Art and Life
Three shows at Edinburgh College of Art exhibited in association with the Demarco European Art Foundation raise some thought provoking
questions about the role of i
the artist in society. Robert Montgomery gets his head round some big ideas.
It is 25 years since Strategy: ( let A rts brought ligures like Joseph Beuys. Gerard Richter and Blinky Palermo to the corridors of Edinburgh College of Art. before they were the acclaimed international ﬁgures they became. and woke the Edinburgh art world out of complacency and conservatism forever. well some of it anyway.
For the first time since the 70s, Richard Demarco and ECA are working together this Festival. with an exciting programme of three exhibitions and two performance events. The largest Bread & Salt is a distillation ofthc second annual exhibition of the Soros Centre For Contemporary Arts in Vilnius Lithuania and it maintains Demarco‘s orientation towards Eastern Europe. The show has the distinct flavour of a culture emerging from the containment of Communism into a social situation that. according to curator Raminita .lurenaite. is still ‘uneasy and insecure‘ but a cultural life that is rich and intensive. There is an emphasis on earthy materials and black and white photography that seems to characterise a certain Eastern European sensibility. Some of the sculpture is really strong. Darius Bastys‘s desk covered with straw-stuffed hessian has a Beuysian feel and lgnas Simelis has constructed a squint rocket shape from rough wood that stretches towards the ceiling with a kind of mock heroism. like a really low-tech spaceship. ‘I use these materials because they bring with them a sense of time. the life of the forest.‘ says lgnas.
Gintautas Trimakas's minimal still-life studies are among the most effective photographs. Their quiet simplicity contrasts with the melodrama of both Snieguole Michelkeviciute's and Vidmantas llciukas’s figure studies and Aleksandras Macijauskas's record of a Lithuanian vet’s surgery.
There is painting too: Aligirnantas Kuras's naive style carries a lot of
l l l l
Joseph Beuys with Henning Christiansen pertormlng the Scottish Symphony - Celtic Klnloch llannoch, 1970
humour especially in his study of primitive public toilets In the Railway Stationl. There is a notable absence of abstract painting which indicates that the influence of Malevich and the Russian Constructivists doesn't predominate in the Independent States.
The Danish artist Henning Christiansen collaborated with Joseph Beuys in 1970 on their fabled performance Action Celtic ( K inloc/t Rannoch) Scottish Symphony at ECA. In a rare and important visit to the UK. he returns to present a homage to
5 Beuys in the studio where they
performed Action. The new performance Action ‘Celtic Mouth' involves a ‘soundscape'. a grand piano. one hundred kilos of salt and Ursula Christiansen (Henning's wife) reading her text Beuys Seen Through Flatt/)ert. The salt remains as an installation throughout the Festival.
‘We were laughing very line together.’ says Christiansen of his association with Beuys in the 60s and 70s. Christiansen is also an important figure in his own right as a composer and performance artist. and a participant in the FLUXUS movement. FLUXUS provide unprecedented opportunities for artists to experiment with social
' space in the 1960‘s and laid
groundwork for much of the performance and installation work that happens today. ‘Like Beuys lj'e/t FLUXUS and we knew it was another word for Art — at first we said Anti-Art about what we did but after a while we said FLUXUS' says Christiansen. A characteristic of FLUXUS was its refusal to see boundaries between disciplines. what Christiansen describes as “multi-medial thinking'. Christiansen‘s return is an important event for Edinburgh — and recognition that an important moment in the history of the Avant-Garde happened in the city. .
Another exciting performance event will be presented by John Latham. a leading British artist of his generation who shows with the Lisson Gallery in London and has work in the Tate. For
the ECA event he has instructed
, Edinburgh advocate John Simpson to
conduct an investigation into what he describes as the ‘Contraductioncloud‘
surrounding Science. Philosophy &
Religion. The proposal is that they are all flawed systems. and he challenges anyone from the disciplines to come and argue their case. The argument is simple he says — neither system can
' fully describe existential reality. ‘You 3 can’t have nothing in Physics. Art
: reinserts the person back into the framework, physics keeps it otrt:
theology can‘t accept freedom of
i thought. and philosophy went dead in
l9l2 with Wittgenstein." he says boldly.
Latham‘s inquisitive and cross- disciplinary approach has much in common with Beuys's maxim that everyone is an artist. btrt Latham would add that the artist is also an ‘incidental‘ person in society. In l‘)75 Latham was
j himself incidental in the Scottish ()ffrce where he undertook an experimental
f artist‘s placement in 1975. His major
5 role was to advise the civil servants
‘what to do with derelict sites’. He is
- bringing a collection of work to ECA
1 including his well known one second
pain/[Ith that indicate his experience in
Edinburgh. Some of the works on
canvas refer to ‘The Niddrie Woman'—
a name he gave to a group of shale
bings in West Lothian that he discovered during the Scottish ()ffrce . placement.
The work of Latham. Beuys and Christiansen teaches that the boundaries between art and society are not frxed. Artists are people too.
i communicators that can change things.
Maybe we will learn that many ofthc boundaries we perceive are imaginary.
Bread & Salt — Lithuanian Sculpture. Painting. Photography; Homage to Beuys by Henning Christiansen; John Lat/rant — Art Subsuntes Science. all
2 until 2 Sept. John Lat/ram Event ’ l0ant—2pnt. Sunday /3 Aug. Edinburgh
' College QfArt. Lauriston Place.
Four unmissible shows to look out for this Festival
- I Marina Abramovic The wild woman
of performance art exhibits a selection of her sculptural work. Challenging stuff. get down and get involved. The l’ruitnutrket Gallery. until 9 Sept.
I Light From The Dark Boom An inspired journey through the past 150 years of Scottish photography. Everything from Hill and Adamson’s
. beautiful early portraits of life in a
Scottish fishing village to stunning new
' work from aerral photographer Patrrcra
h'lacDonald. Don't miss the Camera Obscura. Royal Scottish Academy tutti! /5 ON.
I Andres Serrano Controversial photographs from one of America's most talked-about artists exhibited for the first time in Scotland. See it and make up your own mind. Portfolio Gallery. [2 Aug—2 Sept, 5-23 Sept.
I John Bellany: Print-maker & John Bellany: New Paintings
A major festival exhibition frorn one of Scotland's finest artists that features new paintings and a retrospective of his lesser-known printed work spanning the last 25 years. Pure Dead Brilliant. 'Ialliot Rice Gallery tutti! ll Sept.
.-‘ xi ll t 1‘ R -\i H 0 List [‘j at. lo Q._+‘.6 5’
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The List 11-17 Aug I995 73