By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Living for pleasure, laughing all the way to the gallows

In the spring of 399 BC, Socrates was condemned to death by the people of Athens.

Four hundred years later, Seneca was put to death by Nero. He cut his veins in his villa outside Rome, but the blood did not flow fast enough because he was so old. He asked for hemlock, as Socrates did, to allow the process to be eased.

Both believed that, through philosophy, one could rise above external circumstances.

One Greek, one Roman. Both events were celebrated by a variety of artists in different periods, which seems to underpin the importance of the killings as historical events.

Epicurus said: 'I do not know how I shall conceive of the good if I take away the pleasure of taste, if I take away sexual pleasure, if I take away the pleasure of hearing, and if I take away the sweet emotions that are caused by the sight of beautiful forms.Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life.'

His list for happiness would be friendship, freedom, thought, food, shelter and clothing.

In the same spirit, Nietzsche, who swam in the Mediterranean, ate food cooked in olive oil, and enjoyed good conversation, said: 'These little things - nutrients, place, climate, recreation - are beyond all conception of greater importance than anything that has been considered of importance hitherto.'

Norbert Brunner is a good friend of mine and an artist who, as yet, has not been condemned to death. Like Epicurus, he only drinks water and makes his home wherever he works - Japan, Vienna, Valencia or West Bromwich. His lifestyle is parsimonious but high quality - from this comes his work.

Albert Camus was fascinated by the absurdity of traffic, right up to his untimely death in a car crash; perhaps a just conclusion which added poetry to his bleak view of humanity. The brutality of the existentialists appeals to a certain sense of modernity, which sometimes verges on the cynical.

Norbert Brunner maintains a refreshing innocence in his work. He revels in the message of optimism. His objects are to be used and enjoyed. None of them contain conclusions and neither are they didactic.

The Russian Constructivists were not philosophers, but they were effectively killed by Stalin, who felt safer with a form of both art and architecture rooted in tradition, whose reference is generally not understood by the people. New, contemporary, relevant work is too close to the recognisable truth.

Norbert Brunner's work is often temporary and therefore contemporary. It sits in unusual and unexpected places, not requiring the gallery. Sometimes you have to look for it. It steps beyond the official context for art and is often not seen as such. It recognises that the public do not need to be told when to enter 'art appreciation mode'.

Sartre said: 'Man is nothing at birth and throughout his life he is no more than the sum of his past commitments.' Sadly, often true commitment is not recognised by the cognoscenti of the time, so many people depart this world as nothing. The mainstream of the day often overshadows the true essence of thinking, art and architecture, which is often found to be too difficult. We don't kill people today, instead we ostracise them.

Norbert Brunner is often heard before he is seen. A long corridor inflates his infectious laugh to an announcement of colossal proportion. He will not be condemned to death, but if he was, he would be laughing all the way to the gallows.

WA, from the Sheringham garden hut

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters