PRINT March 1988


If the house is square, it is because the square is an absolute.
If the door has human dimensions, it is because humanity passes through it.
If a city faces east, it is because it refers to the rising of the sun.
If the angles of the houses stretch upward, it is because trees have the same tension.
What beauty is there in a can of beer; what difference when facing a painting by Titian?
Is it our era? Is it this era that identifies itself with a can of beer?
I want to be free in front of the impassible pride of the past,
therefore I love this insignificant can of beer; but am I really free?
One characteristic of a can of beer is that it is made to be repeated an infinite number of times,
whereas the painting by Titian is unique.
Nevertheless, theoretically, I identify with this can of beer, and its compulsory repetition.
But what have I lost of my integrity, of my profound cultural nature,
in my identification with this can of beer, reiterated an infinite number of times in order to exist?
Therefore, the drama lies in having loved and loving this can of beer,
knowing full well that in comparison with the profoundness of a unique painting, it is insubstantial.
If the window frames a landscape, the visionary emphasizes the meaning until the vision prevails.
Therefore, this perverse can of beer, so deeply loved, is not enough for me.
I must invest it with significant meanings to make it acceptable
to eyes accustomed to a stratified landscape.
So, what can I add and what can I subtract from this can of beer?
I add a vision of time that takes into account the past, and I remove a piece of its nature,
that is, its nature to be repeated.
Therefore, I render it unique, so that at least I can regain my cultural independence,
and establish an equilibrium between this independence and that painting by Titian.
I knew, from the epoch of coal heaps, that I was a man condemned to death
who was trying to save himself.

This can is shit, this can is an idiocy, this can is a diabolical invention to deceive me,
this can is perverse as a whore, this can is a capitalist invention, this can is an oppressor,
this can, long beloved, I know full well doesn‘t exist in front of a work of the past,
in front of the cyclopic walls of Mycenae,
in front of the measure of a door, in front of the measure of a bed,
in front of the enigma of a Symbolist painting, in front of the joyous reality of an operetta.

My mother is Ithaca, my youth is Ithaca, my old age is Ithaca,
my death is Ithaca.
Well then, what does a can of beer represent?
Steam locomotives are multiples, as is a can of beer.
Singer sewing machines are multiples, as is a can of beer.
Borsalino hats are multiples, as is a can of beer.
Sacks of coffee that have marked an epic are multiples, as is a can of beer.
Beds in hospital wards are multiples.
Identity cards are multiples.
Prison registers are multiples.
Bar glasses are multiples.
Newspapers are multiples.

Consequently, in my frenzy for travel, I love the can of beer because it resembles a steam locomotive, knowing full well that it can‘t ever represent the globality that a work from the past imposes on me.

The cost of one train ticket, Cologne to Berlin, is 15 cans of beer.
The cost of one Volkswagen is 13,000 cans of beer.
The cost of one race horse is 2,000 cans of beer.
The cost of an apartment is 1,000,000 cans of beer.
The cost of one pair of shoes is 100 cans of beer.
The cost of one coat is 500 cans of beer.
The cost of one picture by a young painter is 2,000 cans of beer.
My wool works, which reflect that Arcadia lost from sight and cut from day,
I have come to learn can be had for 150,000 cans of beer.

Ithaca, visionary Ithaca.
Two world wars were necessary in order to give this can such a privileged position within my heart.
We have killed the king and with that we have eliminated the sacred.
The secular, as we wanted, triumphs, and rightly so.
But one cannot help but feel the lack of spirituality now,
the spirituality that just one African statuette represents.
On the life or death of a can of beer depends the life or death of art.

And so, against the wind, toward the port of harmonies and paradises,
knowing full well that this destination, just and desired,
is distant.

Jannis Kounellis, 1988

Translated from the Italian by Corinne L. Mitrakas.