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KURT SCHWITTERS AND THE MERZ BARN

The proposal is to further develop the already established relationship with The Merz Barn
and the Littoral Trust, the agency involved in the restoration of the site in the Lake
District.

The Merz Barn has already been used by various faculty disciplines, for research visits and
workshops and over the last few years, architectural students have been using the facility
as part of their events programme, organising projects relating to the Merz and the works
of Kurt Schwitters and that of the Da Da movement, making the use of a free bunk barn or
staying on site and regularly attending several of the winter/summer schools that take
place there.

The vision is to formalise this relationship, as a faculty wide resource and work with the
various organisations, partners and funders involved, to establish a rural studio for design
and research led projects, combined with fabrication, similar to the Architectural
Associations Hooke Park Rural studio.

At present there is bid about to be submitted to the Arts Council for feasibility works, of
which the author, as part of his research, is currently undertaking, developing ideas and
drawings, with the hope that there will be further funding for the feasibility study and for
the exhibition and pavilion planned in the summer.

SHORT HISTORY OF KURT SCHWITTERS AND THE MERZ BARN

Born in Hannover in 1887, during his lifetime Kurt Schwitters worked across many different
art disciplines, creative traditions, art forms and media, and maintained an extraordinary
output of collages, paintings, poetry, performance, audio arts, theatre, photography,
sculptures and installation projects. His influence on the development of contemporary
art, sculpture and architecture continues to be widely acknowledged, including by Sir
Peter Blake, Eduardo Paolozzi and Rem Koolhaas. Although not a full member of the Berlin
DADA group, Schwitters employed Dadaist ideas in his work and gave Da Da recitals
throughout Europe.

Of all Schwitters works probably the most influential have been his Merzbauten, a series
of installation sculptures that began in his own studio space in his parents house in
Hanover in the1920s and ended with the unfinished Merz Barn in Elterwater in 1947.
There were four of them in all, sculptural living spaces so revolutionary in concept that,
even though only two of them have survived and both of those are incomplete and
damaged, they continue to exert an immense influence on the imagination of artists,
sculptors and architects.

In 1945 Kurt Schwitters and his partner moved to Ambleside in the Lake District where, his
former fame was unrecognised, he earned a minimal living by painting portraits. After
renting a small shed as his studio he decided to begin work on his final Merzbau which was
partially funded by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Schwitters estimated it would
take another two to three years to complete after he had started the end wall but died
not long after. The Merz Barn was left untouched for 15 years after his death until artist
Richard Hamilton undertook the task of preserving the end wall by moving it to Hatton
Gallery in Newcastle.

THE MERZ BARN TODAY

The Littoral Trust is working to restore the Merz Barn and the associated buildings on the
Cylinder estate site with hope to open the whole site to the public. The project has an
active school and community engagement programme. The Shippon (one of the on site
buildings) functions as a local history gallery and art education space. The Trust is
currently involved in an international fundraising
campaign to complete the restoration work on the Merz Barn site, and to create an
endowment
fund to support future capital works, public, educational and artistic programmes.

Apart from the Kurt Schwitters Archive in Hannover there is no art gallery or museum
project
devoted to the study of the life and artistic legacy of Kurt Schwitters. Subject to
consultation with
the National Parks Planning Authority, local community and other regional and national
stakeholders, future plans for the site include the possibility of developing a Kurt
Schwitters Art
Gallery and a Merzbau Museum or study centre.

Merz Shed, a contemporary art space/ library research space and area for fabrication and
making. Merzbau Museum, a partially underground art museum.
Merzbau Pavilion, a temporary exhibition pavilion.
Merzpods overnight shelters to be designed and built by students

There are other relevant threads to the story of Kurt Schwitters, paralleling the problems
of today. Schwitters and the other so called Degenerates Artists musicians and architects
had to flee from Nazi persecution, many settled in England and went onto change the
cultural face of the world. The Dadaists were opposed to war and the chaos of the social
order. These themes along with issues of homelessness, immigration and the migration of
people and goods weave into the story. Oddly the nearby Roman fort was manned by 2000
Syrian soldiers and the site [Cylinders Estate] is on a former gunpowder works and stone
age axes from the nearby axe factory were found all over England and Europe. These
themes and the contemporary issues of today could be explored, the Merz already has an
association with organisations working on the idea of a museum of migration.

Is rural the new urban ? as has been variously and recently mooted, along with
highlighting the associated problems in those areas. This new impetus for research along
these lines could be built on, furthering links with the likes of the Ruskin museum, also
Cumbria and Lancaster universities who already have some involvement with the Littoral
Trust encompassing, literature, poetry, artists, philosophers of the Lakes and rural
communities, again this could be built on and connecting up with all aspects of Humanities
and the arts as a rural research centre.

At present talking to relevant member of staff from various disciplines such as graphics
[Merz restoring old printing presses used by Schwitters, whose work was highly influential
in world of graphics] Art, Landscape, Design, etc with the view to forming a research type
cluster to drive the aspirations and ambitions of the key protagonists of the project.
Already the world of art and Architecture, have recognised the great importance and
significance of this project. The Merz barn has already received donations from Damien
Hurst and Zaha Hadid and the like, see also supporting information below on key
supporters of the Merz.

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