Perspectives and Reflections

There are a great many publications and writings on Joseph Beuys and his work, but much less that offers an in depth exploration of the social sculpture ideas and their evolution. The work of Wolfgang Zumdick, Johannes Stuettgen, Volker Harlan and a few others are the exception.

Until very recently, however, these have existed primarily in German. In the English-speaking world there has been very little that adequately presents these proposals and their contemporary developments, apart from the work of Shelley Sacks. One reason for this might be a lack of interest. A more likely reason might have to do with the difficultly of reflecting on social sculpture actions and practices unless we have appropriate criteria.

The criteria of contemporary art making and aesthetics overlook that social sculpture is framed by an ‘expanded conception of art’ and that this frame is concerned with the shaping of our lives and of a humane and ecologically viable society. If, on the other hand, the criteria of traditional forms of activism or change processes are used, significant aspects of Beuys’ ‘expanded conception of art’ also risk being lost.

The same is true for contemporary work in the field of social sculpture, where very little in depth reflection exists, apart from by those practicing it themselves.

The SSRU staff, research associates and student researchers are beginning to change this situation. In the English-speaking context the recent English translation of Wolfgang Zumdick’s earlier doctoral work on the Foundations of… in Beuys and Steiner, makes a substantial contribution to this field. Complementing this is the work that Shelley Sacks has done since the late 1970s, to explore synergies between Beuys’ social sculpture proposals and other disciplines, thinkers, insights and practices and so connect them in the wider field. The fruits of this are becoming apparent in the new work that is emerging: transdisciplinary work that engages with attitudes in the field of medicine, participatory governance, epistemology in action, and with radical activism. By unpacking Beuys’ ideas and proposals and their sources and carrying them forward into an exchange with other related practices and proposals, this apparently mysterious territory is becoming more accessible – without oversimplifying it, as has often been the case, and without getting trapped into echoing what Beuys said and did then.

It is also important to recognise that these new perspectives and reflections also come in the form of practices. The dialogue processes in Exchange Values, Earth Forum and University of the trees are, on one level, a reflection on the notion of working with ‘the invisible materials’ of social sculpture that Beuys spoke about in the 1970s.

In future we will also try to summarise the exchange that take place in the various fora which are one of the primary arenas for reflecting on the field of social sculpture and opening up new perspectives.

The following practices and publications are useful for people wanting to know more about the social sculpture ideas and its sources, as well as social sculpture now and related topics:



Exchange Values

Omnibus for Direct Democracy

University of the Trees

Earth Forum

Agents of Change

Basic Income network and film






Death Keeps Me Awake: Joseph Beuys – Rudolf Steiner, Foundations of their Thought, Spurbuch, 2013. This is an English translation by Shelley Sacks of Wolfgang Zumdick’s monograph Ueber das Denken. It includes a new introductory text by Shelley Sacks ‘Translation Keeps Me Awake’ and by Wolfgang Zumdick. The original German Ueber das Denken was revised and republished in German as Der Tod haelt mich wach: Joseph Beuys – Rudolf Steiner. Grundlagen ihres Denkens. (3rd edition, Dornach 2006).

ATLAS of the Poetic Continent: Pathways to Ecological Citizenship, Temple Lodge 2013. Co-authored by Shelley Sacks and Wolfgang Zumdick. The original German version (ATLAS – Ort des Treffens 2009, Verlag Mayer) was ‘A Philosophical Tour Guide’ linked to the project Ort des Treffens. This completely revised English edition, with new key texts by Sacks and Zumdick, focuses on the notion of the poetic continent and its relationship to ecological citizenship.

Social Sculpture and New Organs of Perception: New practices and new pedagogy for a humane and ecologically viable future. Book chapter by Shelley Sacks. Originally refereed journal article based on paper for conference ‘Unity in Diversity’, Dublin, Jan. 2006 in Beuysian Legacies in Ireland and Beyond. European Studies in Culture and Policy; L.I.T(ed) Lerm-Hayes [2011] pgs.80-98 ISBN: 978-3-8258-0761-0

Seeing the Phenomenon and Imaginal Thought: Trajectories for Transformation in the work of Joseph Beuys and Rudolf Steiner. Essay by Shelley Sacks in Holland, A (ed) (2007) Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition, National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne.



