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
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
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
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
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'
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
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn