Rural Art Space

May 28, 2007

REPORT AND REVIEW BY KATHRIN BÖHM

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 6:31 am

Date: April 2007

Introduction

The Rural Art Space symposium was part of a two months programme called Why We Left the Village and came Back that took place as a series of displays, events and discussions across various sites in Shrewsbury and Shropshire during November 2006 and January 2007.

The invitation for the project came from Adrian Plant who is the exhibitions organiser for Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, and coordinator of the recently established mediamaker programme, that spans across four Shrewsbury venues (including Shrewsbury Museum, the Music Hall Gallery, the Old Market Hall and Belmont Arts Centre). As one of his curatorial strands, Adrian is developing a series of Rurality art commissions in relation to certain rural aspects and particularities of Shrewsbury and its surrounding county Shropshire (the largest inland county and England which still predominantly rural and agricultural).

Kathrin Böhm, who is currently an AHRC Research fellow at the School of Art and Design at the nearby University of Wolverhampton, and a member of the artist initiative myvillages.org and a partner in the art and architecture collective public works, responded to the invitation by suggesting an on-site programme, co-curated by Adrian Plant and myvillages.org, that would conclude in a public symposium as a joint venture between the School of Art and Design, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery and myvillages.org.

The intention of the overall Why We Left the Village and came Back programme was

- to present and discuss existing art and curatorial projects that take place in rural environments
- to open up and further inform a local and regional discourse on contextual art practice in a rural context
- to regard the curated programme in itself as a precedence for creating and extending the existing art spaces in Shrewsbury and Shropshire.

The Why We Left the Village and came Back programme took place in different formats:

Displays and exhibitions
The selection of case studies for the exhibitions drew from the Bibliobox, a myvillages.org project conceived by Wapke Feenstra, which brings together documentation of more than 50 art projects that took place in rural environments across 11 European countries. The selection for the exhibition spaces showed projects by the three myvillages.org members. At the Music Hall Gallery Antje Schiffers’ project I like being a farmer and want to stay one was represented through video documentation, photographic reproduction and quotes by farmer’s who have been involved in her project.
Kathrin Böhm’s Höfer Goods project at the Museum was presented amongst a selection of items from the Museum’s porcelain collection, accompanied by a document, which explained the development of the Höfer Goods.
Wapke Feenstra’s Bibliobox was housed at Belmont Art Centre, where it was set up for display and further travel, but also became the backdrop for a workshop asking the question “What does Shropshire sound like?”

Film Programme
The film programme for the Old Market Hall Cinema was also selected from the Bibliobox, and showcased the film Harvest by Anne Lise Stenseth, Amy Plant’s One Stop Shop video, The expansion of the Mastenbroek Polder documentary by Sjaak Langenberg, A Village does Nothing by Elisabeth Schimana and Markus Seidl, the full length feature film Bata-ville. We are not afraid of the Future by the artist collective Somewhere, and a selection of videos by Richard T. Walker. The programme was shown daily, free of charge and open to the general public.

Bibliobox Tour across Shropshire
The Bibliobox itself toured to a number of private and public spaces in Shropshire and Wales, including the front room of one of the SAD MA students who used the occasion to invite her local artist network, a local pub, a writer’s retreat, a discovery centre, a gallery and a local new media college.

Rural Art Space as a local topic
It was important from the start of the project, not to present a retrospective of existing work, but to use the BBBox documentation to explore new spaces for art and art debate in Shrewsbury and Shropshire. This aspect gains further importance in regards to the current undergoing development of the Museum Services in Shrewsbury, the design of new facilities for Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, and the aim to establish a Rurality Commission series in the future.
The development of Shrewsbury Museum and Gallery is further strengthening Shrewsbury’s position as a cultural resource hub in the area, and the new facility and extended programme will have to consider its spatial and programmatic relationships with the surrounding county and its various cultural groups. Currently Shropshire doesn’t have a networked infrastructure of cultural spaces, and new Rurality commissions will be confronted by the question of where and how to site commissions in order to establish a relational and context specific curatorial programme.

Rural Art Space as the title and content for the symposium
The curatorial idea behind the conference was to focus the morning presentations on art and cultural practices in regards to their involvement with social, political and physical spaces. The afternoon sessions were structured around issues that were of local/regional interest and allowed for presenters and delegates to enter a more participative discursive space, and the workshops allowed for cross-regional networking.

The morning presentations started with Adrian Plant and Mary White from Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery with a brief introduction into the main curatorial principle for the contemporary art programme at the Museum, and an explanation of Shrewsbury’s current situation in regards to cultural regeneration of the town and the development of the Museum Services.

Clare Cumberlidge from General Public Agency focused on the large scale and multidisciplinary project Thurrock: A Visionary Brief for the Thames Gateway to describe the underlying spatial and curatorial strategies of a project that aimed to involve and embed cultural production directly into an ongoing regeneration scheme. She added the subtitle A Study of Failure and gave a self-critical and useful analysis of why the ambitions of the projects were never implemented.
In spatial terms the failure could be described as the result of a non-addressed gap between an inter/national network of practitioners that were involved in generating the visionary brief, and the local council and council officers who would have been in charge of implementing it. As a strategy the project bridged a vast area of physical and cultural territories, but missed to secure its immediate compatibility by not actively involving the local spaces of power and implementation.

Kathrin Böhm focused her paper Art as Space versus Spaces for Art on exploring the question of what the existing or a new rural art space might look like, and how contextual art practice could contribute to the development of a new spatial typology that is particular to the rural environment, rather than importing urban architectural typologies such as museum and public square commissions. She was looking at socially engaged practices and process based and collaborative forms of production as methodologies that seem suitable to represent and extract existing rural modes and models.

Adam Sutherland from Grizedale Arts in the Lake District gave a good insight into an arts organisation that acts across spaces, both locally, nationally and internationally, and is not represented or contained by a single dominant building. His presentation was based on the idea of Curating Networks and demonstrated Grizedale’s wide spanning social and professional network that manifests itself in very different situations and spaces, from hillsides in Wales to dinners at PS 1 in New York. Grizedale’s curatorial premise follows the question Why people are doing what they do, which allows for a much more open and cross-networking cultural programme than one based on the idea of themes and groups. The programme highly inclusive, makes no difference of different forms of cultural productions and generates an interesting cross-programming and sampling of different cultural practices. The Grizedale programme in itself could be seen as a description and a brief for a new rural art space.

Wapke Feenstra and Antje Schiffers from myvillages.org finished the morning session with a recount of the Bibliobox tour through Shropshire. Their presentations were meant as a mapping of existing and potential art spaces, rather than a documentation of the tour.

Rural Art Space as part of Kathrin Böhm’s research
Kathrin Böhm’s research at Wolverhampton is focusing on the potential of socially engaged art practice in regards to the making and shaping of public space. Her research shifted from initially looking at the direct application of art practice to a design process, and is now concentrating on analysing the space making capacity of art practice itself. What has become clear during her research so far is that art projects that engage with a site and its users over an extended period of time, do create complex socio-spatial constructs which are often being neglected when it comes to planning and design decisions.
She is currently looking at the articulation of those socio-spatial constructs, and modes of representation that allow the mapping and visualisation of sociala nd cultural networks. The two case studies she has chosen to analyse and represent as part of her research outcome are the Folkestone Sculpture Triennale and Grizedale Arts. Both projects take place within areas of culture led regeneration. Both are curatorial programmes that invite a number of artists to respond to the particularities of a place and they both spread over a wider geographical area and longer periods of time. The research will result in a spatial mapping of both projects, including and reflecting the spaces and networks they use the nature and duration of those relationships, and the relationships they create. The aim is to visualise complex and relational cultural practices in spatial terms with the intention

- to claim them as architectural spaces in their own right
- to analyse them in regards to the development of new typologies of cultural spaces
- to relate them to more conventional forms of architectural development and design in order to question the authority and hierarchy of the built structure.

