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  • Writer's pictureBen Rubens

How can you explain pictures to a dead hare?

"How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" is a groundbreaking performance art piece created by Joseph Beuys in 1965. In this enigmatic and ritualistic performance, Beuys spent several hours in a gallery space, wearing felt clothing and a felt cap, and holding a dead hare in his arms. The performance was not open to the public; it was only visible to the audience through a small window in the gallery door.

The meaning behind "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" is open to interpretation, and Beuys did not provide a straightforward explanation for the performance. Instead, he preferred to leave the interpretation to the viewers, encouraging personal engagement and reflection on the artwork.

Several themes and interpretations have been proposed for the piece:

  • Shamanistic Connection: Beuys was deeply interested in shamanism and its role in healing and spiritual transformation. In "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare," he may have been attempting to communicate with the spirit of the dead hare, symbolizing a connection to nature and the animal world.

  • Alchemy and Transformation: Beuys often explored ideas related to alchemy and transformation in his art. The act of explaining pictures to a dead hare could be seen as an attempt to bridge the gap between the human and animal realms, seeking a transformational connection and exchange of knowledge.

  • Art as Communication: The performance raises questions about the nature of communication and the limitations of language and symbols. Trying to explain pictures to a non-responsive dead hare may symbolize the complexities of conveying meaning and understanding in the context of art and human interaction.

  • Critique of the Art World: Beuys' performance could be interpreted as a critique of the art world and its obsession with explaining and interpreting artworks. By choosing an unconventional and unresponsive audience, he may have been challenging the traditional roles of artists, viewers, and critics in the art world.

Ultimately, "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" remains a mysterious and thought-provoking piece that continues to spark discussions and interpretations. Beuys' use of symbolism, ritualistic elements, and his invitation for personal engagement make the performance a seminal work in the development of conceptual and performance art.

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