Die rote Blume: Aesthetische Praxis in Zeiten des Wandels. With a forward by Wolfgang Sacks. Co-authored by Shelley Sacks and Hildegard Kurt. OYA, Klein Jasedow 2013. 250 pages. ISBN: 978-3-927369-77-1.  German only. (Projected English publication 2014 as ‘The Red Flower: Aesthetic Practices in Times of Change’)

Jeder Mensch ist ein Kuenstler – die Bedeutung der Idee der Sozialen Skulptur fuer einen “Erweiterten Designbegriff”. Book chapter co-authored by Shelley Sacks and Wolfgang Zumdick in Brocchi, Draser, Fuhs, Maxein (Hg): Zur Geschichte des Nachhaltigen Designs. VAS, Bad Homburg, 2013

Geben und Oekologisches Buergerschaft: Aus innerer Bewegung zur passenden Form in ‘Da Hilft nur Schenken’ by Shelley Sacks, Info3-Verlag, Frankfurt [2011] ISBN:103924391580. Commissioned chapter by GLS Social Bank, Germany for a book celebrating 50 years of social banking in Germany. (From the unpublished English, 2011: Giving and ecological citizenshipthe inner movement toward appropriate form)

Wachsen! Ueber das Geistige in der Nachhaltigkeit. Book, authored by Hildegard Kurt. Mayer, Stuttgart/Berlin 2010.

Das Bild der Pflanze – in Wissenschaft und Kunst bei Aristoteles und Goethe, der botanischen Morphologie des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts und bei den Kuenstlern Paul Klee und Joseph Beuys. Book, authored by Volker Harlan. Mayer, Stuttgart/Berlin 2002.

Zeitstau. Im Kraftfeld des Erweiterten Kunstbegriffs von Joseph Beuys. 7 Vortraege von Johannes Stuettgen im Todesjahr von Joseph Beuys. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 1986.


Publications by SSRU staff and researchers with a focus on Joseph Beuys:


What is Art? Conversation with Joseph Beuys. Edited with Essays by Volker Harlan. Edited by Volker Harlan, translated and introduced by Shelley Sacks [in English edition only]. Clairview, Forest Row 2004.

Joseph Beuys: Coyote [I Like America and America likes me] authored by Caroline Tisdall Schirmer / Mosel, 1976

Joseph Beuys by Caroline Tisdall. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, catalogue 288 pages, Thames and Hudson 1979.

In Soul Contact: Joseph Beuys and Shelley Sacks. Contribution to book: ‘Beuys is Here’, ed. Celia Davis and Jane Won. D’Offay Collection. Published to coincide with Beuys exhibition at De La Warr Pavilion, 2009. ISBN:9780956286604 Other contributors including Tacita Dean, Furlong, Demarco, Wentworth, Obrist

Even if I Write my Name I am Drawing: Joseph Beuys: Text and Drawing. Essay by Wolfgang Zumdick in Studio International, New York, 2013

Joseph Beuys’ Pedagogy and the work of James Hillman: The Healing of Art and the Art of Healing. Refereed Journal Article in ISSUES in Art and Architecture. Editor, Andrea Duncan



Joseph Beuys und die Architektur – Perspektiven und Akzente. Book, authored by Wolfgang Zumdick. Mayer, Stuttgart/Berlin 2013. German only. Stuttgart 2013

PAN XXX ttt. Joseph Beuys als Denker. Sozialphilosophie – Erkenntnistheorie – Anthropologie. Book, authored by Wolfgang Zumdick. Mayer, Stuttgart/Berlin 2002

Material, Material, Substanz – Philosophische Implikationen des Beuysschen Materie – und Substanzbegriffs. Key essay by Wolfgang Zumdick in publication relating to the Joseph Beuys Symposium, Museum Schloss Moyland. Nijmegen, 2008

Vom Ursprung der Freiheit als dem Grund der Kunst. Essay by Wolfgang Zumdick on the occasion of the 2nd International Joseph Beuys Symposium, Kranenburg 1995. Wiese-Verlag, Basel 1995 

Der ganze Riemen: Joseph Beuys – der Auftritt als Lehrer an der Kunstakademie Duesseldorf 1966 -1972. Book, authored by Johannes Stuettgen. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter Koenig. Koeln 2008

Was ist Kunst? Werkstattgespraech mit Beuys. Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Volker Harlan mit Essays von Volker Harlan. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 1986. German version of “What is Art?”

Wittgenstein, Steiner und Beuys. Chapter by Walter Kugler in Im Sinne der Freiheit, Edited by GlobArt Academy, Springer Wien New York 2012


Publications relating to social sculpture or related curatorial projects:


Exchange Values-Images of Invisible Lives (2007): Edited by Wolfgang Zumdick. Texts by Shelley Sacks (‘Story of the Project’ and ‘11 Years On’), Wolfgang Zumdick (Exchange Values on the Table. The new installation at Dornach); Bodo von Plato. FIU-Verlag, Wangen. Dual language English/German



Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition. Catalogue on the occasion of the exhibition “Joseph Beuys & Rudolf Steiner: Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition” at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007. Key Essays by Walter Kugler, Shelley Sacks and Wolfgang Zumdick

Kugler: A different world: The blackboard drawings of Rudolf Steiner. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 2007.

Sacks: ‘Seeing the Phenomenon and Imaginal Thought: Trajectories for Transformation in the work of Joseph Beuys and Rudolf Steiner

Zumdick: ‘In us or Nowhere is Eternity: Philosophical reflections on the the exhibition of blackboard drawings by Joseph Beuys and Rudolf Steiner 



‘Gong: h=human being: On the Experiential and Invisible in Joseph Beuys’s early work’. Catalogue essay by Wolfgang Zumdick in Museum Schloss Moyland: Joseph Beuys ‘Energie Plan”, 2010. Dual language English/German (Essay accompanies Wolfgang Zumdick’s curated section of the exhibition “Energy Plan: Drawings from Museum Schloss Moyland” Cleves 2010)

Mein Lieblingsteil: A publication (authored by Wolfgang Zumdick) relating to one of the Ueberlebenskunst Projects, Berlin, 2011 – for which Wolfgang Zumdick was also the artistic co-director (Bundeskulturstiftung and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin)

Joseph Beuys – Rudolf Steiner: Zeichnungen-Entwuerfe-Skizzen
Essay by Wolfgang Zumdick: 
Utravisible Zeichnungen: Das Unsichtbare in den fruehen Zeichnungen von Joseph Beuys. In the exhibition catalogue for exhibition of the same name in the Rudolf Steiner Archive, Dornach, Switzerland. May–August 2009. German only (Unpublished English 2003)


Many other publications relating to Joseph Beuys, social sculpture and some of the above ‘practices’ can be found through Rainer Rappmann and the FIU Verlag


Publications by SSRU staff with a special focus on Rudolf Steiner:


Upon a black background: Notes on Rudolf Steiner’s move towards an ‘Artistic science’. Author: Wolfgang Zumdick. Published in: “Rudolf Steiner, Blackboard Drawings 1919 – 1924, East Sussex 2003

The central core of Anthroposophy, key essay by Wolfgang Zumdick in book for major Steiner exhibition ‘Alchemy of the Everyday” – Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 2010; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart 2011; MAK, Vienna 2011; Vitra Design Museum 2011; Narodny Gallery, Prague, 2012. Also in German

World Spirit, where are you? Catalogue essay by Walter Kugler in book for major Steiner exhibition ‘Alchemy of the Everyday” – Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 2010; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart 2011; MAK, Vienna 2011; Vitra Design Museum 2011; Narodny Gallery, Prague, 2012. Also in German



Rudolf Steiner und die Kuenstler: Saul Bellow – Joseph Beuys – Max Brod – Michail Cechov – Franz Kafka – Wassili Kandinsky – Paul Klee – Piet Mondrian – Erich Muehsam – Dimitri Mereschkowski – Giacinto Scelsi – Edith Soedergran – Bruno Walter – Margarita Woloschin – Marina Zwetajewa. Book, authored by Wolfgang Zumdick. Pforte, Dornach 2005

Auf schwarzem Grund: Notizen zu Rudolf Steiners Projekt einer kuenstlerischen Wissenschaft. (Dumont, 1999). Author: Wolfgang Zumdick. Catalogue contribution linked to the exhibition “Rudolf Steiner, Wandtafelzeichnungen 1919 – 1924” in Kunsthaus Zuerich, May to August 1999

Der heiße Kern der Anthroposophie. Anmerkungen zu Rudolf Steiners Weltbegriff. Key essay of Wolfgang Zumdick on the occasion of the exhibition: Rudolf Steiner, die Alchemie des Alltags. Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Museum für angewandte Kunst, Wien. Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, 2010

Rudolf Steiner in Wien. Die Orte seines Wirkens. Book by Wolfgang Zumdick. Metro Verlag, Wien 2010

Architekturfuehrer Goetheanumhuegel (First major publication about anthroposophical architecture in Dornach/Arlesheim, Switzerland) Key Essay by Wolfgang Zumdick: ‘Die Entwicklung anthroposophischer Architektur in Dornach und Umgebung im Kontext der Zeitgeschichte’; Niggli, Bern. 2011

‘Eine Hand, die zeigt und Hilfe bietet: Rudolf Steiners Begegnungen bei Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky und Johannes Itten. Essay by Wolfgang Zumdick in Rudolf Steiner in Kunst und Architektur, Koeln DuMont 2007

Rudolf Steiner und die Anthroposophie. Wege zu einem neuen Menschenbild. Book, authored by Walter Kugler. DuMont, Koeln 1991. German only.

Sichtbares Denken: Ueberlegungen anlaesslich einer Austellungseroeffnung von Rudolf Steiner-Tafeln im Juli 2003, by Shelley Sacks, in  Kugler, W and Baur, S (2007) Rudolf Steiner in Kunst und Architektur, Dumont Verlag, Cologne [book chapter, translated from the unpublished English keynote presentation Working in the Dark: Rudolf Steiner’s Blackboards. Small booklet of opening lecture for the Cambridge Music Conference: ‘Music and the Word’ relating to ‘Visible Thought’ – a major travelling exhibition of Steiner’s blackboard drawings. 2003