Art practices are involved in urban and rural regeneration, with the urban fields of practice more explored and discussed than rural models. It’s therefore of interest to look at rural regeneration and to reconsider urban models or practice, with the ambition to generate a curatorial and artist approach that responds to the particularities of a rural context, and ideally can lead to new forms and typologies of rural practice and art spaces.

The day was part of an extended programme and multiple collaborations, and can be reviewed from different angles.

The symposium as an enactment of a rural art space
The symposium created a meeting and networking point across the region and nationally. The event was fully booked and 84 participants in total contributed to the day, including individual artists, art students, representatives of rural cultural organisations and initiatives and researchers. The different formats of presentations and exchange throughout the day allowed for both, information gathering and reflection, and more active discussions and networking amongst practitioners. There was significant interest in the issue, and a strong enough public to make use of the space on offer and to carry the issue forward.

The propositional nature of the symposium
The symposium as a format is an informative and discursive event that relies on a network and audience but can take place in existing spaces and venues. The symposium can be seen as one possible format and space to establish and extend the rural art space in Shropshire and the region, and could become part of a national and international network of conferences and symposia on rural cultural issues.
As a well attended event the day also represented an existing critical mass and audience, which within rural environments are often widespread and become rarely visible as a group or networks.
The day proofed that the Rural Art Space is an important issue, both in order to develop a clearer identity of what rural art and rural culture is and could be, but also in terms of thinking spatial and strategic models for the future.

Enabling new partnerships
The symposium was a joint venture between myvillages.org, Shrewsbury Museum and Art gallery and the School of Art and Design at the University of Wolverhampton. Links between the three partners existed previously but haven’t been utilised so far. The School of Art and Design represents the regional Higher Education and Research Institution with a teaching and research strand in socially engaged art practice, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery represent a local and regional arts organisation with a curatorial interest in rural cultural practise, and myvillages.org represents a trans-local artist and practitioners network.
The day was attended by guest from all three partners which generated a well balanced mix between students and University staff, rural arts organisations and practitioners. The mix of partners also represents the necessary cultural diversity when it comes to addressing and enabling a new Rural Art Space, where practice meets curation meets education meets research.

Creating a pool of information, case studies and reflections to inform the further development of Shrewsbury Museum Services and Rurality commissions.
The two months programme together with the symposium, offered and activated multiple resources, which can be assessed in regards to their relevance for the Development of the Museum Services. Adrian Plant is planning to use the report and online presence of the material in further meeting and discussions. Some of the case studies can be assessed as, and act as prototypes for new initiatives in Shropshire.

Articulation of a new term and subject: The Rural Art Space
The term Rural Art Space sounded very Euro-english to begin with, and rather dry than engaging. However, at the end of the symposium day it seemed to have become a common term amongst delegates.
To date there is little cohesive documentation of interesting art and curatorial projects in the rural realm (in comparison to engaged practices in urban areas) which keeps both, art practice in the rural and the existing rural art space, rather invisible. This lack of representation and publication of activities
Needs to be addressed in order to find and understand the particularities of contemporary rual culture in order to develop new curatorial and spatial programmes.
The main thesis of Kathrin Böhm’s paper was to consider and develop a new typology of space for the rural context, which might be spread across sites and time, with the ambition to engage art practice into the development and understanding of contemporary rural culture is and could be and its spatial manifestation.

Text by Kathrin Böhm
April 2007

May 24, 2007

BBIBLIOBOX TOUR SHROPSHIRE

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 3:24 pm

The Bibliobox is a travelling archive holding documentation of almost 50 art projects
from 12 european countires that took place in rural environments.

The Bibliobox was a central part of Why We Left The Village And Came Back the Bibliobox was stationed at Belmont Art Centre in Shrewsbury. From there it travelled to a number of locations in Shropshire, on invitation by different hosts and also spontaneously without invitations.

The Bibliobox is as much a collection of art projects as it is a space for talking about art in a rural setting. The concept of the tour was to explore existing spaces and networks in Shropshire and to test and demonstrate the idea of a dispersed but connected cultural space.

The journeys are also documented on the Bibliobox website.
Look at the visit at Marja’s house, An evening at the Six Bells pub in Bishops Castle, or at The Hurst in Clunton.

May 1, 2007

WHY WE LEFT THE VILLAGE AND CAME BACK LAUNCH

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 11:33 am

Artists Kathrin Böhm and Wapke Feenstra, from myvillages.org, will introduce their organisation and Bibliobox, a travelling archive of documentation and information, set up by myvillages.org in 2005. Together with Adrian Plant of Shrewsbury Museums Service and mediamaker, they will present the ideas behind Why We Left the Village and Came Back and invite participants to discuss how the commission might be developed for Shropshire.

WAPKE FEENSTRA EXPLAINS THE BIBLIOBOX

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 8:41 am

Member of myvillags.org and creator of the Bibliobox
HOW DOES THE BIBLIOBOX WORK
A brief introduction into creating a space for display and discurs

THE START

Ditchling “Village Convention”, was a gathering of 40 practitioners from mainly North West Europe, which took place from 20th to 22nd May 2005 in Ditchling, East Sussex, UK, to address contextual art practice in rural environments
They all brought documentation of their own art practises. I asked them at the end of the convention to give the documentation to set up a bibliobox, and Ditchling became the first collecting point for the archive. The present content is a collection via myvillages.org contacts from 2003 till now. More than 50 different art projects from 11 European Countries are presented and represented in the box.
On location and in action, the Bibliobox facilitates exchange and comparison of ideas in regards to the production of contextual art in the rural environment. All books, DVD’s and audio documentation in the box is about arts projects that engage actively with the context and a rural public, and the nature of the box reflects those facts.

WHAT IS THE BIBLIOBOX?
The box itself is made from plywood and coated with polyester finish.
The Bibliobox is a travelling archive; it contains information about art projects in the rural context. To bring it somewhere it needs a host, a table and a plug.
It is a small box with big ideas and comes and goes as a mobile unit to the countryside. Like myself right now.
On invitation by a local host, the box can travel to a village and be opened up for presentations. The programme of the presentation lies within the responsibility of the host. The host may be a local artist, an art institute, a farmer, the local fire department or a village group.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLIOBOX DO?
In a rural context, the box offers a broader view of people living in similar situations in other rural areas. It presents an opportunity for people to share experiences from art periphery to art periphery, also through the website. The box informs on the diversity of village life and art. It invites people to make their own contribution to contemporary art. Inhabitants of rural areas are being inundated with floods of images when the countryside tries to develop new functions, but are rarely considered a potential audience for contemporary art. The Bibliobox can change this outlook.


HOW IS THE BIBLIOBOX ORGANISED?

BOOKLETS
Every country represented in the box has a small booklet in which the projects from that country are described. There is also short information about how the artists interacted with the village or rural environment. It’s the same text as on the website.

BY LOCATION
Why organize it geographically and not by artist or date or commissioner? A retired acquaintance who had worked for more than 20 years in an architecture library advised me to do this, because the box is about rural places, and what is happening there.

POSTCARDS
There are also postcards in the box to be sent around, and information sheets about the box in the local language. Today got an English information sheet in the conference map

HOW TO GET THE BOX? WHAT TO DO?
Go to the website.
Download the contract, sign it and sent it to me.
Having the box around is for free, you only pay for the transport and insurance.
Download the manual.
The box is easier to pack out and is easier to set up than a simple camping tent.

Most people who order the box also order me or the whole myvillages.org group.
This costs a bit more of course.

EXAMPLES
At KCO, a cultural organization in the East of Holland, I spent for example an afternoon with six men from the cultural board of the local government. We had a workshop with rural background drawings, films from the box and me reading poetry.
At the Creative Rural Economy Conference in Lancaster we met Swedish ecological farmers and artists called Kultivator they talked about their planned Harvest Feast and asked if the BBBox could go there. Then BBBox went from Lancaster straight to Sweden – without us this time.

In the contract the host agrees to take pictures of the different presentations with the BBBox.
Pictures from each location are online, together with a small report written by the host. The report tells about the occasion, the context and an online a link to the host’s website, and we ask eachg host to suggest new entries for the BBBox.

GOAL
The idea of the box is to extend the network of myvillages.org and connect art periphery to art periphery – spread and collect experiences and create possibilities to meet and talk about the rural art space. Inform each other about locations and local knowledge used in that area, and above all we are just curious on what happens elsewhere. So this box also has a own story and is roaming the rural for us and sometimes with us.

Wapke Feenstra is a Rotterdam based artits and member of myvillages.org and creator of the Bibliobox.

Contact myvillages.org to order the Bibliobox at info(at)bibliobox.org

BIBLIOBOX TOUR REPORT BY ANTJE SCHIFFERS

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 8:36 am

Member of myvillages.org
BIBLIOBOX TOUR REPORT

May I first introduce myself: My name is Antje.
I am one of the founders of myvillages.org and on this occasion I have the function to report about Bibliobox tour in Shropshire.

We arrived a week ago. I must admit: I did not see such a dark night for a long time, with the storm and the water gurgling in the ditches.
As reporters it was our first duty to research what had already happened to the box. That’s what we found out:

It has travelled to Wales.
Invited by an artist living in a remote place in the welsh countryside, Kathrin went there with the box. The artist had invited collegues of hers. We saw pictures of women and babies. The box and ist content were taken as an opportunity to show around portfolios and show each others’ art work, which surprisingly had not happened before.

Talking of we: may I also introduce my colleagues to you: Thomas and Iwan, standing in front of the Old Market Hall in Shrewsbury.

One friendly, one strict, following the famous good guy bad guy scheme in our work. Together we have of course much better investigative power than one alone would have had.

The second thing we found out about: A workshop has taken place in Wem. Initiated by Wapke. Students created a soundpiece for the Bibliobox which in the future will travel with it: “How does Shropshire sound like?”
We attended a meeting of the “Friends of the Museum” in Shrewsbury. It took place at 2:30 pm. We concluded that it must be a big honour to be a friend of the museum, and that the honour must be so big that people would leave their workplace beginning of the afternoon to attend a meeting. We were slightly wrong. The friends of the museum were very nice and all retired.
In the meeting a film by artist Paul Bush was shown. Some of the audience understood that we were the artists who made the film and made us compliments for the lovely artwork. To avoid being a deception, we did not reveal the truth.

_newtown_wales.jpg

We went to the beautiful Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, Wales, were the box was taken to a board meeting. I remember that the women were listening to a Bruce Springsteen song while doing the cleaning in the cafe.

In the Discovery Centre in Craven Arms the box stayed during Sunday’s lunchtime, placed in between people having curry or lasagne and the handcraft, maps and bird food displayed in the museum shop. We happened to meet a taxidermist.

_bishopscastle.jpg

Sunday night, all went to a pub in Bishopscastle, Adrian’s hometown. He had invited the box, some friends, most of them musicians, and his two sons, musicians too. Something we learnt in this session: a cat’s purring heals broken bones.
Provoked by the subject of travelling the plot of a recently published book was told: Because of a bet a men hiked around Ireland carrying a fridge. What was most remarkable for the one telling the story: The bet was about 100 pounds, but already the fridge cost 120.

Good advice for childrens education was offered: Pick a house some miles out of the village “ the village as a place offering some things children might desire “ so you can always blackmail your kids promising a lift it they behave.

While driving through beautiful Shropshire “ and still impressed by its wealth “ we imagined other places where it could make sense for the box to go:

It could meet a tourism development officer or a rural regeneration officer. There we probably would discuss promotion strategies or he would make a masterplan about how to integrate it into the new regeneration campaign: Shropshire “ Britain´s best kept secret!”

