Repost: A shaman's call:
On the occasion of finding a nice picture of German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys online, a re-post of my Adbusters essay from the "We're Back" issue, in which the magazine returns from an imagined and unexplained global collapse:
In a 1974 performance, Joseph Beuys struck a haunting pose. As a coyote circled him in a gallery, he gathered insulating felt around him to create a conical fortress, his body hidden entirely from view. From the top of this impromptu teepee, a shepherd's crook rose like a spire--part mountaintop guru, part signal tower. But, as in all of his enigmatic work, what he was signaling isn't altogether clear. As his three-day performance continued, a wordless dialogue with the animal ensued as Beuys sought to locate "the psychological trauma point of the United States' energy constellation"--that is, the fracture between animal instinct and a mechanistic, consumptive Western worldview. As man and beast became acquainted, roles reversed: Beuys began sleeping on the coyote's straw bedding, while the coyote took to pissing on "the daily diary of the American Dream," The Wall Street Journal (marking turf, or making a briny critique of American materialism?).

How can we make sense of the work's title, Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me, or the fact that the coyote is the second most adaptable mammal on earth, an evolutionary survivor? Whatever his intention, Beuys' work--actions, sculptures, and paintings carried out on a continuum of activism and shamanism--may have more to say to us now than it did when he created it in the late twentieth century.

Beuys deeply believed that ours was a traumatized society. The social body was psychologically and psychically wounded and Beuys, a medical student before he began making art, had a treatment plan. His performances were part of his work as a mystic medic, and his healing rituals seem to have risen from his experiences in World War II. As a fighter pilot, he was shot down over the Crimea and, risking frostbite and death, was rescued by nomadic Tartars who healed him by rubbing his body with animal fat and wrapping him in felt. While these two materials appear in Beuys' work, the experience permeated his art philosophically as well: just as the body, aided by a protective skin of lard and felt, is innately equipped to heal itself, so is society; we already possess mystical powers for individual and cultural healing. He seemed to be saying our future hinges on our ability to activate these dormant forces that reside within us. Is it too late to heed this shaman's call and summon our powers to survive?

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