Rural Art Space

April 23, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 11:45 am

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.”

“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.”


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

“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.”

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

“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

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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

“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.”

“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.”

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