14 Jun 2011

Scotland in Europe: Europe in Scotland

An exhibition entitled Scotland in Europe: Europe in Scotland celebrating both Richard Demarco's 80th birthday and marking his unique contribution to the understanding of Scottish and European culture opens in Scotland House, Brussels on June 14. For the past three months Sandy Moffat has been acting as curator for the exhibition, working in collaboration with Richard Demarco and his deputy, Terry Ann Newman.

Scotland House
Rond-Point Schumann 6
1040 Brussels
Scotland in Europe: Europe in Scotland

Event Photographs by Richard Demarco from the Demarco Collection and Archive

Richard Demarco is an artist, gallery director, educator, promoter of theatre and cultural commentator. He is also a Scot, a Scots-Italian, a European and an internationalist whose worth is recognised the world over. Born in Edinburgh in 1930, his life’s work has centered around the presentation of major European artists in Scotland and the promotion of Scottish artists in Europe. For the past fifty years Richard Demarco’s mission has been to unite the cultures, histories and arts of both western and eastern Europe with much of his pioneering work undertaken at the height of the Cold War. His extraordinary achievements were marked with the debate of a motion in the Scottish Parliament ‘ that the Parliament notes and celebrates the 80th birthday of Richard Demarco” in September 2010. In her concluding statement, Fiona Hyslop, The Minister for Culture and External Affairs said “ I have asked Scotland House, our office in Brussels, to mount an exhibition of items drawn from the Demarco Collection to demonstrate the significant role that Richard Demarco has played in cementing international friendships and promoting Scotland overseas through the powerful medium of the arts.”

The theme of the exhibition and of Richard Demarco’s life is connection. The aphorism “ Art begins in the meeting of friends “ with its implications both social and of constant new beginnings has often been associated with him. It may surprise some that a man who has so fully inhabited the often-febrile world of contemporary art is a man of deep religious conviction, and the sense of moral seriousness that has always marked his response to art and artists is rooted in this. The long term personal associations he has built up indicates that art and life are not separate. Art for him does not begin or end with an object.

Demarco’s approach means he has never sought to function as an exhibition curator as the term is commonly understood. It has neither been a matter of presenting a programme of exhibitions in which contemporaneousness or variety is conceived as sufficient raison d’etre in itself, nor of engaging lightly and moving on. On the contrary, running through his exhibitions, journeys, conferences and other events from the 1960’s onwards has been an unwavering purpose to change the terms of public discourse about art, society and politics, in both post-war and post-Cold War Europe.

The foundations of this ambitious project lie in his ethical and political commitments, but also in the relationships he has forged and sustained with individual artists, which clarified his commitment to ideas beyond aesthetics, to cultural pluralism, and the need to overcome the political and other forms of division that have so disfigured Europe during his lifetime. For that reason the idea of an endless flowing dialogue stands at the heart of this exhibition.

If we begin with his painted Map of Europe, a visual representation of the many journeys over land and sea Richard Demarco has made, we can gain an immediate understanding of his vision of Europe. “I am painting a picture of Europe which is beyond the politicians”. Italy and Scotland come together in the images of the great Italian artist MImmo Rotella and of the production of Towards MacBeth - A Prologue on the Island of Inchcolm by La Zattera di Babele in 1988 and 1989. Here the two Lady MacBeths (one Scottish and one Italian) speak the words of Shakespeare in a landscape shaped by Scottish Medieval history. The art worlds of Scotland and Italy again unite in the works of Arthur Watson and Kate Whiteford at the Venice Biennale in 1990, and of Portugal and Scotland with the paintings of Paula Rego sited in the Demarco Gallery in 1989 - a collaboration with the Gulbenkian Foundation.

The classical heritage of Ancient Greece assumes physical reality as Apollo in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s ‘ Gesamtkunstwerk ‘ at Little Sparta in Lanarkshire,
providing proof in the legend that every year Apollo feels obliged to leave his Grecian world in Delphi and travel north-westwards towards the land where the North Wind blows - the Hypoborean. That land can be found in the Hebridean world of Scotland and in Ireland’s Atlantean islands. The Celtic World is represented by an image of the architect-art patron Michael Scott holding the death mask of James Joyce. Scott helped to select the jury for the first ROSC exhibition which took place in Dublin in 1967. “ROSC” is the Old Irish word for “poetry of vision”. Richard Demarco maintains that no other language has such a word to describe the work of the visual artist.

In 1970 Richard Demarco travelled to West Germany to develop ideas for an exhibition of contemporary German art. The resulting exhibition named Strategy: Get Arts, opened at Edinburgh College of Art as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. A collaboration between the Demarco Gallery and the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, it was a ground breaking event unlike any other Festival Exhibition. The emphasis was not on the installation of
paintings and sculptures within the accepted idea of an art gallery, but rather an exhibition ‘in progress’.

Thity-six artists contributed to the show, among them Gunther Uecker, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Klaus Rinke, Konrad Klapheck, Dieter Rot, Blinky Palermo, Daniel Spoerri and Joseph Beuys. Demarco was to enjoy a special friendship with Joseph Beuys, who between 1970 and 1981 visited Scotland on eight separate occasions to further co-operate with him. In Strategy: Get Arts, Beuys exhibited Das Rudel (The Pack) and presented his Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony, a performance with Henning Christiansen. Beuys remains a seminal influence on Demarco to this day.

For many years the Demarco Gallery actively promoted cultural links with Eastern Europe, both in terms of presenting artists such as Paul Neagu in 1969, Marina Abramovic in 1973, and organising exhibitions of contemporary Polish, Romanian and Yugoslav art. Atelier ‘72, Demarco’s Festival programme of contemporary Polish visual art, literature and film and theatre, included Josef Szjana’s installation Replique Auschwitz and Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Red Rope, two heavy hawsers, one of which emerged from the windows of the Demarco Gallery, the other being anchored above the back doorway of St Mary’s Cathedral in Palmerston Place. As each point was visible from the other, the connection between both, and the unity of the rope, was thus implied.

As part of Atelier ‘72 ,Tadeusz Kantor’s Cricot 2 Theatre company performed Stanislaw Witckiewicz’s play The Water Hen. They returned in 1973 staging Lovelies and Dowdies in the former Edinburgh Poorhouse. The production was remarkable in its almost intrusive participatory treatment of the audience who were forced to move about the action and made to integrate with parts of the set designed by Kantor as a piece of sculpture, including on separate occasions Sean Connery and Joseph Beuys, who were encouraged to dress as additional characters in the play.

The images of the journalist and author Neal Ascherson and of the artist Alexander Moffat allude to, in Ascherson’s case, the long history of relations between Scotland and Poland, while Moffat is seen sitting in front of his painting of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, holding a drawing based on a performance of MoonPlay/Tattoo by The Open Stage Obala from Sarajevo he witnessed in the Demarco Gallery in 1987/88.

The exhibition draws upon the vast collection of photographs taken over the past fifty years by Richard Demarco and now regarded as leading examples of Event Photography, a new genre of modern art. The artists involved in Event Photography all used the camera but they were identified, not as photographers, but as artists in meaningful collaboration with artists. For Richard Demarco these photographs are at the heart of his life’s work and this exhibition underlines the fact that the Demarco Collection and Archive is about the future as well as the past. As he himself says “it is a total work of art which has come into being over six decades as a result of the contributions made to it by generations of artists, all inspired by the physical reality of Scotland, its history and its cultural heritage. I am grateful that I can regard it as the latest development in an on-going, living work of art. “

Alexander Moffat May 2011

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