Video HeritageThe way we house art and the way we treat our artistic heritage have become the focus of art itself. Keith MacIsaac’s solo exhibition aat the Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh in July was prompted by the observation tht ‘We have a difficult time in dealing with antiquities’. ‘Bridgeness’, one of two video works in the exhibition, is designed to put pressure on the Museum of Scotland ‘to properly reinstall the “Bridgeness” distance slab’ and contains a protracted criticism of the museum’s curatorial approach. According to MacIsaac, the slab ‘is the canon work of Roman art in Scotland. If you look in books of late Roman non-veristic art, you’ll see pictures of the Bridgeness slab.’ The distance slabs were created to mark out distance along the Antonine Wall and to glorify the Empire and, as the Bridgeness Slab makes explicit, the reign of ‘Emperor Ceasar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius.’ Twnety of them are in the possession of the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow.
But MacIsaac is concerned with the one in possession of the Museum of Scotland. Found at the eastern terminus of the Antonine Wall, near Bo’ness in West Lothian, the Bridgeness is considered to be the best of the bunch. Whereas other slabs feature text alone, this one depicts a Roman soldier on horseback, rearing up over dismembered tribesmen, and a commander of the Second Augusta Legion pouring a libation on an altar in preparation for a ceremony of purification. MacIsaac makes strong criticisms of the restoration as well as the setting of the piece. They’ve shoved putty into the lab and left the think looking really bad—they’ve set it into the wall. It looks like an Italian pizzeria, where they buy faux Donatello reliefs and stick them onto the wall. That’s fine in a pizzeria, but with a work of this kind it’s a disgrace. I’m convinced they don’t know the worth of what they have,’ he says.
Fraser Hunter, Head of the Iron Age, Roman & Early Historic section in the Department of Archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland disagreees that the piece is not valued. ‘The archaeological collections in the Museum of Scotland are all very strong, and we make every effort to give objects their due prominence. The Bridgeness Slab has a whole wall to itself in the Museum of Scotland, which in a gallery with 5,400 objects and finite space, is a clear indication of its importance,’ he says.Edinburgh Art FestivalThe Dia Art Foundation’s current curator, Lynne Cooke, has been invited by the newly formed Edinburgh Art Festival steering committee to visit the festival this year ‘for the purpose of research and development’, according to a spokesperson for the EAF. The Dia Art Foundation was established in New York in 1974 to enable ‘extraordinary artistic projects that might not otherwise be realised.’ As well as operating a gallery in New York’s Chelsea and large-scale site-related projects around New York, Dia maintains huge works in the wild west such as De Maria’s ‘The Lightening Field’ (1977), near Quemado, New Mexico. Work by Judd and Chamberlain, in Marfa, Texas, was begun with Dia’s assistance in the late 1970s and is now operated with their support.
British Art ShowThe last time The British Art Show unfurled its flag was in Edinburgh four years ago. This year the Hayward Gallery, on behalf of the Arts Council of England has chosen an English venue for the opening. BALTIC in Gateshead will host the work of 49 artists selected by Andrea Schlieker, curator of the Fourth Plinth Project and Alex Farquharson, lecturer at the Royal College of Art in London, under one roof. Artists from Edinburgh’s doggerfisher gallery rosta are conspicuously well represented. Old and new work by the Scottish-based artists Claire Barclay, Nathan Coley, Lucy Skaer and Roasalind Nashashibi will be exhibited. Barclay’s work will include the piece that Paisley Art Gallery and Museum recently purchased on the National Collection Scheme. Nashashibi will show collages of newspaper, ink and other media rather than the film work for which she is better known.
Solar SystemsA group of local people with mental health problems is re-creating the solar system. Every Thursday members meet at the Artlink offices in West Lothian and work on a planet. They are following the example of David Steuart Erskine, Earl of Buchan, 1742—1829, a pivotal figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, who originally erected a scale model of the solar system in the grounds of Kirkhill House. The Earl was a supporter and friend of Burns and the radical thinkers Thomas Muir and Thomas Payne. He was also founder of the Scociety of Antiguaries Scotland and a key figure in the development of the Portrait Gallery. He was equally interested in science. In its time, the ‘Kirkhill Pillar’ was a work of art, a historical document, an astonomical chart, a record of scientific ahievement as well as a totem inscribed with text from Virgil’s Georgics.
Thanks to Artlink, the ‘Pillar’ is again to provide the template for a plan of the solar system. Donald Urquhart 9not the Scottish artist who was nominated for the Becks’ Futures award) and lorna Waite have already led their small team in the creation of Mercury, which is a small sculpture in lead that features a scale model of the planet. Urquhart explains: ‘We are currently working on ‘Earth’, which will lie alongside the ‘Moon’ about 200 metres from the ‘Sun’ beside a playpark behind housing in Craigseaton. A bed of blue and white flowers will represent the Earth and Moon. The proportions will reflect their respective sizes.’
