Rural Art Space

April 23, 2007

Adrian Plant is the Exhibitions Officer at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and mediamaker Arts Programme
CONNECTING OLD AND NEW – CURATORIAL POLICY

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I am going to give a couple of minutes background to the situation that you find yourselves in today. In your conference pack you have a mediamaker brochure, on the back of which there is a map, which illustrates the venues that we are working in today, and it shows the network of spaces for contemporary art that we are establishing in Shrewsbury.
I was appointed as Exhibitions Officer at the museum in the year 2000, and in fact it was a new post. Prior to that Shrewsbury had no dedicated exhibitions officer for the museum service. There was a history of doing exhibitions and of working with contemporary artists, but without a dedicated post the resources on which to operate that programme were very slender. When I came for the interview there was a shortlist of five to six of us, an anthropologist, a social historian, a museum historian, etc. and me as a bit of a wild card in comparison to the rest of the list. I was at Tate Liverpool for ten years before moving back to Shropshire. Yes, I left the village and came back. They appointed me and that was the start of developing a relationship between contemporary art and the Museums Service, and it is about connecting the old with the new. My pitch at the interview, and it is something that has been carried through since, was that I would look at ways in which contemporary art practice could engage with the history and the heritage of Shrewsbury, its environment and the museum collections.

Last year, during a trip to the Ars Electronica festival in Linz in Austria I discovered this wonderful very concise way of putting my whole policy into words. As part of a day out all the delegates were bussed to this fantastic monastery outside of Linz. It is a very ancient site that has been added to over the years. There was a Latin inscription at the joining of two parts of the building, where a 18th century extension meets a 12th century bit of the monastery: “Antiqua novitati concordavimus” and it simply does mean: we connect the old with the new. I think everything that we are trying to do here with the contemporary arts and the museum is underpinned in those three Latin words.
We have strands of programming that sit(s) on top of that principle. One of our commissioning strands is a strong Art/Sience remit and is connected to the fact that Shrewsbury is the birthplace of Charles Darwin. In 2004 we commissioned the UK based artist Shirley Chubb who made Thinking Path , a piece of work about her response to Charles Darwin. Our next Darwin linked commission involves the Irish artist Dorothy Cross going out to the Galapagos islands to make a film about her experience out there.
The other commissioning strand makes links with the river Severn, which creates this remarkable loop around Shrewsbury. In 2001 we did an exhibition of pictures from the museum collections about the river, called River Life 1: 1615 to 1815. The following year we continued with the exhibition River Life 2, starting 1815 to the present, again using the museum collections but also loaning some contemporary pieces. And in 2003 we commissioned the artist David Haley to develop his River Life 3000 project, which was looking at the ecology and the future of the river. His project is another good illustration of how we are introducing contemporary practice into a historic context, by preparing the ground and developing an audience base. So when we have contemporary artists working with us they are not parachuted in from the blue.

And the final strand of our commissioning scheme is to do with rurality, or the rural art space. This is the reason for commissioning myvillages.org, which is just the starting point. We are working with Wapke, Kathrin and Antje hopefully over a number of years, and Why We Left The Village and Came Back is just a marking point along that journey.

PRESENTATION BY ADAM SUTHERLAND FROM GRIZEDALE ARTS

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Adam Sutherland is Director of Grizedale Arts in Cumbria.
Extracts from Adam Sutherland’s presentation.

Curating Networks
“Opening up with this idea of curating networks (which actually Alistair and Kathrin came up with) I was kind of thinking: what on earth is that? Difficult to imagine that there was any other possible way to curate, which kind of shows how long I have been in Grizedale.
What else could you possibly curate other than a series of networks or tiny networks, or big networks, or interrelated networks? The reference here in this opening slide “keeping it flat” is about the kind of hierarchies within culture. Grizedale’s overarching approach is to have an extremely broad understanding of the term. Actually everything is interesting, and why people do things is why it is interesting. So, in a way we are not terribly interested in what people do, we really are more interested in why they do it, and that is how all the networks fit together. So we end up with this extraordinary body of material, all interacting and colliding and it has often been described as a cultural car crash, and it is, in many ways. Not a very good reference to the country car crash, is it?”

Network Images

IMAGE ROADSHOW: a group photo showing the artists involved in the Grizedale Roadshow project on a welsh hillside.
“This is a classic short of networking image. We have a whole lot of people all roughly the same age, wearing roughly the same clothes, with roughly the same area of interest, all discussing roughly the same stuff. I started thinking I am going to put a whole lot of photographs together to show that everybody is the same and we all endlessly talk about the same stuff in networks.”

