Dieter Roth considered himself to be a writer who dabbled in the art world in order to finance his literary endeavors. As part of his ongoing interest in the literary form, he frequently tested the concept of authorship. He would create texts that he attributed explicitly to himself, such as candid diary entries and metrical poetry, but would also conduct more subversive experiments with anonymous texts in the classified advertisement section of newspapers and other public media.
Beginning in the 1960s, Roth expanded the concept of authorship further, taking already existing, mass-produced printed matter, usually newspapers of varying origin, which he then manipulated and appropriated as his own artistic work. In 1961, for example, he created his first in a series of “Literaturwürste,” or literature sausages. For these book-objects he took newspapers and books, including Martin Walser’s novel Halbzeit (Halftime), as his “ingredients.” He would mince the selected publication together with fat and spices in accordance with traditional sausage recipes and press the resulting literary “meat” into a skin to produce an inedible sausage. Roth would also take stacks of newspaper, cut them into regular forms, and bind them into miniature books, which placed them precariously on the boundary between legibility and illegibility. The source material for these works— newspapers from Britain (Daily Mirror Book, 1961), Germany (Kölner Divisionen, 1965), and Iceland—reflects Roth’s itinerant lifestyle, in which he traveled between mainland Europe, Britain, Iceland, and the United States throughout his career.
Dieter Roth was an exceptionally versatile artist, working in drawing, painting, printmaking sculpture, assemblage, installation, and artist books. He was also a musician, poet, and author. Four years after moving to Zurich in 1943, he apprenticed in graphic design under Friedrich Wüthrich (1905 –1980) in Bern, and later designed textiles in Copenhagen, from 1955 to 1957. After moving to Reykjavik, he married Sigri∂ur Björnsdóttir. Throughout his life Roth constantly changed his location, with Reykjavik and Basel being his primarily bases of activity. Roth produced art works in almost any medium, often using everyday materials,” including food and other perishables. Among his lifelong artistic concerns were books, prints, and multiples. Roth briefly held a number of teaching positions at art schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in Düsseldorf, Germany. In 1982 he represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale.