The issue of expressing one's mind has been exhaustively dealt with, but little has been said of silence. In its literal meaning, silence is a void of sounds or aural stimuli, but as an internal experience silence can be agonising emptiness as much as perfect understanding of the whole. Visual art is silent, but what could visual silence contain? Does it mean the absence of images, or the emptiness of images, muteness or a loud dialogue defying the limits of language? Is art bound to act as the perpetual medium for messages, or can it remain quiet on that which cannot be talked about? In his essay Hiljaisuuden kielioppi (´The Grammar of Silence´), Jan Blomstedt discusses the meaning of silence, and argues that the task for silence in art is not to underline meanings, but to belie them and veil them and, by that token, expose them even more strikingly. 'The silence has the perceptive reader gravitating closer and closer to the hidden relations within the work, engaging him or her in their creation.'
To Joseph Beuys the theme of silence is central, as he emphasised the importance of hidden meanings and the viewer's own creativity in experiencing art. Beuys is renowned, inter alia, for his 'action', where he explains his pictures to a dead hare, but in such a low voice that the audience cannot hear him. In connection with his installations made of grease and felt, Beuys has referred to the principle of the anti-image, arguing that provocative and repulsive works are intended to cause a counter- reaction, to make the viewer fight existing conditions. In a way, his works are anti-images whose after-images remaining in the retina appear in complementary colours. Ugliness provokes beauty in the viewer, silence evokes sounds. Through these intellectual anti-images, Beuys thinks it is possible to reach immaterial entities whose direct representation would be impossible. Blomstedt's remark 'The invisible cannot immediately be rendered visible' would make a good starting point for exploring Beuys' art.
Joseph Beuys' work The Silence (Ingmar Bergman) from 1973 belongs to the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and comprises five 35 mm film reels containing the German version of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence (1962). The reels have been galvanised in a zinc bath, which has made them unusable. According to art critic Dierk Stemmler, in Beuys' zinc-treated film reels silence has been made safe: 'Silence cannot be prolonged, it is finally closed and silenced, yet saved as a memento. Its external form is reminiscent of many other works of Beuys which repeat the compact form of a film reel: tins, rolls of grease, rolled-up blankets...in a sense: batteries, accumulators, generators. In this sense, Beuys has turned the Bergmanian film reels into objects that store energy and warmth, and has made the deadly silence into a growing opportunity for novel thinking and new life."
The Silence by Ingmar Bergman is a story about a young boy's holiday trip in the company of his mother and aunt. The sexual repressions of the grown-ups, the aunt's ever- worsening health, the threat of war, and the all- encompassing, oppressive silence dominate the boys experience, distorting the tourist hotel into a surrealistic chamber of horrors. Bergman creates an atmosphere of distressing alienation and breakdown in communication, from which there is no way out.
Joseph Beuys has approached the theme of silence and Bergman's film in the Fluxus action entitled "The Silence of Marcel Duchamp Is Overestimated" back in 1964. In this multi-levelled action, Beuys would recite lines from the film script, while the slogan that gave the act its name was being written on a sheet of cardboard. According to Beuys, the act was a criticism of Duchamp's anti-art concept and the artistic silence that followed. Duchamp stopped artistic production in 1923 as in his opinion art was no longer a meaningful activity. The action juxtaposed Bergman's destructive and oppressive silence with Duchamp's heroic silence.
For Beuys, Duchamp's idea of the end of art was a dead- end, the end of a utopia, which he found unacceptable. According to Beuys, the criticism of the traditional art institution that Duchamp expressed through his readymades was incomplete: '...if an everyday, anonymous industrial object can become art, it follows that the maker of that product is actually the artist. And if this object is made jointly by several people, it follows that everybody is an artist, not just painters, sculptors, pianists, dancers or singers!'. In Beuys' opinion, Duchamp's readymades led to a radical change in art, not to its end. The notion of art became extended to involve various forms of production and economy, and ultimately the whole of society was to be perceived as a social sculpture. Beuys' extended notion of art is an alternative to Duchamp's silence: 'The conclusion that it is no longer possible to make art is incorrect: it is the other way round, life can only be continued by making art. But in that position we must adopt a clearly extended notion of art". According to this construction, art cannot be passive silence, it must be a constructive force enabling creativity to be channelled as a social resource.
Beuys' The Silence (Ingmar Bergman) breaks up the Duchampian silence by being a public work of art and having significance. In fact, The Silence breaks up the Duchampian silence 50 times over, for it is a multiple with 50 identical copies made in the galvanising laboratory. A serially produced object is not the end of art; it is the beginning of its expansion. Multiples were an integral part of Beuys' production. They reach wider audiences than unique works, thus being a natural instrument in the open, democratic communication which Beuys pursued.
When Beuys was asked in an interview why he had silenced the information on the film reels through galvanising them, and still given each one a title after Bergman's film, he said he would answer the question with silence.