH:DOX: Special Screenings Politikens
Directed by Andres Veiel
Written by Andres Veiel
Cinematography: Jörg Jeshel
Edited by Stephan Krumbiegal, Olaf Voigtländer
Germany, 2017, 107 min