In 1985 the German artist Joseph Beuys took 31 rough, bulky basalt rocks and threw them across the floor in a seemingly random manner. The stones are all a muted beige colour, mottled with patches of grey. Each rock measures between one and two and a half metres in length and has a cone-shaped hole drilled into the upper side of one of its ends. These cone-shaped cavities have been smoothed down and lined with clay and felt, and the pieces of basalt that were removed from the stones have been polished before being placed back into their holes. The rocks lie in loose, haphazard clusters that resemble piles of debris.
This work of art has been titled ‘The End of the Twentieth century’. In his book ‘Joseph Beuys: Staging Sculpture’, Mark Rosenthal describes it as ‘the haphazard aftermath of a calamity’. This perhaps comes as no surprise. During the last decade of the twentieth century there was much talk of chaos. Come midnight on 31.12.1999, computers were all going to self destruct and basically the world was going to end. However, as it turned out, absolutely nothing of interest happened. Big Ben struck 12 and all the computers just quietly carried on doing whatever it is they do on their night off.
Roll forward 16 years and perhaps we are now starting to get a sense of what calamity was being referred to. For many, the most obvious examples of these would be the UK vote on the EU Referendum and the American Presidential Election. There have also been an extraordinary amount of ‘celebrity’ deaths this year. I wonder if this is really the case or whether it is simply that with the advent of television followed by the huge growth in social media, we are all aware of so many more ‘celebrities’ than ever before. Nevertheless, it is sad to have lost so many talented people in just one year. Whilst I am not one for ‘celebrity worship’ I was particularly saddened to hear about the deaths of Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Peter Maxwell-Davies.
So with that in mind, perhaps the thing to do is move on into a New Year. Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope it turns out to be a good year. No matter what else happens, there will always be new songs to sing and music to enrich the mind.
Jules Addison is a Sound Engineer and Choral Director. He currently directs 5 choirs across Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.