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<nettime> Gustav Metzger: Earth to Galaxies: On Destruction and Destruct
Pit Schultz on Fri, 19 Mar 1999 05:26:36 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Gustav Metzger: Earth to Galaxies: On Destruction and Destructivity

[at n5m3 the author gave what i thought was quite an
impressive lecture about what "activism" and "politics"
can mean in terms of "radical" art and technology, 
implicitly he refered to the following document a several
times. he gave me a copy and i think it's ok to post it
here now, because it is actual information. /pit]

Earth to Galaxies: On Destruction and Destructivity

by Gustav Metzger

[From a lecture given as part of SoFA Events series at
the Glasgow Film Theatre, 8 November 1996, organized by
Ross Birrell and Alice Angus]

We are poised on a trajectory that takes us from the
bowels of the earth to the infinity of near infinity of

Can it be said that the sun is destructive? So much has
been said about the generative nature of the sun.
Ancient Egypt is a hymn to the sun. Thousands of years
later the same sun is seen as a threat -no- *the*
threat to humanity. We believe that the sun, that self
same sun, will burn and devour the earth. There are
quite a large number of cultures which have also seen
the sun as a predator and destroyer.

It is evident that the sun burns crops, barches the
land and destroys people and animals who are without
water and shelter.

And yet without it there would not be life as we know
it on this eath. It is this bifocal balancing of
opposites, the dance on the edge of abyss, which runs
through human life and suffuses so much of art - all
the arts.

Art arises from the feeling and the knowledge that the
line between a generative and a destructive reality is
paper-thin. I find that in the music for piano by
Chopin it is this line which maintains and sustains.

Opening to the expansion and even within that expansion
runs a line of declension. "Himmelhoch jauchzend zum
Tode betruebt" (Goethe, *Egmont*). This line quoted again
and again says the same in a manner that is more easily

We live in a scientific age. When it comes to the
question of the slaughter of thousands of living cattle
it is *science*  that is called upon by the British
government to decide on life or death.

If the science is right, they will go under.

When we look at everything that we know and everything
that we do not know about BSE we are entitiled to ask
wether we are so different from which doctors or Aztec
priests in making decisions on life or death.

The question that I am facing in recent years is this:
to what extent are human beeings part of this ceaseless
chain of destruction? Do we absorb it; does it impinge
on us; is the chemical, biological entity that is the
human being penetrated by that which is so
overwhelmingly the stuff of life?

Is the destructivity, so deeply embedded in us,
inescapably there because it is in the entire cosmos?
We absorb in the course of the development of life, of
which we are a part, the bombardment that is present on
the earth and in the galaxies are, are present as life
evolves and evolving life inevitably absorbs such
elements like milk from the mothers breast.

Why should it not be so? Confirmation of a sort comes
from that vast accumulation of folklore and myth on
creation and destruction that has been handed down.

If destruction and creation is so profoundly embedded
in the human beeing, in the atoms and cells - and the
origins go back to the first beginnings of biological
life - if there is a total mix between that which is on
earth and in the galaxies, how should we respond?

Destruction is *not nice*. Religion after religion has
tried to turn away from it, but always only with
partial success.

Everything that is on the surface of the earth will go.
Mountains will melt in the heat. Vast periods of time
before this, even the best preserved works of art will
have gone, and human beeings also. Nothing is forever.

When i wrote in the first Auto-Destructive Art
manifesto that a work of auto-destructive art can last
a few seconds and no more then twenty years, I had a
certain doubt. Really, only a few seconds? I was right
to query but erred in the direction. Today, in the work
with electronics, a second is a vast expanse of time.
Time is considered in terms of a millionth part of a

As the years have passed, I observed the changes taking
place and have found confirmation of so much I had
believed in.  Scientists who predict future
developments in their field quality for the Nobel
Price. If this principle applied in the field of the
visual arts, my work would have received wide

Right across the spectrum of developments in society,
in science and technology and in thought and invention,
there are links with ideas that i have worked with.
There are big ideas, such as the Big Bang or Black
Holes; there is the recently discussed theory that
cells in the human body are in a constant process of

Responding to the crisis of pollution and waste
disposal, leading car manufacturers have started to
build cars on the principle of disassembly. This means
that the end disposal of the components is considered
from the earliest design stage, with the intention to
reduce to a minimum any materials which cannot be
reused and recycled in some form or another. What a
step forward from the time when old cars where simply
smashed up!

In thought there is deconstruction which started in the
second half of the Sixties. One would need days to list
the links of auto-destruction and auto-creation in the
context of change since 1959.

And beyond this, there are attitudes towards
environment, the critique of capitalist consumer
society, the critique of science and technology, and
the emphasis on individual responsiblity.

There is a deep-seated fear of destruction in many
people. What is the origin of this fear? In part is a
fear of destructivity lodged in ourselves. Our urge to
be aggressive and act with violence gives rise to a
reaction that seeks to ban and inhibit agression and
violence in general.

Black Holes. In 1959, before coming onto the theory of
auto-destructive art, I was fascinated by the
possibility of using very powerful steel presses to
make sculpture. I had seen a report of a press that had
the power to crush large pieces of metal but could be
attuned to the point of delicacy where it would crack
the shell of an egg. I wanted to use such a machine to
form relativly small pieces of sculpture. What
interested me was the thought of the trace of the
impact of the press on the surface of the sculpture.

One of the profound concepts of Judaism is that of
,Ruach', referring to the ,Breath' of God. Here, there
would be an exploration of the ,breath' of the
all-powerful press, with ist capacity to manipulate
vast power on a quite modest piece of matter.

As you know, at about the same time, César was crushing
pieces of metal using presses in Paris, making
sculptures in the form of small blocks.

The point in relation to Black Holes is this: I was
concerned with the enormous pressure contained in the
implement and the pressure built up in the emergent
sculpture. And the pressure of forces within a Black
Hole is a key feature of the phenomena. In a way, I was
setting up the equivalent of Black Holes within a
sculptural form. This feeling for enormous pressures
stayed with me when later in that year, 1959, I
developed the theory of autodestructive art.

In the acid-nylon painting of 1961, connections could
also be made to Black Holes. Holes are burned in the
nylon and the material inevitably collabses in upon
itself as the process is being observed. There are
three screens and the could envisage channels of
communication from one screen to another. The open air
activity then, and even more markedly at the time of
the filming on the South Bank in 1963, can be seen as a
statement on earth and heaven: the earth and the

We are part of nature: We *are* nature. But is nature
red in tooth and claw?

Certain micro-organisms can live within nuclear
reactors. It has been said that should there be a
nuclear destruction of the world microbes will manage
to survive better than any other species. So what live
can survive amongst the galaxies? Are the Galaxies
nature? Is what is going on there *natural*? Well, not
by our standards.

But presumably beeing a galaxy is as natural as apple
pie for the galaxy. For a galaxy, life on earth is
meaningless soft and soppy. Who wants all that soggy
stuff, trees swaying in the wind? How can a Niagara
Falls or an atom bomb compare with the immense expanse,
the power billion times greater that the sun, the sheer
empowerment of it all? What a life!

The fact that we could not live there and that we would
find those conditions unnatural must not blind us to
the realisation that galaxies *are* nature.

>From the burning core of our earth to those expanses
where we could never go, and if we did, never survive.
Do we share the burning to the point where everything
disintegrates? What is the fever pitch of a person in
love; or the maniacal excess of a creative act; or the
blind onslaught of a killer? What has it to do with the
torrents within a galaxy?

It is the extreme and the excess. It is the burning to
the point threatened by dissolution. Dissolution does
not take place - any more than the galaxy dissolves -
despite ist white heat.

That is what unites us with the beyond: the capacity to
reach a core, burning, endangered, exposed. And to go
on. To go through the furnace, remember the Bible
Story, go through the galaxy and emerge intact.

Destruction and destructivity are inextricably entwined
in the nature that we know; fire does not make moral
judgements. Inasfar that we are nature, that nature
suffuses us, we are inescapably entrapped within it.
The murderer hits out like the branch falls of the

We do not need visual reminders to conjure up the
destructivity ongoing in humanity. We need merely to
repeat a mantra of atrocities. The Hordes of Ghengis
Khan, the Thirty Years War, in the manner perhaps of
Alaistair MacLennan's recent installation at the
Arches, Glasgow, speaking of the Troubles in Northern
Ireland. The Sacking of Rome, the Gates of Jericho,
Sabra and Shatilla. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The
Massacre on the Temple Mount. The First World War. The
Second World War. The Third World War. Zaire Rwanda.
Yugoslavia. My Lai.

Nature and natural - Natural Born Killers.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 


Demonstration by G. Metzger

SOUTH BANK LONDON 3 JULY 1961 11.45 a.m. - 12.15.p.m.

*Acid action painting*: Height 7 ft. Lenth 12 ft. Depth
6 ft. Materials: nylon, hydrochloric acid, metal,
Technique. 3 nylon canvases coloured white black red
are arranged behind each other, in this order. Acid is
painted, flung and sprayed onto the nylon which
corrodes at point of contact within 15 seconds.

*Construction with glass*. Height 13 ft. Width 9 ˝
foot. Materials. Glass, metal, adhesive tape.
Technique. The glass sheets suspened by adhesive tape
fall on to the conrete ground in a pre-arranged


Auto-descructive art is primarily a form of public art
for industrial societies.

Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction
is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method
and timing of the disintegrative process.

Auto-destructive art can be created with natural
forces, traditional art techniques and technological

The amplified sound of the auto-destructive process can
be an element of the total conception.

The artist may collaborate with scientists, engineers.

Self-destructive art can be machine produced and
factory assembled.

Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and
constructions have a life time varying from a few
moments to twenty years. When the disintegrative
process is complete, the work is to be removed from the
site and scrapped.

London, 4th November, 1959                 G. METZGER


Man in Regent Street is auto-destructive. Rockets,
nuclear weapons, are auto-destructive. Auto-descructive
art. The drop dropping of HH bombs. Not interested in
ruins (the picturesque) Auto-destructive art re-enacts
teh obsession with destruction, the pummeling to which
individuals and masses are subjected. Auto-descructive
art demonstrates man's power to accelerate
disintegrative processes of nature and to order them.
Auto-destructive art mirrors the compulsive
perfectionism of arms manufacture - polishing to
destruction point. Auto-destructive art is the
transformation of technology into public art. The
immense productive capacity, the chaos of capitalism
and of Soviet communism, the co-existence of surplus
and starvation; the increasing stock- piling of nuclear
weapons - more than enough to destroy technological
societies; the disintegrative effect of machinery and
of life in vast built-up areas on the person...

Auto-destructive art is art which contains within
itself an agent which automatically leads to its
destruction within a period of time not to exeed twenty
years. Other forms of auto-destructive art involve
manual manipulation. There are forms of
auto-destructive art where the artist has a tight
control over the nature and timing of the
disintegrative process, and there are other forms where
the artist's control is slight. Materials and
techniques used in creating auto-destructive art
include: Acid, Adhesives, Ballistics, Canvas, Vlay,
Compustion, Compression, Concrete, Corrosion,
Cybernetics, Drop, Elasticity, Electricity,
Electrolysis, Electronics, Explosives, Feed-back,
Glass, Heat, Human Energy, Ice, Jet, Light, Load,
Mass-production, Metal, Motion Picture, Natural Forces,
Nuclear Energy, Paint, Paper, Photography, Plaster,
Plastics, Pressure, Radiation, Sand, Solar Energy,
Sound, Steam, Stress, Terra-cotta, Vibration, Water,
Welding, Wire, Wood.

London, 10 March, 1960                         G. METZGER


Each visible fact absolutely expresses ist reality.

Certain machine produced forms are the most perfect
forms of our period.

In the evenings some of the finest works of art
produced now are dumped on the streets of  Soho.

Auto creative art is art of change, growth movement.

Auto-destructive art and auto creative art aim at the
integration of art with the advances of science and
technology. The immediate objective is the creation,
with the aid of computers, of works of art whose
movements are programmed and include "self-regulation".
The spectator, by means of electronic devices can have
a direct bearing on the action of these works.

Auto-destructive art is an attack on capitalist values
and the drive to nuclear annihilation.

23 June 1961                         G. METZGER

[Source: Tramline No. 5, © 1996 Gustav Metzger

Thanks are due to the organisers of National Review of
Live Art, CCA Glasgow, Professor J.C. Brown Astronomer
for Scotland, Hilary Stirling at Tramway and Roger

Tramline pamphlets are coordinated and edited by Pavel
Buechler and Charles Esche

ISBN 1 899 551 13 1

Tramway 25 Albert Drive Glasgow G41 2PE 
Fax +44 141 422 20 21 ]

Gustav Metzger was born in 1926 in Nuernberg, and came to England
in 1939 as a refugee from Nazi Europe.  During the 1960s and 70s he
developed the theory and practice of Auto-destructive Art, an art
embodying and proposing itself as an equivalent or a metaphor for
the destructive forces existing within society. 


german interview

art strike

event at Camerawork, July 1998 
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