Jochen Gerz

© Foto: Inge Zimmermann 2012

“...he brings work and the image back to their origin. ‘Weissʼ (‘whiteʼ) is composed of letters: signs. White is only understandable through its opposite: black as a picture. Form gains meaning only in its context on the surface, in relationship to other forms, in signs and images, not through itself. The letters remain what they are: inanimate form. They take on their content through the eyes of the viewer.”1

Jochen Gerz has been working with new media since the late 1960s (contributing to several documenta exhibitions, participating with Beuys and Ruthenbeck in the German Pavilion for the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976, engaging in numerous group and solo exhibitions and retrospectives in German, European and North American museums). Since the mid-1980s he has been working on social processes in the public sphere. At the centre of this work is the public itself, without whose participation his art can no longer come into being. Gerz applies the term “public authorship” to the creative potential that not only drives the everyday life, work and development of an individual but also aspires to a full-blown interaction with society, His public works on remembrance, including Hamburg’s Mahnmal gegen Faschismus (1986) and 2146 Steine – Mahnmal gegen Rassismus / Das unsichtbare Mahnmal in Saarbrücken (1993), Das lebende Monument von Biron (1996) and The Future Monument in Coventry (1999–2004), are among the most oft-cited international examples of participatory art.

In his early years, he dealt with concrete and experimental poetry – the form of poetry in which the visual representation is an essential element of the artistic conception. “When I have an image in front of me, I make words, and when I have a text in front of me, I make an image. The image creates the lack that points to the text, and the text remains opaque in order to refer back to the picture.”2 This is how Jochen Gerz explains, from the viewer’s perspective, his play with expectation and non-fulfilment.

Just as his texts cannot exist without pictures, so too can his pictures not exist without texts. Literature, photography, video, sculpture and performance combine to create an art form referred to as the “environment”. In 1969, for example, for his Buch der Gesten, Gerz threw around 5,000 text cards from the roof of a building in the centre of Heidelberg. On the cards was written the following: “If you have found this card, you are part of a book I have been writing for a long time. I would therefore ask that you spend this afternoon in Heidelberg as if nothing had happened and not let this message influence your behaviour. Only in this way can I manage to finish writing the book that I would like to dedicate to you, my rediscovered present.”

Anke Hervol


1 Andreas Vowinkel, 1992, quoted in
Jochen Gerz, Wenn sie alleine waren Foto/Text und Video 1969 bis 1982, Göttingen, 2002.


In the exhibition:

Jochen Gerz
Weiss, 1967 (6 works)
Excerpts from a collage (letraset) on tracing paper, digital print on paper
Each 14 × 20,2 cm
Gerz Studio, Sneem, Irland


Additional information about the artist