Professor Richard Demarco Opening Speech Royal College of Art, London, UK 8.10.2015
I have taken this exhibition and the life and work of Robert Slingsby, very seriously for many years and all I needed to see was one image representing this body of work. I feel inspired, quite overwhelmed by the capacity that Robert has for making art for the right reasons. Iím sad that he lives so far away; but in every sense he is a great European artist and he has focused his attention and his considerable powers of concentration upon where he lives.
I am overwhelmed by the physical reality of these works of art. What is the instrument, the extended part of his hands, to make these? Is it really about a labour of love that no-one could imagine? I know that this object here is a painstaking work involving; I donít know, how many tens of thousands of decisions using something which essentially is an instrument for drawing. And I am amazed by it. I know of very few artists with that capacity to make art of that order.
But thatís not all. Then thereís the subject matter. And this both inspires and horrifies me. Because, this is the image of everything I believe in, in terms of world culture. Iíve had the great privilege of working with a human being who is the number one artist of the twentieth century. He was an extraordinary human being who like Robert cared about the great problems of our time. His name was Joseph Beuys. The message is terrifying, it is the defense of everything that the art world should stand for, but which doesnít; the defense of truth and beauty and culture. So if youíve got any sense of morality in terms of what art should do, cause Iím not defending these in terms of their aesthetic value, thatís easy enough, standing in front of them you wonít believe theyíre made by the human hand, but Iím talking about their defense of our moral standards; our moral compass in the art world has gone awry.
They tell us loud and clear what the real role of the artist is. I dare not compare most artists I know about, especially the rich ones, and famous ones, and the celebrity ones, and the ones who are given knighthoods, Iím talking about ones, what I am getting at, is weíre in the presence of a one-off. And Iíve known the art world in London since the sixties, and I work with many artists, and Iíve put on something like 3000 exhibitions, most of the time I was wasting my time, because not many of the artists could provide me with this experience.
& here we have a way of life that we desperately care about, a defense of a way of life that will disappear from the surface of the earth. A way of life and an actual physical reality which is so beautiful, so perfect, itís like the garden of Eden, the flowers that grow there, the trees that grow there, the great river that runs through that extraordinary world in Ethiopia.
At this moment this beautiful garden of Eden is being destroyed, and replaced with a desert. And a great dam will be built so that the river which has been there for millennia, and which has given the way of life to these people so that they can be, as Beuys said, everyone a living artist.
It makes a mockery of the clothes we wear. It makes a mockery of our educational system. You should spend hours here. You have the responsibility to tell people to come here, because they wonít see anything like it and will not have the faintest idea that this is really about the future of the world, but how we deal with our environment.
And so, itís about global warming. Itís about an economic system which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. Itís also about the beauty in the physical reality of that human being. Think about that. Now Iím a professor of a British university of European cultural studies. And I can see that I represent a culture which is not Africa, but which is the world market. Because that is normally where youíd sell art. These people live a simple way of life. But they use everything that comes to their hands to say something about the dignity and beauty of the human presence.
I ask you now to contemplate in silence upon the framework. And upon the information on the frame. Itís a very exact, precise, scientific, mathematical, astronomical, coming together of science and art and here you find exactly why this person is able to be the way they are. And the forces raised against this human being and all the human beings here, are so powerful, that this will soon be merely a statement of something beautiful that once existed.
Iíve seen so many exhibitions here, but Iíve never seen anything like this. Iím asking you to consider, have you ever seen anything like this, are you going to go away and say how this might be a picture of your own future. Sooner or later it will happen to all of us. Letís think of the next twenty years. Itís about, not just global warming but how we use nature. Itís about the fact that what we really want is for these people to look like us. So how can I say it gives me great pleasure? Of course it gives me great pleasure to be with my friends, this is all about friendship, not about anything else. Without friendship no art, worth tuppence, can exist. Art originates with the meetings of friends and their shared value systems. Their hopes and aspirations, and I am so pleased to be here because this exhibition is the result of that. I think itíd take about, I donít know, two months, three months to make this? And then a frame which is a work of art in itself, these works are going to question all of you, theyíre to question not your role in the art world, Iím not interested in that in the slightest, but your humanity.
So be very careful when you approach them, and if you havenít got the time tonight, youíve got to make time later, to come here preferably in daylight, because this room changes and take a very good look at the physical reality, every square inch, and work out how there could possible be a human being on the planet, focused on making this, whilst we might be doing something else.
I will end by simply saying, I have not been able to take my eyes off that screen over there. Without that we would not be able to understand it, the full significance of each of these images. That screen, containing these images is a warning to all of us that very soon we could be living in a world which is unstomachable. I mean that. So Iíd like to end by saying Iím amazed, grateful, deeply touched that Iíve been asked to speak. I apologise for being so serious, but how can I respond to anything else when I am faced with the deadly seriousness of these. Ask yourself the question: have you ever seen anything like it in your lives? Did you think you were coming to yet another Royal College of Art Exhibition? Did you? Because you were very mistaken. This is something else. I think this exhibition must be regarded not as an exhibition - it is a total artwork on an enormous scale. I think these works are beyond price.
So, I convey, congratulate everyone who has fought so hard for this to happen.
So this exhibition means somehow I would imagine a victory? Winning against the forces of madness could be a miracle if something could stop the great machine thatís going to make millionaires out of the people involved. Theyíre going to replace what we can see there with a machine for money making. Be worried now, because the last thing that I can think of that we should be doing, is building new frontiers, new boundaries, when we should be thinking of how to build the global village. And the villages these people live in are the place we live in.
Thatís the simple message of this exhibition.
UPDATED 2nd July 2016