Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy

by Louwrien Wijers, 1990

Louwrien Wijers (right) with the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, 1981

The Three Pillars

The sage and mystic Hermes Trismegistus of Egypt, who lived before Moses (13th century before Christ), called art, science and spirituality the three pillars which hold up every culture. The issues involved in science and spiritual development are also the subject matter for visual artists. They respond to the problems of their age, and possess an antenna which enables them to depict signs of coming developments for us.

With the visual language which they create they often indicate long in advance the changes which will have to take place in our way of thinking. Once the subtle energy of the visual image is fixed in our consciousness, new developments can get under way in our scientific and spiritual susceptibility.

Such a perception of the action of visual language teaches us to look at artists' creations very differently, creations which we perhaps used to dismiss sometimes as 'abstract nonsense' or with the words 'what am I supposed to make of this then?'. Vincent van Gogh painted the vision of consciousness expansion long before the transformation of matter was scientifically established. Piet Mondriaan divided up matter into independent particles before atoms were split. Joseph Beuys based his works of art on the transfer of healing 'warm' energy before environmental issues alerted us to our far-reaching neglect of our health and the health of our surroundings.

Since the fifties when his 'combine paintings' made him instantly world famous, the New York artist Robert Rauschenberg has been seeking to cooperate with science and has put this into practice in terms of technology as well. With the assemblages that he makes, the crux is still the substance energy which various pieces of material transfer. For many years now he has maintained contacts with primitive cultures which still know the laws of natural energy transfer. Over the past few years he has been on a world tour with his works.

Into New Authenticity

Joseph Beuys' widened concept of art was 'Everybody is an artist'. In 1981, when I asked Andy Warhol about his views on art in the future, he simply said: 'Art is anybody who does something well.' Dutch artist J C J van der Heyden thinks museums in the future should be places for people who do things well.

When I brought together the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and Beuys in Bonn in 1982, French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou suggested bringing not only the works of artists to museums, but also their ideas on society as a work of art. Overjoyed with my plan to bring art, science and spirituality together periodically in museums as a 'mental sculpture', he wrote: 'Weaving back together the three threads of art, science and spirituality into a new authenticity is what remains to be done.'

As economics in the West is rapidly changing from product industries to service industries, the need to invest in 'human capital' is more expedient than the old investment in raw materials. Most hard-working businessmen and women have never had the time to experience the great changes that took place in art, science and spirituality over the last 150 years. So, it was them whom we wanted to invite as an audience in the first place.

From a Competitive to a Compassionate Society

Intuition tells us that creativity will become a key word in the near future. The initiative Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy follows in the tradition of artists including John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Robert Filliou and the many others who have devoted themselves to integrating creativity directly socially and economically instead of through works of art.

'Artists have an awareness of the great trends that are developing,' in the words of Robert Filliou. The line of thinking followed by him and his friends 20, 30 years ago was above all aimed at finding the proper connection between creativity and economy. 'Our true capital is our creativity' was the basic assumption underlying the quarter century (until 1986) of Joseph Beuys' most active period as an artist. 'I would allow the artistic principle and the economic principle to completely flow over into each other', he said. 'Then the economic principle would become an artistic concept. Our basic production then is the quality of human consciousness and human thought.'

John Cage said during a conversation with Robert Filliou in 1967, 'The entire social structure must change, just as the structures in the arts have changed. There is a need for it to happen particularly in the political and economic structures.'

From the late 50s on, these artists increasingly tended towards an art which restricted itself to ideas. They saw the process of living itself as the most creative art form. 'I do not believe that artistic behaviour consists in producing works of art', Robert Filliou observed in 1961, 'Artistic activity is for me a spiritual activity'. Joseph Beuys said, 'Modern art is at its end and now art can begin.' That insight made artists realise that society was no longer naturally connected with the spiritual collective and they became aware of the necessity to expand human intuition. Works of art were conceived to stimulate what Filliou called 'the intuitive, artistic, non-specialised leisurely mind'. Joseph Beuys' series of wooden boxes with the word 'Intuition' written on them in pencil are still sought-after collector's items. He also described 'intuition' in clear terms saying, 'Intuition is nothing other than that which we understand as thought, but it is a superior form of thinking, an enlarged consciousness in which one realises that man is free.'

