Kristen Loree and Jack Ox perform in the NWEAMO 2020 piece composed by Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate
Jack Ox has engaged in music visualization 35 years, with a distinguished history of international exhibitions. She participated in Vom Klang der Bilder, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (1985), an exhibition covering visual music in the 20th C. During the 90’s, she visualized Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, making a presentation at the Centre Georges Pompidou during the Schwitters retrospective in Paris (1994), and showing the complete Ursonate at Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland (2004). This exhibition was in conjunction with the first major Polish Schwitters exhibition, was sponsored by Germany, and traveled to the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans.
Kristen Loree is an educator, coach, performer, director and musician. Kristen received her MFA in Acting from New York University Tisch School of the Arts, she is certified Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework and The Expressive Actor and former professor at the University of New Mexico. She has been regularly performing Ursonate since 1998.
Loree and Ox are prepared to deliver both a performance of the Ursonate that includes a vocal presentation, and a projected visualization of Kurt Schwitters’ historical and still timely compostion–– Ursonate, and a lecture on the Ursonate and both artists’ development of the material. The actual performance is 35 minutes long, and the lecture can be 10 to 30 minutes long.
If Kurt Schwitters were a young, happening artist today, he would be a re-mix artist. Schwitters collaged trash, such as old train tickets, which he literally picked up off the street. For his world-class sound poem masterpiece, Ursonate, he used German phonemes that he found as a kind of linguistic readymade. The Ursonate is a classical example of the phenonmenon described by the Fluxus artist and theorist, Dick Higgins (Something Else Newsletter, #1 1966) as intermedia. This means that structural elements from two or more different media are blended into one medium.
Schwitters worked in several genres and media, including dadaism, constructivism, surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.
Merz has been called ‘Psychological collage’. Most of the works attempt to make coherent aesthetic sense of the world around Schwitters, using fragments of found objects. These fragments often make witty allusions to current events. (Merzpicture 29a, Picture with Turning Wheel, 1920 for instance, combines a series of wheels that only turn clockwise, alluding to the general drift Rightwards across Germany after the Spartacist Uprising in January that year, whilst Mai 191(9), alludes to the strikes organized by the Bavarian Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council.) Autobiographical elements also abound; test prints of graphic designs; bus tickets; ephemera given by friends. Later collages would feature proto-pop mass media images.
Whilst these works were usually collages incorporating found objects, such as bus tickets, old wire and fragments of newsprint, Merz also included artists’ periodicals, sculptures, sound poems and what would later be called “installations”. Schwitters was to use the term Merz for the rest of the decade.
Schwitters composed and performed an early example of sound poetry, Ursonate (1922–1932; a translation of the title is Original Sonata or Primeval Sonata).
The poem was influenced by Raoul Hausmann’s poem “fmsbw” which Schwitters heard recited by Hausmann in Prague, 1921.
Schwitters first performed the piece on 14 February 1925 at the home of Irmgard Kiepenheuer in Potsdam. He subsequently performed it regularly, both developing and extending it. He published his notations for the recital in the last Merz periodical in 1932, although he would continue to develop the piece for at least the next ten years.
As the political situation in Germany under the Nazis continued to deteriorate throughout the 1930s, Schwitters’ work began to be included in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) touring exhibition organised by the Nazi party from 1933. He lost contracts and examples of his work in German museums were confiscated and publicly ridiculed in 1935. His close friends Christof and Luise Spengemann and their son Walter were arrested by the Gestapo in August 1936.
On 2 January 1937 Schwitters, wanted for an “interview” with the Gestapo, fled to Norway to join his son Ernst, who had already left Germany on 26 December 1936. His wife Helma decided to remain in Hanover, to manage their four properties. In the same year, his Merz pictures were included in the Entartete Kunst exhibition titled in Munich, making his return impossible. He was held as an enemy alien until 1941.