IMAGE FUNDRAISING DINNER FOR CONISTON WATERFESTIVAL
“Then I started to realise that actually all of our photographs are of people doing things together and chatting and most look all pretty odd. They don’t really conform to my premise.I am in all the photographs by the way.”

IMAGE DEATH METAL GROUP

“This is a death metal group in a Chinese take away with the artist Olaf Breuning, after a week of shooting a video.”

IMAGE RADIO BROADCAST
“Here you see a broadcast radio interview with Mark Collins and Mark Wallinger and various people, with the audience sitting in their cars listening on to the interview on their radio, with a wind powered radio signal.”

IMAGE LUNCH IN JAPAN
“That was lunch in Japan, although I look as I am really listening I am not understanding a single word.”

IMAGE CUMBRIANA PROOF PROJECT
“The main project within Cumbriana Proof was the Coniston Waterfestival, but it was basically a series of projects that brought a number of different networks together in one large-scale project with five strands to it. The artists’ networks involved amongst others were Real Seven, an American artist group. We asked Alison Smith to select a group, so it was a self-selected group. We were not particularly interested in what they did, what work they made. We were interested in their take on being stopped in Grasmere during August. Everybody who knows Grasmere probably knows that it is not a fantastically pleasurable experience; it is an extremely busy place. There was an element of that whole project having a Big Brother feel to it. In fact the artists involved became very paranoid, and would not really give anything. I left my jacket for instance in their house one night and it sat unmoving for three days, cause I am forgetful. They were convinced there was a recording device in it. We did want to know what they were talking about, but we did want them to tell us.

Another failure happened with a local artist network called Chromosome, who we wanted to involve in the program and we wanted them to do what they were interested in doing. What was really interesting about them as a network is that they were incredibly diverse. There is no real reason why they work together; they are just some people that are interested in art who are based in the South of the Lake District. I think they are nearly all graduates, but their work goes from kind of tapestry to conceptual art to traditional painting. I think they are fascinating group of people that have chosen to work together and they are typical perhaps of an arts organisation. We offered them a nice amount of money, but they ultimately did not do anything. Probably because the invitation was too challenging? I spent a lot of time working with them.

The point about this kind of activities, you do have to spend an enormous amount of time with people, and in all different kinds of networks, if you are really going to get them to take part.”

Local Networks

IMAGE RAVE PROJECT CONISTON
“Just to talk about some of the existing networks in the area. The Coniston Water Festival is the main project within the Cumbriana program. The idea of the Water Festival was set up by us a year before the event actually took place. The Water Festival was something that used to happen in Coniston but it died off, and we wanted to get it going again. And we wanted the village to run it. We set up a steering group at the village, which was about 23 people, an enormous group. We went through hundreds of meetings, all of them recorded. The whole project was represented on a local radio station that we set up. We established a new date for the festival and we pushed the village in directions that they would not, perhaps, normally have gone in. We also put a lot of money into it. We produced a newspaper, which went out with the local paper. We pushed, controlled, and bullied. And we set it up so the festival could happen. And at the end of the project we stopped our involvement and handed the project over to the village. We left funding in place, and a number of staff in place so they could continue. And they did choose to continue, and they have continued. And they have adopted a lot of their strategies and projects that we instigated. They have done them in their own way, in different ways, and that is what was meant to happen; that is ideal. The thing I think that was most gratifying in a way is that they took the website apart after we had left. At that point I knew they taken over responsibility and they took of the staff they did not really like; a lot of which was them talking, in fact. And the second thing that happened at the village, which was significant, was the National Park closed down all of their tourist offices in all the villages around the Lake District. So every single village rolled over and every single tourist information centre has become an outdoor clothing shop inevitably. Except Coniston who immediately went “well actually we will run it ourselves”, and the Water Festival steering committee took over. They are revamping it; they are putting tourist exhibitions into it.
None of it is kind of informed by artists necessary, although there are artists involved in different ways. None of it is the kind of culture that perhaps we are seen to represent. It is a culture that
exists lately.”

IMAGE ROADSHOW: ZENELYTH
“That was part of Roadshow, where we a did a local rural death metal competition. Zenelyth was one of the bands, and they then went on to make a video of one of their best songs with the New York artist Olaf Breuning which ultimately got shown all over the world in a slightly different form. Dave Blundy worked with a youth group from Dalston, who joint the Roadshow and did a battle of the bands thing with the local school. It was a strange collision, because the Dalston group is R ‘n B, and the local school bands we thought would be rock bands, but they were all Big Bands. So it became a Big Band versus hip-hop, R ‘n B joint project. You could see all this interchange happening in front of your eyes, it was good fun. They were involved in the whole process and stayed for a few weeks.”

IMAGE JESSE RAY
“Again this music event is a collision between a whole range of musician. Jesse Ray is a visionary and extremely difficult musician, who had a few hit songs in the 80′s, dresses as a highland warrior. He interestingly works with American funk musicians and has an entirely unexpected network of contacts and activity. He actually hosted the radio station in Coniston and brought in people from all over the world. The radio station was one of the highlights, for me anyway. It was a great thing to use such an old technology and it is so easy to use. You just turn it on, you kind of listening to it in the background. The programme of the radio station was entirely random, so you went from somebody talking about the local mining history to some L.A. funk DJ screaming madness. The radio station was part of musical event with a whole number of musicians from folk musicians to classical musicians to funk musicians to Jesse.”

IMAGE KNOCK OUT
“Other networks that were operating through the Coniston Waterfestival programme were: It’s a Knock Out by artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie. They established four teams form the local communities, which involved the National Trust, tourists (well visitors as they are called), locals, and the National Park. So it was a war. Interestingly the National Park refused to take part. It’s a Knock out is something that really worked in the village they have redone it twice since. But the national trust refused to take part again, because they got some much abuse in the first version.”

IMAGE EXTREME CAMPING
“Extreme Camping is a project by Olivia Plender and refers to a 1930′s extreme camping group, called Kibbo Kift Foundation, who believed that a notion that spiritual enlightenment will be achieved through camping. The image shows a recreation of their uniforms at the time. The group has quite an extraordinary history. They were entirely rurally based, but between the Wars they decide to become more politicised and they became the “Green Shirt” and moved to London. Their principle ambition was social credit. Their most famous instance was shooting an arrow through the window of No. 10. with “social credit is coming” written on it.
Ken Russell in fact represented a different fraction of extreme camping, which was a hermit that lived in the Lake district, who was kind in opposition. So Ken and Olivia led a march through the village chanting all the slogans.
The Water Festival is a very local activity in regards to building relations with the community and working with different aspects of the community. The Lake District in general has an incredibly intense body of historical and contemporary material, and is probably unique in Britain, and has had so many stakeholders in effect, idealistically anyway.”

Global Networks

“The whole project was called “Romantic Detachment” in collaboration with P.S.1 was all-about romantic versions of other cultures, and the interplay between those romanticisms, and it is principally about America. The artists working here are interested in that, looking at how those things conjoint. The New York project was a lot to do with kind of international cultural strands of thought and ideas.”

IMAGE WIllIAM POPE
“William Pope – a New York performance artist- throwing a goldfish of the lighthouse, of course, why would not he be? William Pope is an extraordinary character; every time you try to understand what he is doing he changes it. So I quite quickly learnt not to suggest to William what you think the piece is about, because then he will have to change it. So in this instance, this speakers here, he is in this lighthouse on Roosevelt island writing and (granting) and shouting, which I think he maybe did from memory, and then coming out onto to lighthouse and dropping goldfish – live goldfish, of the tower.”

IMAGE PROJECT JAPAN
“After this we wanted to do something a lot more practical. This is the Japan project called “Seven Samurai”, and we were invited by the village of Togay, as part of a regional art triennale.
We wanted to resist the triennale to some extend with its idea of traditional art making that goes on in rural places. The job the village were asking us for has to do with how they negotiate their future with visitors tourists, because they don’t have a tourist background and there is no tourism in the area. But the triennale was clearly a regeneration project with the ambition to make it into tourist area.
We lived for a month in the village, did a whole lot of projects which were all about doing something useful, that was the ambition and that was what I said to all the artist: don’t worry about making art, we are going to do something useful and make sense.”

IMAGE TOKYO PERFORMANCE
“At the end of it we did a farmer’s market and the north of Tokyo and a series of performances. That is the village singing their village love song.
Everyone in the village is well over sixty, it is the end of the village really. This is the kind of premise that was going on at the time. I don’t think it is the end of the village at all, and I think a lot of what we did suggested that it is not the end of the village.
As part of the project we set up a web-site, there is a web-shop which, we have rebranded their rice, and they sold their rice in he farmer’s market . Unfortunately no one in the village ever used a computer before, which was kind of interesting.”

Rural Networks

IMAGE LAWSON PARK FARM
“Grizedale has just taken a lease on two farms: on from the national trust and one from the forestry commission.
In effect this is going to be the project space for the site. This is the development of the garden, short of first stage; this is the garden for the house. So we are trying to make a resource that can be used, which is practical and addresses issues locally and provokes and all of those things that artists do. But it is not a gallery; there is no gallery space. There will be if we can get the resources of a well-resourced web site. And that is kind of what we talking about as the access space. Otherwise all involvement in the site is participatory, whether you are an artist or a local group or whoever you are. If you are interested in it, and interested in the ideas, to do with the site then it has a participant to take part. There is no opportunity for exhibitions.
There are a lot of sub-themes to talk about but we don’t have time.”

IMAGE SNAILS
“We are looking at other kind of product that could come of the land in all sort of different ways, not only kind of agricultural and practical product, but also to do with the notion of what space and places for, and all those kind of issues that come up in relation to land.”

“You feel better about snails if you eat them, honestly.”

SELECTION OF RURAL ART SPACE MAPPINGS

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A selection of 15 drawings from the Rural Art Space mapping session, where the delegates of the symposium were invited to trace and sketch the rural art spaces they are involved with.

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April 17, 2007

WORKSHOP 5: ART AND ECOLOGY

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Workshop Session 5: Art, Ecology and the Landscape
Issues of scale in regards to the landscape and social interaction within it.
What is the political space of such projects? Activism, rural regeneration, green policies?
Short term intervention versus and/or long term sustainability.
Collaborations with other agencies/initiatives ?
The role of the local scale in regards to the national and international?
Etc.

With presentations by
Tim Collins, artist and Associate Dean, School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton
David Haley, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University
The Cloud Gallery, Shropshire artist collective

WORKSHOP 4: ART PROJECTS IN THE RURAL

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Workshop Session 4: The Rural as a source for Contextual Art Practice
Why working with the rural?
References from art/history? The rural as retreat, motive, backdrop, exotic other?
Links between project that deal with the rural and those sited in urban settings.
Autobiographical aspects?
Who is the commissioner and curatorial or political agendas behind?
Etc.

With presentations by
Richard T. Walker, artist, lecturer University of Staffordshire
Matthew Cornford, artist and member of Cornford and Cross, Lecturer in Fine Art University of Wolverhampton
Torange Khonsari, architect and member of public works, currently in residency at Wysing Arts

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WORKSHOP 3: CULTURAL PRODUCTION AND CRAFTS

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Workshop Session 3: Cultural Production vs Arts and Crafts vs Creative Industries
- Do we need a distinction between the three areas?
- Where are cross-over spaces and what’s their role/importance?
- The promotion of “Creative Industries” as a tool for so called culture led regeneration.
- Economic values and questions of trade and exchange.
- Etc.

With presentations by
Amanda Farr, Director Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys
Trudi Graham, Qube Gallery, Oswestry
Amy Plant, artist, Multi Stop Shop

WORKSHOP 2: NEW MEDIA

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Workshop Session 2: New Media as a trans-spatial tool for the rural environment
- Which social and physical spaces are being addressed in your work/project?
- How does the use of new media operate as a tool in regards to that?
- What is the space that is generated through the use of new media?
- Issues of existing and required infrastructure for the rural environment?
- Does perception of the media vary from rural to urban audiences/participants?
- Etc.

With presentations by
Mike Pearson, Performance Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Sue Gainsborough, Director Thomas Adams Media College, Wem
Wapke Feenstra, artist, Rotterdam

WORKSHOP 1: CURATORIAL STRATEGIES

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Workshop Session 1: Curatorial strategies that operate within and across rural spaces

- What and where is the curated space?
- Who is visiting/participating in the space? Questions of publicity and access.
- The relationship between gallery based work and public commissions.
- Does the curatorial programme feed into wider regeneration policies?
- Any important differences to curation in an urban setting?
- Notions of networks and cross-overs between local, national and international settings.
- Etc.

