Joseph Beuys died on 23 January 1986. Just a few months before, he had stayed on the Italian island of Capri, where his Neapolitan gallery owner, Lucio Amelio, owned a villa. He was convalescing after having contracted interstitial pneumonia in May 1985.
During his stay, Beuys created ‘Capri Battery’, a relatively light-hearted sculpture, but one that carries an important ecological message. Amelio writes: "I remember his indescribable excitement when Beuys showed me his work just completed on a beautiful morning of his last September in the garden of Villa Quatro Venti in Capri. One lemon was connected to a yellow lightbulb by means of socket and plug. To this little object, the Capri Battery, he summarized once again his whole theory of the relationship between art and nature. "
Beuys loved Italy, the country, its people, nature and culture. And the bright yellow fruits of the lemon tree are associated with Italy; with light and warmth. Lemon trees are a common sight in Naples, so Beuys was using a natural, organic product associated with the area.
Interestingly the size of the lemon and the size of the light bulb, yellow too, closely match each other. The light bulb, of course, is an industrially produced, man-made “scientific” object that requires power, in the form of electricity, to actually “come to life”.
The viewer is led to believe that the light bulb is being powered by the lemon. Of course the growth of the lemon has come about by the power of the sun. The sculpture encapsulates Beuys’ interest energy, warmth, and the environment.
By using a lemon as the source of energy for the light bulb, Beuys illustrates the fact that all forms of energy are sourced from nature.
Since the two components of the Capri battery are the same size, shape and colour, a sense of balance is achieved, suggesting that in the modern world a likewise balance must be established between the finite resources of nature and the demands of technological developments.
Beuys went on to create the sculpture as a multiple. The 200 copies were enclosed by a small wooden box. On the lid of each box, printed in sulphur yellow letters was the instruction: "Replace battery after 1000 hours".