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ArtWork 74 June/July 1995

Voyaging beyond the bath-tub… George Wyllie's MY WORDS

It was Roland Barthes who explained that the real voyage of discovery was not in the enclosed capsule of Jules Verne’s ‘Nautilus’ submarine, but rather aboard Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘Drunken Boat’, sailing downstream as it pleased. And so, an adventurous voyage is most unlikely in the confined waters of a bathtub, but the illusion of that possibility persists, and is comparable to art that never ventures beyond the gallery.

The intrepid voyager Richard Demarco recently made a landfall after a voyage beyond the bath-tub. He had set sail over 20 years ago, setting his happy compass to follow the Celtic Spiral and, by circumnavigating the long way round by way of Miekle Seggie, he left behind the plastic ducks and the synthetic foam of convention. ‘But’, muttered the voices within the bath… ‘it can’t be art’.

All that time ago, Demarco had intuitively realised that the real adventure of art lay beyond the gallery, and the new direction had to be a journey in the company of other like minds. His gallery became the depot for fitting out and enticing a crew, and the walls were given over to reporting these explorations. His travel agent became more important than his wine supplier.

At worst, which was still pretty good, he embarked on a sea-going form of café society.

At best it was a spiralling expedition – the ‘Artist as explorer’ experiencing first-hand the nature of other art and other artists in other parts beyond the seas. The creative dynamic of art was guaranteed to all who sailed with him. This art on the move was brilliant – ‘performance on the move’ for anyone seeking a definition. It scintillated, it was too good to be true, and too good to be funded.

He followed a route which linked the latent energy of ancient stones. First, to the invigoration of the standing stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, and from there, a rambling investigative journey through Europe to the Mediterranean and megalithic temple of Hagar Qim on the island of Malta. Everywhere the energy of interaction was in the air.

The entire idea was precipitated by his unembarrassed passion to embark on an adventure of the human spirit, and to share it with others. It is now evident that no one but Demarco could have stimulated this unique art work and the journey and the creative energy it generated. It gives the clearest indication that Demarco, he of the maligned gallery, is truly a great artist.

It is nigh impossible to explain this sort of activity on an application form for funding, and yet this fundamental dynamism is essential for any art having the capacity to extend concepts beyond conventional definitions. If more definitions are required, try ‘concepts on the move’ or ‘time-based art beyond the immediate’… but, go on, be brave, just call it ‘art’.

As a consequence of seeming too much like a package holiday, Demarco’s pilgrim ship was torpedoed by a Scottish Arts Council who, until his decision to go afloat, had always endured that his vessel was well found. He never quite got over being sunk by his own side, but that’s what can happen if you venture beyond the tub.

The salty flavour of this indefinable activity was not to the taste of art established palates, and Captain Demarco had to take a lot of stick for his vision. He was compelled to play some silly games to satisfy silly rules in his attempt to survive, and he became the easy target for ridicule and rejection. Seagoing sure is tough beyond the bath-tub.

Is it the cosy comfort of the bath-tub that makes those within it disinclined to raise their vision above its rim? It’s getting pretty crowded in that tub, and its easy comfort entices other bath-bound navigators to jump in. The art world could soon be sliding in a mega tub, blowing bubbles amongst the ducks and scrubbing each others backs. By sheer numbers they will be able to convince themselves that this is indeed the real world, but only because of the soap in their eyes.

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  UPDATED 2nd July 2016