Ja, Ja, Ja, Nee, Nee, Nee

Currently on show in Venice is the work Ja, Ja, Ja, Nee, Nee, Nee (Yes, Yes, Yes, No, No, No) by Joseph Beuys, and in Berlin, Martin Kippenburger’s version Ja, Ja, Nee, Nee (Yes, Yes, No, No). The audio piece which repeats the title phrase was first performed by Beuys in 1968 and is currently on display in ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ at Fondazione Prada, whilst the Kippenberger reenactment from 1995 is on show at Hamburger Banhoff, a solo show ‘Sehr Gut / Very Good’ celebrating his, would be, 60th birthday.

Both works are presented in an unobtrusive and accomplished manner. Kippenberger’s version greets you in the first room of his exhibition within earshot amongst other works, whilst Beuys’ piece sits quietly alongside his Fat Corners work and further surrounded by other own creations in the room.

The tone Beuys puts forward seems to be one of contemplation and a parody on modernist art criticism. A prologue explaining the process behind Ja, Ja, Ja… is a story that tells of Beuys being humoured at a funeral by a group of elderly women. Whilst sipping coffee and nibbling cake, they murmur the same words in the same monotonous pitch for hours, “Ja Ja, Nee Nee”, and again “Ja Ja, Nee Nee”.

Not only is this work relevant to the flippancy of the art critic, but it is also relevant on a wider scale to our understanding and behaviour in general. He puts our uncertainty and vagueness, alongside the appearance of clarity and permanence together for our contemplation. By repeating the tightened binary of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, Beuys is leaving no room for productive or necessary uncertainty, just a hazy claim to a meek position of the positive or negative.

“We feel we are most real when we touch upon something that can no longer be rationalised, when we no longer have to pretend to understand something we don’t.”

Kippenberger’s grasp of the work, perhaps somewhat of an extension, drunkingly slurs the words. Further exemplifying the notion of the vague, the state of the drunk, where judgment is impaired and certainty becomes a question of doubt, is now reality.

The foundation that Beuys has laid and its later elaboration by Kippenberger show the importance and longevity of the piece, and the ability to hold the same integrity in the 60s, the 90s and onward. With both pieces currently being shown in two different European cities, it is evidence enough that the questions Beuys initiated in the 60s remain as relevant and poignant now, perhaps eternally so.

Article by Jeff Ko


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