Exhibitions > John Preus The Beast: Herd Mentality Montserrat

We Are The Beast

The Beast is an invitation
The Beast is an opening
The Beast is a question
The Beast is … what you want it to be

The Beast offers itself as an image, an object, and as a community space. It is above all an imaginative, aesthetic space. On the exterior, the beast is a tragic figure. A sad bull, resting its heavy head on the gallery wall as if it is in its final moment, or maybe it is about to go to sleep. In its tragic nature, the form of the bull thus invites connections to other peoples’ and other times, for example: the bull figure in the caves of Lascaux, the Chinese zodiac, the Greek myth of Theseas and the Minotaur, and the sacredness of cows in India. In America, the Lakota also honored the buffalo and thought it to be sacred and a giver of life. In its basic form, the beast thus echoes tales of ancient heroes and sacred importance.

The Beast is also in conversation with artists of the 20th century. Joseph Beuys’ concept of the Social Sculpture comes to mind. In sharp contrast to the modernist myth of the solitary artistic genius, Beuys believed that creativity was social and that everyone can contribute, leading to his declaration in 1971 that every human being is an artist. In 1958, Allan Kaprow introduced the event as an art form when he started to organize happenings. Beuys and Kaprow were radical in their call on spectators to turn into active participants to help form and become the work of art.

In 1998, Nicolas Bourriaud, in his analysis of the socially motivated works by contemporaries such as Philippe Parreno and Rikrit Tarivajina, renamed the artistic practice of bringing people together ‘relational aesthetics.’ He emphasized the role of the artist as a facilitator rather than a maker. The beginning of the 21st century has seen another resurgence of socially engaged art works with artists such as Tania Bruguerra and Pablo Helguera, who question the role art plays in society through participatory works. Their practice is politically motivated and challenges the status quo in their questioning of systems of power and control.

How then does The Beast relate to these diverse practices? Like many of the artists mentioned above, Preus offers us a space for gathering people and those people are invited to be a part of the work. Their active engagement completes the work. However, The Beast also offers us an aesthetic form, a figurative sculpture. How does this form change what goes on inside of it? How does the space, and therefore the events generated within it, differ from any other space? The bull is not a neutral form, but rather it is an ancient symbolic form. As such it offers a symbolic space, an aesthetic space, it offers us the space of art.

It is a playful space, a serious space, a questioning space, a material space, a gathering space, a political space, and a philosophical space. It offers us care, an embracing, a little magic even. It is both a call to action and a space for reflection. It encourages us to share, to shine, to say something, or do something! It provides an opening, a moment of many possibilities that disrupts the every day. Rather than a singular, narrow frame, it is an opening of connections across time and space. It is plural, multi-modal, and above all a dynamic, relational space. It invites us to be ourselves. We are The Beast.

Leonie Bradbury

We Are The Beast

Introduction to the exhibit catalog