Photo Credits: Top: Catherina van Ommen Middle: Egon von Fürstenberg Bottom: Jan Paul Kool
Beginning in 1978, Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers conducted a series of interviews, with
three charismatic men from the continents, Europe, America and Asia. The first was Joseph
Beuys, who passed the same questions onwards to Andy Warhol, who in turn, suggested
that the Dalai Lama should be next to answer. Their conversation focused on the future
of art, religion and money. I interviewed Louwrien on 9th May 2011, via Skype, on her
memories and thoughts of the interview series that I see as her great collaborative and
interdisciplinary artwork. - Matthew Stone
Louwrien Wijers: My deepest wish was to interview Beuys, so I started doing that in ’78.
And Beuys said, “Oh Louwrien, you should put the same questions to Andy Warhol,” and he
organized it, and Warhol’s answers of course are short, but incredibly deep and completely
different than Beuys’. And then at the end of the longest interview that Andy Warhol ever
did in his life, this interview, Andy Warhol said “Ah, you should ask the same questions to
the Dalai Lama…”
So I sent a letter to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and within two weeks I had a letter
back: “Come!” So after the first interview, I went to the bookshop, I ran down the hill where
the so called “Palace of the Dalai Lama” is and I bought a postcard and said, “Dear Joseph,
you have a brother here in the Himalayas. The Dalai Lama lives in Dharamsala, India, and
he thinks exactly the same way about the problems of today as you do”.
When coming back, I phoned him and he said “I want to make a permanent co-operation
with the Dalai Lama, and you have to organize it. We will make EURASIA happen!”
Matthew Stone: You described how Warhol’s answers were different to Beuys. I wondered
if you could compare the three of them, how they spoke and what they said.
LW: Beuys was a political leader, so he thinks about the society. All his answers give very
practical advices. But then when you ask Andy Warhol a question about compassion, Andy
Warhol would answer, “If you are going to space, and you look back on the earth, you
cannot believe that you are not nice to your neighbour, and you don’t clean his sidewalk if
he could not do it himself,” so he bounces into infinity and bounces back, and in that way,
Andy Warhol has these enlightened movements, but he is still very simple in his words and
thinking. It’s more normal, like how we all speak. When he thinks of society he tries to keep
things very practical.
And then when I came to the Dalai Lama, [he had] the same way of answering questions as
Beuys with long precise sentences, but like Warhol in such a way that he gives you advice.
For instance, “if you want to get to compassion, the best thing is to control your anger.” You
know, such things…
MS: So in a sense, there was a practicality in all of them, there was always a way to apply
LW: Oh it’s so funny, I think of all three as enlightened beings. Really, I thought they were
all so deep. I call Andy Warhol a Saint from the Himalayas of New York. Warhol was made
in the newspapers and that conversation is mainly shallow, for everyone to understand.
But the depth of Andy Warhol has to be there too, otherwise his name wouldn’t have
carried so far.
MS: There’s a famous Warhol quote where he says “If you want to know all about Andy
Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s
nothing behind it.” But I’ve often re-read that statement, as if he’s describing himself “Andy
Warhol”as the defined entity, as a brand or his ego. But I also think about the idea that the
shaman must be hollow like a reed. Perhaps this idea is there in Warhol’s statement. He is
almost Zen-like, in that, rather than forming opinions, he allows things to flow through him.
LW: Absolutely. I feel like he expresses an insight into the emptiness of things, as the
Buddhist knows and does. It is exactly what the Dalai Lama would tell you, that there are
two different realities. One is the ultimate reality where nothing really exists in the way we
see it, and the other way is the normal reality which we see.
MS: Can you tell me a little bit about what the Dalai Lama said when he saw Joseph Beuys’
LW: I gave him a book [of his work] and he started turning the pages, and half way he
just closed the book and said “I know what this is about, it’s about impermanence”—that
everything changes all the time and that nothing is stable. And that is exactly what Beuys’
work is about. But that is also exactly what Buddhism is about. So his face was very happy
and he said “Oh I understand this artist! And this artist is right!”
MS: I’m interested in thinking about the relevance of these ideas today.
LW: When I was with Joseph Beuys in Tokyo in 1984, he said, “What I’m saying here today,
it’s not for now, its for the 21st century, and then you’ll understand what I’m saying!” The
other thing is that Warhol was always showing how much in common we have, how
much we are brothers and sisters in a way, but that is of course the way in which his
holiness the Dalai Lama speaks. But I feel in the factory at Union Square, there was such
a lovely radiance. I experienced how much friendship and love Warhol brings amongst
people, with a lovely laugh and a lovely way of letting you be who you are.
MS: Going back to Beuys’ concept of EURASIA, would you explain how you understood this,
or perhaps how he explained this to you. Was his proposal a physical or a mental territory?
LW: The mental territory is what he talked about, but he wanted the physical territory. He
wanted to really spread culture so that EURASIA would at least function beyond passports
and all of those things that were just commercial ideas.
MS: What I have understood about EURASIA is that Beuys saw it as a synthesis of Western
pragmatic logic, with mysticism or intuition from the East, and I wondered whether that
LW: Of course, Beuys wants both of those things in one person, so you have to be the
Shaman, as well as the mechanistic worldview person, that knows all about science. That
is why he talks about arts, science, spirituality and brings them together so that economic
ideas can grow from there.
MS: I remember at one point you saying something to me about Beuys having an initial fear
of the East.
LW: Beuys knows the East more through Goethe, who dismissed parts of the East. When I
was in Japan in 1976 in the Buddhist temple where I lived, I came back and said, “Oh you
must go to Japan, your ideas would be so good there.” And of course in ’84 he went, and it’s
true, the Japanese people understand Beuys almost much better than anyone else, and his
speeches there were much better than anywhere else. So, I think by going to Japan, and by
listening to what people tell him about the East at that time, I think he changed his mind.
MS: Thinking about Goethe’s influence on Beuys and even Beuys’ on my own thinking. It
could be that, in every age, there are cultural ideas that begin to define the limit, or the
potential, of the new thinkers. It becomes important to try understand the ideas of the past,
but not to take them as something which should be absolute.
LW: Every mind interprets it differently, and there freedom starts. Because if you say you
have to understand this in this way, you would already be a Nazi. So the beauty of wisdom
is that it fits every person. And if we just stay away from talking about differences, then
we get somewhere, because we want to go towards compassion, towards going together,
towards feeling together. The future is within each of us, as Beuys says. It is already there,
just like when a tree comes, in the seed the tree is already there. So all of us carry within us
an idea of the future.
MS: My instinct is always to try and connect seemingly disparate entities, the co-existent
and passionate voices in your interviews has provided me with a diagram for this type of
thinking and an idea of distant collaboration. There are different visions of the world and
it’s future, but conflict arises when people seek to impose their vision of reality forcefully
onto other people. I wonder whether we can foster the potential for the coexistence of
visions — and for those visions to remain uncompromised.
LW: If I have stability somewhere inside that whole being that I am, then I can always come
back to that place of rest, and then the differences don’t touch you. Live as a small universe
[and you] will always be able to go back to their inner source and balance more easily than
MS: Each person is a universe… of their thoughts, of their intuitions, of their emotions.
LW: Of their selves.
MS: Beuys and Warhol both described themselves as artists, but the Dalai Lama is a
spiritual leader. I’m interested in whether its useful to think of Beuys and Warhol as monks
or the Dalai Lama as an artist.
LW: Oh absolutely, I see him as an artist. I mean I don’t know any other person who
opened so many doors, in so many countries. The artist is the only one who comes
completely open. And I think every artist must be something like a saint, a monk or
someone who knows that there is more. Otherwise what use is there? We have this
freedom and we use it for our creativity. Let’s just say, creativity is our main capital, the
only capital that we have.
Louwrien’s interviews with Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol and his holiness the Dalai Lama
can be found in her 1996 book “Writing as Sculpture”.