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Kurt Schwitters

April 22, 2010

Came across this report of a Kurt Schwitters performance on Jerome Rothenburg’s blog. Heartwarming the possibilities of performance art! Makes me want to look for something totally unexpected, and joyful, in my own performance on 18th June.

Schwitters stood on the podium, drew himself up to his full six feet plus, and began to perform the Ur Sonata, complete with hisses, roars and crowings, before an audience who had no experience whatever of anything modern. At first they were completely baffled, but after a couple of minutes the shock began to wear off. For another five minutes protest was held in check by the respect due Frau Kiepenhauer’s house. But this restraint served only to increase the inner tension. I watched delightedly as two generals in front of me pursed their lips as hard as they could to stop themselves laughing. Their faces, above their upright collars, turned first red, then slightly bluish. And then they lost control. They burst laughing, and the whole audience, freed from the pressure that had been building up inside them, exploded in an orgy of laughter. The dignified old ladies, the stiff generals, shrieked with laughter, gasped for breath, slapped their thighs, choked themselves. Kurtchen was not in the least bit put out by this. He turned up the volume of his enormous voice to Force Ten and simply swamped the storm of laughter in the audience, so that the latter seemed almost to be an accompaniment to the Ur Sonata. … The hurricane blew itself out as rapidly as it had arisen. Schwitters spoke the rest of his Ur Sonata without further interruption. The result was fantastic. The same generals, the same rich ladies, who had previously laughed until they cried, now came to Schwitters, again with tears in their eyes, almost stuttering with admiration and gratitude. Something had been opened up within them, something they had never expected to feel: a great joy.

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