Fortunately Artlink has just received a letter of support from the local education authority, allowing the installation of a two-metre light box on a water tower by the western wing of the Academy in order to represent the Sun. ‘Venus’ too, is on the drawing board and permission received for ‘jupiter’ to be built on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. A private housing scheme has jumped the queue a little however. ‘They were really enthusiastic about the project and wanted something for their public space but we are trying to stick to the scale as laid out by the Earl. So all that we could find that fitted in was 279 Thule, which is a D-type asteroid. It would be too small to see to an exact scale so we’ve given them a sandstone bench inscribed with a translation of Virgil,’ says Urquhart. Scale is not the project’s only problem. With only one planet and one asteroid completed, it is set to roll out over years rather than months. In addition, the group are sticking to the Earl of Buchan’s scale even though we know of more planets than even he did. As a consequence, ‘Pluto’ will be five and a half millimetres wide and several kilometres from the sun back at Broxburn Academy. Not just a great idea for a public art project but a fitting tribute to a great figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. The Earl of Buchan knew a thing or two about symbolism. It was he who gave George Washington the gift of a snuffbox made from part of the tree Wallace was supposed to have sheltered in.Skateraw
It seems as if Richard Demarco is now more important to Scotland as a repository than as an impressario. The British Library Sound Archive’s National Life Story Collection (NLSC), with the financial help of the Scottish Arts Council, is attempting to record his life story for future generations. In addition, Ewan Macarthur, Head of Fine Art at Dundee Universtiy, is leading a team who will digitise the 250,000 photographs still in the great man’s possission, thanks to a £312.327 grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Board. It would appear that the oft-neglected figure of Demarco is finally being accorded the status he deserves. Much as been made of his new venture in Skateraw near Dunbar.
After hearing a radio programme last November in which Demarco explained that he was no longer able to house his archive in Edinburgh, farmer Johnnie Warson provided Demarco with an industrial barn with a surface area of 840 square metres, in which to house it. ‘I felt, here’s a guy who has worked tirelessly to promote Scotland. His archive is in boxes that nobody has access to. Let’s give him a chance to show it and in doing so why don’t we help focus the nation’s attention on 21st century farming and land management, bringing an urban interest onto a working farm,’ says Watson. With farming undergoing a crisis as subsidies for food production are discontinued and switched to custodianship of the countryside, farmers like Watson are looking for new ways to bring money into the rural ecomony. Demarco is ecstatic about the site. ‘Skateraw is in an amazing position. Johnnie’s farm is transected by the A1 and the main train route from London to Edinburgh, bringing 16.5 million passengers through this site. You couldn’t buy that kind of footfall,’ he says.
Among his many plans are ‘a big sculpture along the lines of the “Angel of the North”,
but a gateway to the real north’, as well as ‘an approach to British Energy to work with them’. British Energy owns Torness Nuclear Power Station around which Watson’s land is situated.
Demarco hopes to re-unite his archive with the portion that the National Galleries bought in 1995. The National Galleries have agreed in principle providing adequate security can be provided in the barn. However, according to his landlord Watson, security of a more familiar kind seems to be eluding Demarco. ‘I put the building up for him and I’ve given it to him rent free this year and a year runs out in November. Richard’s happy to have his archive here but it can’t stay in an insulated farm building ad infinitum and I can’t give it to him indefinitely,’ he says.
Ewan Macarthur, whose team is cataloguing and digitising Demarco’s work, says he is ‘very keen to see the archive stay where it is’. However, it sounds as if Demarco’s travels are not yet over. The barn will be open during August, with buses running daily from Edinburgh, and a symposium on the housing of art will be held there.Red RosesThe influence of Balvenie Castle and one Margaret Douglas has convinced Alison Watt to eschew the paler palette of recent works such as ‘Still’. After a three-month residency at Glenfiddich Distillery, Watt has made another developmental shift. Hearing the story of how Balvenie was turned over to Margaret Douglas and her husband, John Stewart, first Earl of Atholl in 1460, she has painted a series of pictures in red. The story goes that when James II crushed the querulous Black Douglases, he took pity on the fair Margaret who had suffered the misfortune of being married to not one but two of the infamous family and married her off to Atholl. In addition, he re-installed her in Balvenie and charged that the following rent be paid: ‘one red rose at the chief messuage of the said lordship, at the feast of the nativity of St John the Baptist… if asked only.’