Artists' Artists - John Gerrard
Artists write about a work of art that influenced them
Marcel Broodthaers, Fémur d’homme belge (Femur of a Belgian Man), 1964–65
My undergraduate degree — at the Ruskin School in Oxford — was remarkable for its criticality and for how it immediately immersed the 20 or so young artists of each year in art history. The brilliant Stuart Morgan led the course in which I had a number of epiphanies, Marcel Duchamp being the foundational one. Another that I particularly treasure was an encounter with Marcel Broodthaers’s Fémur d’homme belge (Femur of a Belgian Man, 1964–65). In art, I often seek apparently simple works that both speak in a circular manner and that carry on a conversation around themselves, generating further thoughts with each orbit. From Hand to Mouth (1967) by Bruce Nauman has this quality, as does Joseph Kosuth’s Five Words in Blue Neon (1965).
Holding the force of Arte Povera but somehow with a stronger conceptual, less naturalistic emphasis, Fémur d’homme belge spoke to me particularly of violence, of identity and of the crushing imbecility of feeding millions of bodies to landscapes of cannons and shredding steel. Featuring an anonymous leg bone, it embodied the underlying characteristics of all flags: death, conflict and nationalistic annihilation. From the comfortable cocoon of peace and prosperity that I was born into, ten years after it was made, it carried me to the killing fields of Ardennes of 1944–45 and, also, to the many nationalities who died there, to remain immersed in nominally Belgian soil. My work to date has remained strongly interested in power and in flags.
John Gerrard lives in Dublin, Ireland, and Vienna, Austria. He has been commissioned by the UK broadcaster Channel 4 to create a new work that will be transmitted in 2017. Earlier this year, he had a solo show at UCCA, Beijing, China.
First published in Issue 5