(Mis)communication in “I like America and America Likes Me”

In Joseph Beuys’ performance “I Like America And America Likes me” took place in 1974 at the Soho art gallery of René Block. Over several days Beuys spent eight hours a day in the sole company of a coyote. Beuys chose to spent time with it, because it is seen as a sacred animal by Native Americans and subsequently it also became a symbol for their struggles as well as their deep connection to the continent. During his stay in the United States Beuys steered clear of making any connection to modern life America: On arriving he was immediately transported to the gallery, packed in felt and therefore carefully insulated form any outside impressions. Immediately after the performance he was transported back to the airport in the same manner to leave America. His whole experience of “America” was to be reduced to the iconic animal of the natives. While the coyote at first was vary of its human cellmate, in course of the performance it started to form a connection to the artist and Beuys was even able to hug it shortly before leaving.

The performance in itself was a powerful piece on the possibilities and impossibilities of communication across the boundaries of race, species and heritage. While no communication in the traditional sense or in the sense of imitating the ‘other’ actually took place, Beuys was able to establish a connection to the coyote based on their mutual experience alone. This is an experience we humans learned about from Beuys and as fellow humans were able to empathize, nonetheless it holds true, that probably only the coyote will ever understand what it feels like to a coyote to be trapped in a room with Joseph Beuys. Whether the experience was as spiritual for the coyote as it was for its human companion will remain a mystery, as will the struggles and experiences of the Native Americans in regard to their continent.

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Charlotte Grum
Hi Lara. Thank you for bringing this iconic performance into our discussions. As a preparation for my own performance Becoming Sheep (please see my first post or my web page) I reflected on the difference between Beuys’ work and my own. I descibed how Beyus reproduced a dichotomy between the Cultivated and the Wild with his symbolic and highly regulated tableaus, and I described how he performed and reproduced ‘the white man with his stick’ being able to provoke and control – even though Beuys himself said, “At all times my actions, all of them were dependent of the actions… Read more »