The question of softness is not central to Noiseless blackboard eraser 1974―a laminate of wood and felt: it is both hard and soft. Both properties are needed to define the other, and both materials are required to ensure the function of the object as a blackboard eraser.
It is likely that this combination of properties, of soft and hard, resistant and flexible, obdurate and absorbent, attracted Beuys to this commonplace, factory-made object. He seems likely to have chosen the object not because of its softness or for its functional use to wipe chalk, but rather for felt’s symbolic properties. Beuys is known for his use of unconventional art materials, and particularly felt, which has strong symbolic associations for him. In the artist’s own philosophy, felt is connected with insulation, protection and healing powers, which he attributed to his experiences during World War II. (He has described how he was rescued from a plane crash by nomadic Tatars who rubbed him with fat and wrapped him in felt to heal his broken body.) Art, likewise, has the power to restore a broken society, a potent message in postwar Germany. As the prime expression of human creativity, art was a force for change; a positive power to excite, link and mend communities. As such, it was a political and educational tool and Beuys emphasised this by taking on the role of a teacher in his performances.
On his first visit to the United States in 1974, Beuys gave a series of talks on connections between art, science and society. He illustrated these with diagrams on a blackboard. When a collector tried to acquire one of the blackboards, Beuys wiped the diagram away with an eraser like this one. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin once noted that ‘the passion for destruction is a creative passion’. In the same way that the wood and the felt in the eraser support each other, destruction is allied to/supports creativity.
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: National Gallery of Australia exhibition SoftSculpture (reference )