PETER KUTTNER was born in London in 1941 and raised in England. He lived in the UK until 1987 when he migrated to Queensland. He has lived on Tamborine Mountain ever since.
Kuttner studied at the Department of Architecture at Manchester University and Hornsey College of Art, London, gaining a BA Hons in Fine Art.
At Hornsey College of Art (1963-7) in those heady days of revolution in art, education and culture, Kuttner was one of the radical generation that took art to the streets and dismantled previous ideas of what art is and who it’s intended for.
He worked in multi-media, kinetic and performance art, in colleges, on the streets, in pioneering venues like Middle Earth, and was a founder of WHSHT which mounted events with artists and performers such as Cornelius Cardew, Peter Sedgley, John Latham, Bruce Lacey, Stuart Brisley, Peter Dockley, Carlyle Reedy, Jeffrey Shaw, Don Levy and Ian Breakwell.
Between 1967 and 1970 there were ten WHSHT events, some gaining much media attention, some televised.
One event famously featured Kuttner locked in a cage at Chessington Zoo – exhibited as ‘homo sapiens’.
An early influence was Buckminster Fuller for whom he worked as co-ordinator of the 1967 World Design Science Decade Think-In at the London School of Economics.
In the early ’70s he developed ‘Edible Rainbow’ – art made of food – and worked with psychologist Dr. Ralph Watson to explore the effects of colouring foods. This project was widely reported in the press and presented at many arts centres in the UK and also in Germany, Holland, India, Israel and the USA.
Kuttner also worked with pyrotechnics, notably at the 1973 Bickershaw Pop Festival featuring The Grateful Dead.
Becoming well-known as a performance artist, he was invited to teach and lecture at colleges in London, Hamburg, Kassel, Boston, Jerusalem and Delhi. His work was featured in international journals and books on contemporary art.
During the 70s he was a guest lecturer at UK Schools of Art and Architecture including the Slade, St Martins, Coventry, Bradford, Derby, Dartington College of Arts, Croydon, Canterbury and The Architectural Association. [Bibliography]
Homo sapiens. On view at Chessington Zoo.
His early work always showed a commitment to engaging the people’s creativity. He was much involved with community activists in the arts, such as Action Space, Joan Littlewood and Bath Arts Workshop. This social concern developed and was seen in his ‘Left Is Right’ political poster campaign (1976).
In common with some other artists of his generation his creativity took a different turn when performance art and community activism gave way to personal self-discovery. He first met the spiritual teacher Barry Long in 1968 and was closely associated with him for many years. He was a founder director of The Barry Long Centre in London in 1982. His creative purpose was now spiritual development, but meanwhile, to support a wife and child, he earned a living in the hard commercial world of marketing.
In 1987 he left London and went to Tamborine Mountain where Barry Long was living at the time. Enchanted by the rainforest and the vivid natural life of the area he was determined to settle on the Mountain. Although separated from his wife and son, they were also in Australia and it became possible for him to take up residency and later to become an Australian citizen.
Living on the Mountain he soon saw that developers were threatening to build on the remaining countryside. He became an active member of the community and was at different times President of The Friends of Tamborine Mountain and Vice-President of The Tamborine Mountain Progress Association. Working in marketing he had the kind of experience that was useful to the community and to the Chamber of Commerce. But there was a dilemma. Was his active promotion of the mountain actually contributing to the threat of unrestricted development? It was a tightrope he would walk for some years.
In 1993 he founded and published the Tamborine Mountain Visitor, a free newspaper which he used as a platform to write about the rainforest and biodiversity. But to make it pay he carried advertising for local businesses and used the paper to introduce more tourists to the delights of the area. That dilemma again. He stopped publishing the paper in 1998.Increasingly concerned by the loss of open space on the Mountain and appalled by the lack of planning controls in Queensland, he had steadily become more of an activist. He regularly campaigned against inappropriate planning applications and represented the Queensland Conservation Council on a State Government advisory committee concerned with the protection of open space in South East Queensland.
THE ARCHIVE PROJECT
Kuttner’s concern for the preservation of the rainforest – his political and community activism – united with his love of the beauty of life when in 1998 he conceived the Archive. Here was the solution to his personal dilemma: a creative project to record the millennial scene in the life around him. Having come into some money he was able to buy the camera and finance the editing. So he began.
It became a major undertaking and returned him to his earlier life as a practising artist. Whenever there was an opportunity he would go out filming, looking for whatever caught his eye. Or a friend would call and report something interesting so he would go off and film it. He was not interested in mimicking the professional TV wildlife photographers whose skill and expertise are so fine and he did not attempt a movie documentary. Most of the Archive consists of eight or ten-second shots, each one carefully selected and set up.
What he discovered for himself was a new artform, akin to that of painters in former centuries who went with sketchbook and water-colours to record the scene. The video camera was the instrument through which he could look at the ever-moving natural life of the Mountain and gaze with fascination at its beauty. After three years the video footage ran to some 44 hours…
By the end of 2004 all the material complete with commentary and soundtrack had been edited ready for production on DVD.
For Peter Kuttner’s work in performance and conceptual art:
If I Had a Mind Grohe, Klaus (Dumont Verlag, Köln 1971)
Art Now: Art As Action and Concept Haryu, Ichiro (Kodansha, Tokyo 1972)
Environments and Happenings Henri, Adrian (Thames and Hudson, London 1976)
Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour Morris, Desmond (Cape, London 1977)
Museum of Drawers Distel, Herbert (Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Tübingen 1978)