Macbeth (Inchcolm Island)
The road to Meikle Seggi
Stands Scotland where it did?
T(Macbeth IV, 3) here is an ancient route north-west out of Edinburgh towards Argyll beyond Loch Awe to the moors of Rannoch. This is the `road to Meikle Seggi', at least so Richard Demarco tells me, a signposted place which apparently leads into a bush, and which in the Demarco scheme of things has come to represent the larger cultural voyage that leads all over the world. It's a big idea, I'm told, and an important one for Scotland, placing her at the heart of a philosophy in which a sense of the past is essential to any understanding of present or future. Demarco has been a key figure in the European avant-garde since the early Six- ties and was responsible for introducing Joseph Beuys to Scotland. Beuys, one of the most important names in conceptual art, saw Scotland as the 'Celtic heartland of Europe'. As Demarco puts it, 'he is the man who gave Scotland back to Europe; that was his job, he wanted Scotland to be taken into account'. When Demarco first lured him to Edinburgh with postcards of moors, mountains and sheep, he replied, 'I see the land of Macbeth'. It is no accident that Demarco's main scheme for this year's Festival is a performance of 'the Scottish play' on Inchcolm island, set among the 12th-century abbey and ruins, and it is also strangely fitting that everything should go Wrong at the last minute. La Zattera di Babele, the Sicilian company scheduled to Perform, were forced, through illness, to pull out, leaving Demarco with a week to reorganise and a characteristically philo- sophical attitude. 'I cannot stand man being in control. I cannot bear art as part of the world where man is in control. It's a load of baloney.'
What, then, of Edinburgh in all this? For three weeks the world descends on this northern town and builds itself an art nest. As Demarco describes it, 'You hole up in a very protected place', but a place, it seems, that has little concept of exactly where it is. At the moment the coast of Fife could be a
million miles away from the Edinburgh Festival.' This Macbeth builds into the Festival the need to make a journey (included in the price of the ticket) and by doing so not only moves into the Thane of Fife's kingdom, but gives some sense of the space that is Edinburgh, breaking out of the self-contained cultural feast on the far shore. It's a load of baloney, in Demarco's words, but standing on the pier one night being piped aboard the Maid of the Forth I was afraid that baloney might be the word for it. For a moment it felt more like tourism than an adventure into the Celtic heartland. I should have had more faith.
Demarco's Macbeth isn't Shakespeare's play, but that isn't the point. Under John Bett's direction, and with him in the role of master of ceremonies, narrator and fool, the performance moves across the island. Gaelic, the pibroch, Inchcolm's seabirds and some very beautiful choral pieces create a peculiar and appropriate sound. The audience, as part of the adventure, are required to dress accordingly, and I felt strange, on a Sunday evening, standing in the pouring rain wrapped in a grey blanket and holding a piece of Scots pine (Birnam wood has come to Dunsinane). The island is also the setting for site- specific sculptures created by Dutch artists on the Macbeth theme. They are not incorporated into this year's production, but the possibilities are there. It isn't yet a
Celtic realisation of 'the total work of art', but it's on its way. Beuys would have loved it.
Environmental concern is shared by ail artists who tread the vague and narrow line between conceptual art and performance, It's all about boundaries and definitions: if you don't have definitions you don't haVe boundaries. Demarco's island performantia stems from the same instinct that inspires Christo to wrap coastlines in plastic and Beuys to plant 7,000 trees. Landscape art deals with the natural world in the most direct way possible, literally at ground level, and forces questions that are crucial at a time when the natural world is under siege from the modern world and the art world has taken up lodging in the market- place. The Scottish contribution, shaped by the primal forces like the nature of the land itself, is a point that could easily seem." laboured, but it is worth noting the rangp of northern artists who share something of this sense of the artist as explorer. Mark Boyle's Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a physical exploration of the journey, Ian Hamilton Finlay investigates, among other things, the balance between language and visual art in the great outdoors: both these two made their debut with Demarco. Andy Goldsworthy has recently returned froth making snow and ice sculpture at the North Pole and last week mounted an installa- tion, Snowballs in Summer, in Glasgow's Richard Demarco amid the ruins on Inchcolm island Photo courtesy of Scotland on Sunday old Museum of Transport. Also last week Peter Davidson staged his most recent opera, St Fillan in the Dawn, in a cave in Pittenweem, Fife. George Wylie's 'paper boat', launched on Clydeside earlier this Year, is somewhere on its way to London, and last year he suspended a full-size grass locomotive over Glasgow's Garden Festiv- al. There is a political statement in all this, certainly, but most important is the chal- lenge to the brain to meet with the eye. Demarco's exploration of Eastern Europe has drawn criticism that he ignores what is going on closer to home. True, his gallery rarely exhibits Scottish artists, but only because he sees little value in putting them in an arena where they will only speak with each other. He wants to expand their dialogue, not restrict it. Next year he is taking a show of 35 Scottish artists to Poland and, in collaboration with the Scottish Sculpture Trust, is responsible for the first-ever Scottish stand at the Venice Biennale. He is a loyal supporter of Boyle, Finlay and Wylie, with whom he is col- laborating on a scheme, 'Burns, Beuys, and Beyond', for Glasgow 1990, which he hopes will involve Macbeth, the island, and an even more creative voyage than that by ferry.
Demarco intends the Inchcolm Macbeth to become an annual fixture, extending to Edinburgh a sense of where it stands in time and place. Entertainment and show- biz are important festival components, but are not the whole story. Inchcolm in the rain the other night at least made some people question the process of buying a theatre ticket, and as a continuing and evolving tradition it may in time raise some larger questions as well.