In yesterday’s blog I described the way I became more familiar with Beuy’s work through the Demarco archives, but my perspective was also coloured by articles I’d read about Beuys..
There was an amount of controversy around the story of Beuys having been healed by tartar tribes with felt and fat after being shot down in his plane, but to me, the story serves its purpose; to transmit a visceral sense of what Beuys understood as the important elements of our existence – for example protection, nurture and survival. Also compassion for our fellow human beings, regardless of ideologies or comparative status.
Going through the archives , I dscovered a short video made around 1970 when Beuys visited Scotland at Demarco’s invitation. I was immediately fascinated by the grainy black and white footage of a windscreen wiper, filmed from inside one of those tiny 70s style cars, rain lashing against the screen and views of the Scottish Highlands flashing past. Eventually the car stops and Beuys walks out onto Rannoch Moor.
There’s something in his hand which appears to be pulsing and I wonder if it’s a live animal. In close-up I can see it’s a lump of gelatin formed into the shape of a heart, Beuys then makes a hole in the ground and buries the gelatin heart in the earth of Rannoch Moor, suggesting a healing gesture. This possibly refers to the painful history of Highlanders over the centuries – the massacre of 1692 in nearby Glencoe following the beginning of the Jacobite uprising, and later the Clearances .
Today Rannoch Moor is appreciated by tourists and mountaineers as an area of stark beauty, but its tree-less emptiness is due to ecological change as well as the effects of tree clearing for sheep during the Highland Clearances
Beuys died in 1984 of a heart condition. I once interviewed Richard Demarco as part of my
post graduate studies in Museum and Gallery curating and asked about the ways Beuys had influenced him as a gallery director and arts curator, to which he replied; ‘I miss him, he made me feel not alone. When he first visited the Demarco Gallery he questioned it and found it wanting, and though it was painful, having to change, I knew he was right and it was inevitable’.
The subsequent changes, which included supporting an art exhibition of Jimmy Boyle who had been imprisoned for murder and was on parole, resulted in The Demarco Gallery’s Arts Council funding being cut. For Demarco and Beuys, the exhibition had been a natural development of the idea of art as a healing or redemptive influence.
On first meeting Beuys, while on parole, Boyle remarked ‘I am the coyote’. He’d seen Beuys’s work from 1968; ‘I like America and America Likes Me’. In which Beuys spent three days in a small space with a coyote. The coyote, similar to a fox in the UK, is seen as vermin in America.
For Beuys it represented aspects of native American culture that he was interested in, and the notion that society should include outsiders or those who can’t align themselves with mainstream approaches or ideologies. This concept related to Beuy’s concept of ‘social sculpture’ – the idea that art communicates across the spectrum of society – the opposite of exclusive or elitist presentations of art. One of Beuy’s most well-known statements is ‘everyone is an artist’, by which he meant we can all be creative, we can step beyond our modus operandi, however un-comfortable that may feel, to communicate with others and create new ways of thinking or collaborating
A legacy of this idea might be multi-disciplinary art projects – acknowledgement of the diverse influences and interests involved in creativity. Also the idea that artworks are not just a product in themselves, but that art has a deeper, more profound human value, going beyond materialism.
Lastly on a personal note, I remember attending an art exhibition organised by the Demarco Foundation in 2000, swanning around in a nice dress chatting to people, as you do at exhibitions. Richard Demarco said to me ‘I hope you know why you’re here’. I’m not 100% sure I did at that time!
But I also remember, a few years later (while driving to Stoke on Trent where I began work as an arts curator for the NHS) listening to the interview I’d taped with Richard Demarco where he discussed Beuys and the context of art; ‘You know where you are in a gallery, there’s the art on the walls, in gold frames or whatever, but though it’s difficult, as an artist you have to take the road that’s harder, it can be more painful’.
Working for the NHS was more painful, Demarco was right about that. But it was valuable. Nowadays the influence of Beuys and Demarco on my work as an artist, is my wish to embrace a wider context of art. Although I exhibit in galleries, I avoid government funding and try to position the work I do, modest as it is, in a setting that has an everyday context which I hope interweaves with other areas and ways of life.
In the next few days towards the end of 50 paintings of Eigg, I hope to include an interview with Norah Barnes, manager of Eigg’s Eco Centre
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