Rural Art Space

April 23, 2007

Adrian Plant is the Exhibitions Officer at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and mediamaker Arts Programme


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, 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.

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