Henry VIII’s Wives

Henry VIII’s Wives are an artists’ collective at the limits of LifeArt, testing the possibility of alternative and not yet exhausted forms of life and organisation. Their search for this deviating potential often takes them to sites and dwellings from where outmoded or marginalised forms of society can be recuperated from the past and brought to use again. The search found its most spectacular expression when they once re-built a Neolithic settlement from memory and at a scale of 1:1. Historically before Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, the village had once accommodated a complex social structure with sophisticated architecture, and was rediscovered only in the nineteenth century.

Henry VIII’s wives’ replica of the original settlement was a fundamentally abstract MDF sculpture reminiscent of housing, but equally legible as clumsy sculptural construction of joined elements. The work invited the audience to charge the structure with meaning without however really indicating whether to charge archaeologically, art-historically or indeed socially. In the exhibition, it was presented as a find: supposedly by pure chance, the floor plan of the village fitted precisely into the exhibition hall, and it would have seemed a shame to not make use of that coincidence.

Because the structure’s original social function appeared so out of place in the gallery, it turned into a displaced form beyond the stabilising conditions of sculpture or an archaeological site. Instead of a space, it became a claim for another place that deviates from given conditions instead of fitting into them.

LifeArt here is also a playful approach to social groupings before they became regularised models under the influence of authoritarian patterns of organisation. Brought back from remote times and geographies, these forms are found as much as they are invented and stand in for the renewable possibility of other forms of life and formats of art. The collective’s work is therefore also a constant quest for the geographical, mental and historical sites from where to articulate exactly these potentials.

And so if Henry VIII’s Wives then translate maternity, psychiatry and stock exchange into a conceptual and architectural triangle for Populism, hysteria stands in for exactly that deviating potential. Between its fixation as female, its othering as illness and the generative potential it develops in late capitalist economy, hysteria is simultaneously excluded and constantly re-generated and thus is an ideal dimension to be tested for its possible connections to a new notion of the popular.

By Edgar Schmitz


(roasted coffee beans)
(from the exhibition 'The Fear of Death'
at the Collective Gallery Edinburgh 2000)
Courtesy of Galerie Iris Kadel.