Joseph Beuys 40th anniversary journey “to The Moor of Rannoch and the Road to the Isles”
8 May 2010
By DAVID GIBSON
No journey with Richard Demarco would be complete without reference to Joseph Beuys, an artist whose influence on him remains as vital today as his first encounter with Beuys in 1968 at Documenta 4, Kassel, when they did not speak.
Demarco wrote in Studio International, March 2005, about his subsequent 1970 encounter with Joseph Beuys at the artist’s studio in Dusseldorf;
When I eventually met Beuys, he was fully engaged with half a dozen friends who occupied his small studio … I wondered what I could offer that would make him concentrate his attention upon Scotland … I decided not to ask him to make a new and special artwork, but to concentrate instead upon the physical reality of Scotland, the stuff and substance of its landscape and its cultural heritage …Three months later, Joseph Beuys arrived in Edinburgh … I decided to take Beuys on “The Road to the Isles” – the road celebrated in song and legend, to the world of Tir N’ An Og, the Celtic “Land of the Ever Young”. …Beuys’s commitment to the Celtic world changed the course of his life’s work.
On 8 May 2010, Demarco led an expedition retracing the entire journey, which altered the course of Beuys’ lifework and arguably changed our understanding of art and how it continues to change in the early part of the 21st century. The journey was not a nostalgia trip but a reinvigorated “Edinburgh Arts” expedition. “Edinburgh Arts” is Demarco’s experimental summer school modelled on the Black Mountain College and the Free International University that included Joseph Beuys as teacher between 1972 and 1981. In 1974, Demarco wrote;
“The exhibition and journey as art lesson became manifest in Edinburgh Arts. … it was slowly developing into a ‘journey’, a search into those spaces where the Celtic and pre-historic sites are a complement to the purest forms of 20th Century Art.”
Essentially, the 40th anniversary journey, in contrast to the poorly presented “Artist Rooms” exhibition currently at The Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, recognised Beuys’s relationship with Scotland and his “Parallel Processes”.
On The Moor of Rannoch, the place which inspired Beuys’ to create his moor “action” on 13 August 1970 and Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) The Scottish Symphony for Strategy: Get Arts1, the “Edinburgh Arts” 2010 participants intuitively explored the landscape and responded by making drawings, took photographs, shared conversations and ideas. Demarco remarked that The Moor of Rannoch, as for Beuys, was their “materials” and their “classroom”. He likened the moor to a “sheet of paper” and the results did not disappoint.
The sight of some 30 artists exploring the moor, using their “tools” to make artworks, in preparation for artworks to come, remains a vivid memory of the day. Demarco the teacher remarked, “every art school should bring its students here”. For some participants, it was a spiritual awakening and little wonder since Demarco described the Moor of Rannoch as “Part of the great wilderness of Scotland. It’s the sacred place which defies the human presence”.
The expedition continued onwards to Ballachulish, stopping only to recall the moment when Beuys was photographed by the roadside with the Pap of Glencoe behind, showing the mountain in feminine form, as if to remind us that Beuys’s drawing contained so much of the feminine.
Portnachoish and Castle Stalker provided the ideal location for Demarco to explain his 1970 journey with Beuys, and more besides, which he encapsulated through use of his event photographs;
And all we did in Scotland was explore the reality of the landscape of Scotland.
And the reality included Beuys’ first experience of the Hebrides. That castle could have been one of Macbeth’s castles. You see the light, the summer light of eternity.
So when Beuys came (to Scotland), he concentrated on the whole idea of what is it that is in the very stuff and substance of Scotland, in the earth, in the sky, in the light, in the summer, in the winter, in the autumn, in the springtime. What is it that gives you at its best the poetry associated with the Celts and the genius of St Columba who Beuys regarded as one of the great revolutionary artists.
At Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Demarco described the lone figure of Beuys, on the loch’s shore, collecting found objects that he transformed into the “Loch Awe Piece” - the first artwork that Beuys created in Scotland. Consisting of a piece of bog pine in which Beuys cut a perfect notch, a lump of peat, and a Eurasian staff formed from copper, the objects were placed in a lead box. It is, perhaps, the most mysterious of all the works created by Beuys in Scotland.
Inveraray Pier provided the penultimate destination on the journey before returning to Craigcrook Castle, Edinburgh. Here in the fading light, a telephone call from Sally Holman to Richard Demarco reunited the two who accompanied Beuys on the original journey. It was, therefore, a communion of souls and a meeting of friends, something which Demarco holds dear, in all that he does creatively in life.
The 40th Anniversary Journey was proof positive of Demarco’s belief that ‘enduring and meaningful art originates in the meeting of friends’.
1. Strategy:Get Arts was a major exhibition of Contemporary German art, the first to be shown in Britain since 1938, at the official Edinburgh International Festival in 1970. The Richard Demarco Gallery and the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, presented the exhibition at Edinburgh College of Art, 23 August – 12 September 1970. The exhibition introduced Joseph Beuys to the English-speaking parts of Europe, together with thirty- four other artists, not all of them German, and some closely identified with the Fluxus movement. Strategy:Get Arts has proved to be an historic exhibition, contemporaneous with ‘When Attitudes become Form’ placing Richard Demarco in the same context as Harald Szeemann, as curators of exhibitions whose process of creation is now recognised as a work of art or re-invented the idea of the exhibition as an art form in itself.