Magazine article Artforum International

Collage Credit

Magazine article Artforum International

Collage Credit

Article excerpt

Our mutual friend Daniel Spoerri introduced Dieter and me at a Tinguely exhibition in Basel in 1960. Daniel had published books of "concrete poetry" by the two of us in Darmstadt the year before, and he thought we might see eye to eye on matters of art and life, and have fun comparing notes. We did, and the meeting was to enrich my life and art beyond telling in these hasty reminiscences, which seem to me so superfluous so soon after the eulogy I delivered at the memorial service just a few blocks away from where we first met so many short years ago.

diter rot. That's the way he defiantly restructured and lower-cased not only his own name but the German language in general in those days. Years before we met I had jealously admired the succession of books and book-objects that this wandering German-born Swiss poet-artist-designer had been creating with such ease since the mid-'50s, almost single-handedly inventing the genre we now call artists' books. I might have tried to meet him sooner had I not been somewhat in awe of him. I mean, what kind of guy is going to carry out experiments to determine whether cactus grows better in Camerabert or potato salad - and use the results in a painting?

Working with him, or for that matter playing with him, wasn't always easy for his friends and collaborators, for the simple reason that he was usually somewhere else. He was most at home away from home, escaping permanent attachments to any one place or one circle of friends. In this connection I recall the subtitle of his early poetic testament, 246 Little Clouds:

a fictive report from countries far inside a swiss who is living abroad inside himself

He wrote the book, characteristically, on the high seas, aboard the Icelandic freighter Bruarfoss, outward bound from New York, in December 1966. He sent the manuscript to me as a Christmas present.

Half a year later I was also outward bound from New York on the Bruarfoss, destination Reykjavik, with the intention of producing an English language Dieter Roth reader. I was lugging along an unusually heavy collage, Life and Letters 1966, the first large work I completed in the United States after a seventeen-year absence in Europe. It comprised twenty-five plastic toy animals in the shapes of the ABCs, plus a plastic container of "Synthetic Diseased Urine" (the byproduct, I was told by Ray Johnson, who gave it to me, of a US Army research project) for the letter P, all imbedded in concrete, and bound for exhibition in Italy.

Shipping the collage would be prohibitively expensive, Dieter assured me, and he very thoughtfully made a light and airy drawing of it. …

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