HA Schult, born Hans-Jürgen Schult on 24 June 1939 in Parchim, Mecklenburg is a German installation, happening and conceptual artist known primarily for his object and performance art and more specifically his work with garbage. He is one of the first artists to deal with the world’s ecological imbalance in his work and has therefore been called an “eco-art pioneer”. His best known works include the touring work, Trash People, which exhibited on all continents, and the Save The Beach hotel, a building made of garbage.
Schult works in the tradition of Pop Art, being influenced by commercial advertising and a critical view of consumerism, but also creates happenings. Peter Ludwig from the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, says: “The entire art movement of the sixties, which was combined under the expression Pop Art, was nothing more than the large-scale attempt to bring art back into a very close relationship with life. … An action like the one by HA Schult follows here the same line, the attempt to fuse art and life again into one unit, which of course still gives the individual the liberty to accept this as art or not.” For instance, in Cologne, a happening staged by Schult involving “19 luxury cars worth a total of over 4 million marks (1.8 million dollars)” caused what was described by one source as the “world’s most expensive traffic jam”. However, Schult primarily uses trash as an artistic material both for his object art and happenings. The artist calls himself a “Macher”, a German word that can mean a “maker” or “worker.” According to David Sim, Kim Levin and others, Schult’s public extravaganzas have been compared with those of Christo and Jeff Koons. Schult describes himself as an ardent proponent of the “new ecological consciousness” and was referred to as an “eco-art pioneer” by Washington Post writer Rachel Beckman. Art historian Jens Christian Jensen wrote about Schult: “I do not know another German artist who grasps his tasks so comprehensively, no one who has such a sense of feeling for that what matters in our times. In HA Schult the gap has been closed that has been for 200 years between art and the public.” According to Peter Weibel, “For decades HA Schult has managed to stimulate public awareness using images he has experienced. He stages topics in public places, which are normally edged away from the public. His art work is always directly related to the location where it is shown. He confronts the feudalism, which is manifested in gigantic triumphant buildings with the pauperism of the exploited workers who built them. He pays tribute to the unnamed soldiers and slaves and not to the heroes and sovereigns.” According to art historian Gail Levin (Rutgers University), Schult “has made a biting commentary on the indulgent aspects of western society. He calls our attention to our own conspicuous consumption, obsessively returning to the metaphor of garbage, refuse dumps, and debris. He describes his picture boxes as expressing the ‘archeology of everyday life’. Indeed, his concerns are with the excesses of western culture, the rhythms of life in a throwaway society.” According to Mark Bradley and Kenneth Stow, “Schult’s virtuous and political correct mission to convince the world that (…) ‘we live in a time of garbage’ and his argument that [his] ‘social sculpture’ operated as a ‘mirror of ourselves’ meant that his dirty exhibits-however ‘out of place’ they might seem-were thoroughly sanitized and legitimated, a powerful warning about what that world might become if it did not moderate its relationship with rubbish.”