Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dieter Roth Advertisements 1971/72

Dieter Roth was known to tell friends that he saw himself as primarily a writer and that creating art was simply a "pleasant means" to pay the bills. It might seem to be a tongue in cheek declaration for an artist of his stature but his Swiss passport did list his profession as "writer" first, and then "painter". From the mid-60s onward he wrote poetry, aphorisms, free associations and texts governed by their sound more than meanings. His first book of poetry published in 1966 was called Scheisse. Neue Gedichte von Dieter Roth (Shit. New Poems by Dieter Roth). It was the free-spirited 60s, but that title stood little chance to win over the literary circles of the day. His follow up volume published two years later wouldn't have either, it was called Die Gesamte Scheisse (The Complete Shit).

In the early 70s he expanded his literary aspirations by publishing aphorisms twice a week in the Anzeiger Stadt Luzern und Umgebung, a free local advertising newspaper. In an interview he remarked that those pages of ads were " brutal, they're like a gigantic junkyard. So I thought I'd just stick a little tear in them." He sent his friend Erica Ebinger in Lucerne his handwritten or typed missives which she would send along to the paper. He made it clear early into the running of the ads that the paper was not to correct his odd spellings, grammar or punctuation.

Week after week between March '71 and September '72 sentences like; "A good cry is a good night's sleep", "A tear is as mean as a kind word", Cows have served us most fillet steaks", "Fear of 13 is something", "A Coca-Cola is a stone and a tear", and "Can a being see something without being what it sees?", appeared in the paper signed with a simple D.R. The paper terminated the ad contract after running 114 of his intended 248 advertisements citing complaints by readers who were fearful that these were a sort of subversive code, and above all, they seemed to advertise nothing.

Later in '73 Roth would compile these ads using the real newspaper pages into an artist book called Das Tanenmeer (The Sea of Tears). A new book called Dieter Roth Advertisements 1971/72 has just been published by Edizioni Periferia. It reproduces Roth's aphorisms as they appeared surrounded by ads for products and services. Each is translated from German into English.