Joseph Beuys distinguished three large cultural sectors: the arts, the sciences and religious activity. He called religious activity 'the thought process which surpasses everything' and said, 'Experiencing the mythical as concrete is what it is primarily all about. But without a widened concept of art and a widened concept of science, a concrete religious understanding is entirely beyond the reach of discussion. 'Naturally no one can produce that entire truth by himself,' he added. 'A permanent discussion concerning all human problems would have to be initiated, a social discussion. I call this the 'Social Sculpture' which brings about that sense of rising above everything. Art is a means of connecting two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the physical and the spiritual.

In my mind this is how the concept of art now comes to the fore as the basic form of economic production. The unanimous conviction at the time was that 'everyone is an artist'.

Dramatic cultural and socio-economic changes require that we relinquish our anxiety-ridden mechanistic linearity. Competition, fragmentation and specialisation based on the alleged certitudes of the mechanistic world view have to be replaced by respect for others and a general awareness of universal responsibility. The prediction of the participants in the panel discussions in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is that we are moving from a 'competitive society to a more compassionate society'. This is the growth the artists were aiming for who perceived art as a possible way of changing the world for the better.


Excerpts from Art Meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy publications, Amsterdam, 1990


Realizing the Mental Sculpture

Excerpt from interview with Louwrien Wijers, Amsterdam, September 1989

By Andrej Tisma

-Please tell us how you started with the mental sculpture activity and what it generated from.

Louwrien Wijers holding one of her books, 1989.Yes, It started… first I was writing about art when I was younger. I was going to America very often in the 60s, and I met conceptual art, minimal art and all that. Then I became sculptor myself and I think the concept art has influenced all of us here in Europe in the late 60s. But I think I had a different idea of concept art, as it worked out later. I had a feeling there is something in the mind where we have to work on. Meanwhile I wanted doing sculpture myself, and for ten years I was in that impossible position of doing sculpture, which is a difficult thing to do, because you want a tribute to an object, some kind of transcendental information that may open up minds of people. As you say - energy that fits other people. Now if you have one object then it is not easy to reach many people, so I was thinking, being interested in actually the mental condition of the world, that I should use other means and I came to mental sculpture, which means the vast mental possibilities that people have. I see that as sculpture material that I want to use. So your mind, as well the minds of many other people, that is what I want to sculpt with and that is what I call the mental sculpture. So you can bring into the minds of people much more broad fuses then were there before. So of course Joseph Beuys has the credit because he told me that speaking is sculp­ture, and that, you know, thinking is sculpture, so from there I got this idea. He was actually the one who thought us to widen our under­standing of art. And when he said; everybody is an artist, then this is what my work is about - to trigger the creativity of people in their own minds. So, that is really what it’s about.

- What was the nature of your connection with Beuys? Did you work with him?

I met him in 1967 for the first time, and I was very... well, when I saw his work it really touched me. I saw the work of Joseph Beuys and I had to cry. I just saw the copper tables, it was in Kassel, and I saw the things standing against the wall, the long poles, and I saw the materials laying around and for me that was enough to be touched. And that time, a minute later, I met him, I was just looking at the work and he came in, and from that time on I have been very, very good friends with him. I visited him very often, always going to Düsseldorf and meet him in his studio. So, maybe twenty years or so I’ve known him.

- So what were your first steps in your activity of mental sculpture? What did you do concretely?

Concretely I did these books, this series of books where I talk with Joseph Beuys, first about his ideas in art, then I talked to Andy Warhol, the same questions...

- Fantastic!

...and then Andy Warhol said: why don’t you go and see the Dalai Lama, because he would be interested to hear your ways of thinking. Of course this was the search that I was after, because when it gets to mental sculpture, mental and spiritual - same thing...

- Well, I like more the word mental, maybe, because it is wider. I don’t know... It is matter of terms; I don't know which one to use...