With presentations by
Mark Segal, Director Artsway, New Forest
Martin Barlow, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Wales
Gavin Wade, Artist Curator, Research Fellow in Curating at the University of Central England

AFTERNOON WORKSHOP SESSIONS

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Wed 17 Jan 2007 from 14.15 to 16.15
Workshop Venues: Belmont Arts Centre, Shrewsbury Museum, Old Music Hall

We are expecting approximately 50 – 60 delegates in total, mainly from local and regional arts organisations, free lanced artists and curators, and BA/MA and PhD students.
We invited three practitioners for each of the five workshops to present their practice in an informal setting and to speak about their work in regards to the overall issue of the workshop. Each presentation should be 15 minutes long to give enough time for feedback and discussion.The sessions are informal and open to questions and group debate. Each workshop will be lead by one of the presenters.

The focus of the day are the different notions of space in regards to curatorial and art practice in a rural context. The workshops are not meant to be conclusive, but to result in a brief presentation for the final plenum that concludes the important aspects discussed during the session. One of the intentions of the day is to set some conceptual and practical guidelines for further Rurality Commissions in Shropshire, and the results from each workshop could outline potentials and dangers.

Workshop Session 1: Curatorial strategies that operate within and across rural spaces
- What and where is the curated space?
- Who is visiting/participating in the space? Questions of publicity and access.
- The relationship between gallery based work and public commissions.
- Does the curatorial programme feed into wider regeneration policies?
- Any important differences to curation in an urban setting?
- Notions of networks and cross-overs between local, national and international settings.
- Etc.

With presentations by
Mark Segal, Director Artsway, New Forest
Martin Barlow, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Wales
Gavin Wade, Artist Curator, Research Fellow in Curating at the University of Central England

Workshop Session 2: New Media as a trans-spatial tool for the rural environment
- Which social and physical spaces are being addressed in your work/project?
- How does the use of new media operate as a tool in regards to that?
- What is the space that is generated through the use of new media?
- Issues of existing and required infrastructure for the rural environment?
- Does perception of the media vary from rural to urban audiences/participants?
- Etc.

With presentations by
Mike Pearson, Performance Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Sue Gainsborough, Director Thomas Adams Media College, Wem
Wapke Feenstra, artist, Rotterdam

Workshop Session 3: Cultural Production vs Arts and Crafts vs Creative Industries
- Do we need a distinction between the three areas?
- Where are cross-over spaces and what’s their role/importance?
- The promotion of “Creative Industries” as a tool for so called culture led regeneration.
- Economic values and questions of trade and exchange.
- Etc.

With presentations by
Amanda Farr, Director Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Powys
Trudi Graham, Qube Gallery, Oswestry, host of Notion Nanny
Amy Plant, artist, Multi Stop Shop

Workshop Session 4: The rural as a source for contextual art practice
Why working with the rural?
References from art/history? The rural as retreat, motive, backdrop, exotic other?
Links between project that deal with the rural and those sited in urban settings.
Autobiographical aspects?
Who is the commissioner and curatorial or political agendas behind? Etc.

With presentations by
Richard Walker, artist, lecturer University of Staffordshire
Matthew Cornford, artist and member of Cornford and Cross, Lecturer in Fine Art University of Wolverhampton
Torange Khonsari, architect and member of public works, currently in residency at Wysing Arts

Workshop Session 5: Art, Ecology and the landscape
Issues of scale in regards to the landscape and social interaction within it.
What is the political space of such projects? Activism, rural regeneration, green policies?
Short term intervention versus and/or long term sustainability.
Collaborations with other agencies/initiatives ?
The role of the local scale in regards to the national and international?
Etc.

With presentations by
Tim Collins, artist and Associate Dean, School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton
David Haley, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University
The Cloud Gallery, Shropshire artist collective

DISPLAYS DURING WHY WE LEFT THE VILLAGE AND CAME BACK

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We selected the three village projects by the three myvillages.org members Kathrin Böhm, Antje Schiffers and Wapke Feenstra to showcase in the three exhibition spaces associated with the mediamaker arts programme:
Belmont Art Centre
Music Hall Gallery
Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery

myvillages.org is an international artist initiative set up by Kathrin Böhm (Ger/UK), Wapke Feenstra (NL) and Antje Schiffers(Ger). It is an informal framework for ideas and new art projects that address the rural environment as a space for contemporary cultural production and debate.

Their individual practices are involved with site-specific and participatory art forms, and they often use local narratives, facts and resources as the starting point for their work. Their common interest in the rural also comes from the fact, that they all grew up in very small villages, which they left at start of adult life. The exhibition displays at Belmont, Music Hall and Shrewsbury Museum all show projects that have been developed and realised in their home villages and are part of the ourvillages series.

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