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Kurt Schwitters in Isolation - An Aesthetics of Resistance in Sch...the Journal of the Kurt Schwitters Society

An extended essay which casts new light on Kurt Schwitters internment in the Hutchinson ‘P’ Camp in Douglas on the Isle of Man was published in Sch… The Journal of the Kurt Schwitters Society in December 2020 (ed. Gwendolen Webster). This writing forms part of an ongoing study of Schwitters Escape, Internment and Exile, which includes photographic artworks made in response to the places and spaces, which Schwitters inhabited following his flight from Nazi Germany in 1937. This work also refers to the materials and detritus, which Schwitters found, collected and incorporated in some 200 works which were made during internment.

Following his escape from Norway and arrival in Britain - via Edinburgh - Kurt Schwitters was interned in the Isle of Man from July 1940 to November 1941. The essay investigates Kurt Schwitters isolation and marginalised position during the internment period and the different modalities of exile which Schwitters trajectory reveals. Upon his arrival in Douglas Schwitters use of the discarded and worthless in his finding, collecting and transformation of materials was already established. In the context of exile this process finds its denouement in a series of collages, assemblages, sculpture and paintings, which form part of an archive of over 200 works made during this time. In these works, the febrile and sensitive nature of their handling and making embodies the conditions of habitation, isolation and exile within which they were crafted. The artworks which Schwitters made embody a very specific material presence in the rarefied use of objects, materials and things, which take on a different significance in this context. Schwitters status as an artist in exile is that of a ‘double-bind’ having fled a home to which he and fellow refugee artists could likely never return. The situation was one defined, confined and reconfigured by circumstances both within and beyond his control in terms of the choice and or availability of materials, which he and fellow artists had access to. These conditions were ultimately defined by the isolation, uncertainty and fear, which the internees endured in their separation from family and friends. At the same time the fabric of the environment and significantly here the lived-in-space, which Schwitters inhabited came to signify the hermetic nature of specific works and performances. The separation from home, family and friends and the depression and anxiety, which Schwitters and other internees suffered was compounded in their not knowing from one week to the next when they might be released. This was exasperated as a result of the restrictions which their correspondence was subject to in its censorship.

This research forms part of an integrated practice and writing, and ongoing photographic artworks made in relation to the context of isolation, internment and exile. These images are photographed using small and medium format cameras, which in their use oscillate between the instantaneous moment encountered, and a pre-conceived image, which activate the spaces, which they index. A portfolio of photographs responds to the site of Hutchinson ‘P’ Camp and its environs as it exists today. Other images and object-based works respond specifically to small paintings of glimpsed views, which carry the viewer over the rooftops of Douglas to the horizon.

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