Inside Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn, built during the final year of his life in exile and left unfinished
Condemned by the Nazis and with his work included in an exhibition of entartete kunst or ‘degenerate’ art, Schwitters was forced to flee from his home in 1937, for exile in Norway. When the Germans invaded Norway in 1940 he was forced to flee for a second time to Britain, where he arrived in the Scottish port of Leith. He was detained as an enemy alien and interned on the Isle of Man. In the camp he participated in group exhibitions and gave poetry performances. On release in 1941 he became involved with the London art scene, engaging with British artists and critics such as Ben Nicholson and Herbert Read. The latter described him as ‘the supreme master of the collage’.
At the end of the war in 1945, Schwitters relocated to the Lake District. Inspired by the rural Cumbrian landscape, he began to incorporate natural objects into his work. During his brief years there (he died early in 1948), he began work on his last great sculpture installation, the Elterwater Merz Barn, a continuation of the Hanover Merzbau – an architectural construction considered to be one of the key lost works of European modernism. It is generally accepted that, despite his high standing as a pioneering artist of the modernist era, his late period English artworks have not been given due recognition, and nor has the importance of his ongoing legacy and contributions to contemporary art and architecture.
Some 65 years on, a group of artists and Tate Britain now intend to rectify the matter. Tate Britain is planning a major exhibition, Kurt Schwitters in Britain, which opens in late January and runs through to mid-May 2013. Schwitters’ surviving Merz Barn building, in the Langdale valley in Cumbria, has also recently been purchased by the Littoral Arts Trust, which plans to restore the Merz Barn and later create a Kurt Schwitters Museum and contemporary art gallery on the site nearby.
Because Schwitters lived much of the latter part of his life as a refugee, the trust plans to develop a centre at the Merz Barn site for refugee artists, including a study centre, gallery and archive that would feature the work of 20th and 2st-century refugee artists, as well as documenting their ongoing contribution to British art since 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany.
Plans also include the creation of a memorial plaza beside the Merz Barn, in memory of the many artists, writers, poets and musicians who Hitler and the Nazis also declared ‘degenerate’. Many of these, including Schwitters, were the leaders and pioneers of the European modern abstract, Dadaist and constructivist art movements, and as such they were also included in the infamous Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich in 1937. It was at this point that Schwitters, like so many other ‘degenerate’ modern artists, fled his home in Germany for exile. Ironically, it was this extraordinary modernist cultural diaspora, forced by the Nazis, that inadvertently accelerated the spread of modern art and architecture, albeit often as sad fragments of human lives and broken artistic careers, to Britain, the USA and throughout the rest of the world.
In memory of these and the many other artists forced into exile, or who were killed by the Nazis, the trust is now about to begin work on the memorial plaza. The intention, when it is finished, is to hold an annual ‘Reading of the Names’ ceremony on the third weekend of October each year. Artists, writers, musicians, singers, dancers, composers and so on from all over the world will be invited to gather together to read out all the names of the many hundreds of their fellow artists who were persecuted, killed or forced into exile by Hitler and the Nazis.
The names will also be written out in white chalk on the individual blue Lakeland slate stones, on the end wall of the Merz Barn. After a few weeks, the Cumbrian rain will have washed them clean and so the process will be repeated over and over again each year.
Although the trust has had its funding axed by the Arts Council, it remains committed to the project and is resolved to see it through, come what may. The aim is to raise about £30,000 through individual donations and sponsorship by April 2013, to help pay for the construction of the memorial. This includes provision for the establishment of an Entartete Kunst and refugee artists archive and study centre. Artists, designers and architects, art students, musicians, students and good friends of liberty and freedom of speech have been invited to come along and, if they so wish, volunteer their labour, time and skills to help with the memorial project.
Although it is not officially open yet, you can visit the Merz Barn if you call the Littoral Arts Trust first for an appointment. Details at www.merzbarn.net
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue