When Richard Demarco brought Joseph Beuys to Edinburgh College of Art as part of the 1970 Edinburgh International Festival exhibition of iconoclastic contemporary German artists, Strategy: Get Arts, it fostered a relationship between Beuys and Scotland which impacted and influenced both ever after. The latest encounter comes in one of the National Galleries of Scotland's ongoing Artist Rooms series of touring shows, which puts some of Beuys' fat and felt based work into Timespan, the Helmsdale based gallery and museum which is the only public contemporary art gallery in Sutherland.
Given Beuys' focus on the environment and notions of community, the connection with a relatively isolated village such as Helmsdale is clear, as Timespan curator Frances Davis explains.
“For us it makes perfect sense,” Davis says. “Not just to do with the symbolic properties of fat and felt in terms of nourishment and warmth, but the engagement with the materials in general. There;s a real kind of social, political and ecological strain running throughout all of Beuys' practice that's still relevant today, particularly in terms of what it means to present his work in a small rural community and how that community works together.”
To highlight Beuys' continuing influence, Timespan will be appointing a yet to be announced artist in residence, who will take up their post a month prior to the Beuys show, working in situ throughout its run. A one-day symposium will also take place, bringing together some of the show's concerns and opening them out in an ongoing dialogue that remains at the heart of Beuys' notion of social sculpture.
“We accept that there might not be a wider knowledge about Beuys' work,” says Davis, “so bringing in a contemporary artist to respond to the work before the show opens is a way of looking at how Beuys has a continuing influence on contemporary artistic practice. That's also about building a relationship with the local community, whereby a contemporary artist can build a larger conversation and sense of anticipation before the exhibition opens.
“One of the great things about the Artist Rooms project,” Davis observes, “is how it recognises the importance of how work by artists like Beuys can relate to and are relevant to areas outwith a central belt context. Our audience is very seasonal, and that in itself affects how our work is seen. Beuys' influence on art goes beyond art itself, and in its social and environmental concerns looks at important questions about how we live.
Scottish Art News, May 2015