Well, it is not so much that I would prefer any of the two words, but if you are speaking of mental abilities of people, and material abilities, then you are very correct, but if you are speaking in social terms then you would say: science against spirituality, so therefore that word spirituality comes against science.

You see, if you want to use the word spiritual then you point to the fact that you want some inspiration there. But mental, for me, is like this: the mental development is you go from gross to subtle, to more subtle, to even more subtle. Now in that very subtle state you are very inspired. In fact my motivation in my mental sculpture is to make the minds of people more subtle, so they can understand more things.

- To influence people to open their minds?

Yes. That is actually what I thought, if you work with gross material, I don’t know whether you have that problem too, but I was doing sculptures for many years and the transcendental value of sculpture, as you were saying energy, the therapeutic, it is not so easy to bring it in because it is still material. But with the use of words, or of the mental ability of other people around us, your mental ability, through my explanations I can reach it easier. There I can easier get to minds of many more people, and also using the media the sculpture can become much more wide.

- Now, we were talking about your activity in the field of the mental sculpture. So this book was your first step?

We have several books coming out where I was talking to Beuys, then I was talking to Andy Warhol, then I was talking to Dalai Lama. And this for me was concept-art in fact, because I thought that concept-art is going into mental plane. But then conceptual artists as we know them today never really went into mental plane, because they jumped back to the visual, which is fine... I feel that the whole opening of the concept-art which happened in the beginning of the 60s was never opened up, I mean that shell is still open but the oyster isn't there. So I feel it was the best point in that art, from my point of view, that it was never the content that it was supposed to have. So now here we are coming from that generation and as I said before I came to Paris and met Fluxus, now Fluxus of course came back to Dada. Dada was an inspired group of intellectuals who knew that it was not so much the material but it was the mental content that was important, and the motivation why were you doing things. So here we have Duchamp, now somebody who is clearly seen and we can refer back to him. Then comes Fluxus art. In that time, in 1963 I met all these Fluxus artists so I was quite lucky, because on that line I was brought up. I was never brought up on the line of the material art so much as on non-material art. So meeting later the concept artists in New York. Although they never refer back to Fluxus, in fact they had that direct link with Fluxus, through John Cage and Duchamp.

So my idea was to be honest to that line. And when I saw for several years that it was getting lost, that one way or the other we are not getting any further, I knew Robert Filliou very well, I knew Joseph Beuys very well, then the ideas of such people gave me the courage to say: o. k., it's not all that difficult. Let's do it. So I think I am one of the few people who goes back to that point in our art history, in the middle of the 60s, when suddenly it went wrong because people became famous very easily. Now, that is why in my project today I start with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg because he was the turning point away, you know, the painting...

- There is a huge field that is not explored yet. Also, the human brain is in 99 percent unexplored.

Exactly that is what I'm heading for. We say: we have discovered space but the skull is much bigger than the whole universe. I mean going to the Moon - go to the Moon inside your skull, it's much more incredible to do because there is so much to explore. Why don't we do it? And then, what is the beauty of this is that the art that you explore on the mental level will even stay with you after you die. Because this mental consciousness, big part of it, will go with you, because that is not connected to your physical body. So there I see that artists could work on much longer stretch of time. They could give you an artwork that takes you thousands years to enjoy, well you know, many lifetimes to enjoy. And when I listened to Joseph Beuys and he said, like he gave an example, he said to a very rich man in Rome: Hey, do you want to buy my invisible sculpture? And the man was ready, you know, to pull out his purse and buy it. And then he realized: how could he own it? But this is the idea, you know, it must get to you in such a real way that in fact you are trying to get out your purse and you think: well this is something that I can obtain and go on with it.

But on the other side, doing what I am doing now, the mental sculpture "Art Meets Science and Spirituality in the Chang­ing Economy" it is for the pe­ople who will sit there, like an initiation. That is what I would like to give them. That is the actual worth of work of art; that they have to contact with another mind that thinks on very evol­ved level on certain subjects. So this may open their mind and it may give them a good insight.