Richard Dmearco and Aletia Upstairs

The Artist as Explorer

When I last met Richard Demarco, he was talking about retiring, stepping back from the gesamtkunstwerk which is his life and persona. He said ‘…there were no more five year plans.’ Of course this was a rueful reflection on his unique contribution, not only to to the arts in Edinburgh, but his advocacy of the arts, the humanities and progressive cultural idealism in Scotland, and by its very definition his remarkable contribution to Scotland’s position in Europe and the world.

‘The Artist as Explorer’, fixes the audience in a specific cultural landscape. In many ways it is a disappeared world and this is poignantly articulated by Aletia Upstairs, a spectacular performance artist and scholar. Aletia has finely calibrated part of the  mass of the Demarco archive as, obelisk-like, she intones a prayer-like litany, reading from a scroll, a list of the great artists, intellectuals and performers Demarco has worked and collaborated with over the many years of the Edinburgh Festival.

Aletia Upstairs’ masterly construct intersperses Demarco’s intense delivery of memory, experience and overarching vision, with quietly understated meditations of love, loss and intimations of mortality, accompanied by a simple solo guitar.

As a close interdependency is established, the show veers off at tangential, anecdotal byways, delivered as an improvised stream of consciousness, yet subtly reeled back in to Demarco’s central thematic concerns by the skilful intermediacy of Upstairs; returning Richard and his audience back to the Road to Meikle Seggie.

The Road to Meikle Seggie by Richard Demarco

The Road to Meikle Seggie by Richard Demarco. Pencil & Watercolour, 1976.

That road is realised by Fernanda Zei in a small gallery as part of the Summerhall complex. Here Richard has established the hub of his archive in a series of rooms and installations which present the actuality of Demarco’s world and legacy. Parts of this are read and sensitively handled by Terry Ann Newman and Jack Kausch.

Demarco has been involved in every Edinburgh Festival since the inception 70 years ago, in 1947, and at 87, he performs two shows a day for ten days of the 2017 Festival. The physical exertion of such a task indicates the driven nature of Demarco’s passionate defence of the arts, and the unique position his experience places him in.

Watching Demarco is an unforgettable happening. He channels his performance energy, gleaned from the masters, Kantor and Beuys, and commands his space. Ultimately he is an erstwhile Lear, fighting against the dying of the light. His frailty embeds itself as part of a transformative process; the humanity of his experience, the witness of that experience summarised in this barely concealed rant against the deadening of the human spirit. Sublime.

5 Stars

This show’s run has ended.

Curated, created and performed by Aletia Upstairs with the artist Richard Demarco.

The Demarco European Art Foundation, Summerhall. 11am & 2pm. 16-26th Aug 2017. 60 mins.

Book: The Road to Meikle Seggie

The Artist As Explorer




Plus +

  • Small audience
  • Engaging performers
  • Unforgettable

About James O'Brien

James O'Brien is an award-winning playwright, poet, film-maker and political activist. His legendary company Giro Theatre presented six world premieres at the Edinburgh Festival (1986-1996). He worked as Director of Theatre and Performance at the Richard Demarco Gallery / Theatre (1987-92). He has made seven films most recently 'Rovinj' shown at he Motovun International Film Festival in July 2017. He works at Tate Modern.

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