It could go to the cattle market. We would go in the early morning hours. People used to getting up early have more respect if you do the same.
Here you see a hut belonging to the National trust. If we put the box there, we could get entangled in discussions about the necessity of contemporary art – how important is it compared to the beware of the heritage or of nature? OR: What is more beautiful, nature or art?

As we now entered the domain of fiction:
A Shrewsbury based artist invited us to meet her travelling archive in a place where parts of it are stored: in the Hurst, a location belonging to Clunton and offering writing courses.

It smelled like professional cleaning when we arrived and had coffee and fruit cake with Kerry, one of the nice directors of the Hurst. We had a discussion about what to do with archives currently unused and then gave a privileged personal BBBox presentation in this cosy living room of the absent writers.

As reporters we are looking for adventures. We like to be taken to places and to meet people we never would have met without the subject of the research / the existence of the BBBox.

And, leaving my duty as a reporter behind and speaking as part of myvillages.org: That is something we like to happen with the BBBox and with myvillages.org as an organisation – and we hope we can also make it happen for some of those we get to know in the process.

To download Antje’s report press here.

SYMPOSIUM REVIEW BY RICHARD HEPENSTAL

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 8:02 am

GETTING BACK TO THE COUNTRY
AN “IMPASSIONED DELIBERATION”

“Artists often act in the interstices between old and new, in the possibility of spaces that are as yet socially unrecognisable” (1)

In 2003 Shrewsbury’s 16th century Old Market Hall was transformed into a Film Theatre and Digital Media Centre. The manner in which the latter was undertaken was not only sensitive to the original interior architecture, but the final outcome revealed the distinctive timber roofbeams that had hitherto been “hidden” from sight. Moreover, it returned the building to that of a significant public space, one that attracts visitors from across the county. As a result, the relationship, or dialogue, between the old and the new, was literally manifested by the environment in which the Rural Art Space symposium began. This location, it seemed, provided a most useful context, or “space”, into which to consider the future possibilities of contemporary art and curatorial practice within a rural context. Indeed the opening speakers, from Shrewsbury’s Museum and Art Gallery, stressed the importance of connecting the “old” with the “new” in their programming and curatorial practices.
The morning’s first presentation was by the General Public Agency, an organisation that works creatively within the areas of planning and regeneration seeking to “make change happen”. Central to this organisation’s way of working is the idea of substantial mapping and research, in the pre-planning stage, followed by a “process of exchange” that engages local people. However, what became apparent from the case study discussed was the importance of time in the effecting of change. That is, the suggestion that lasting change doesn’t happen quickly but takes place over a long period of time. Significantly this “issue of time”, became one of the recurring themes of the day.
The symposium’s second presentation was delivered by Kathrin Böhm, artist member of myvillages.org and Research Fellow at The University of Wolverhampton. This presentation took the form of a research paper in which she considered the role, or potential, of “socially-engaged” art practices that take place beyond the gallery walls in a variety of outside spaces; art practices in which participation and dialogue are central. Could these practices themselves, her paper proposed, be read as “spatial constructs”? To illustrate this proposition Kathrin related how, after developing her own art practice in the city, she returned to her childhood village and the latter became, both conceptually and literally, a new space for art. Central to the development of these new, as yet “unrecognisable”, spaces for art were strategies that encompassed experimentation and rigorous self-criticism (on the part of the artist), participation (on the part of the audience), and an emphasis on “common interests” (both parties). Perhaps this suggests a conception of space as ” meeting ground”. Again the issue of time reoccurred in the papers’ recognition of the importance of “slow growth” in generating meaningful change within a rural environment.
Next we were taken on a humorous stroll through the work of Grizedale Arts; an “arts institution” or, possibly more accurately, an “arts network” based in the Lake District. Grizedale are certainly approaching artistic activity and production in a new way. Having recently “got rid” of their gallery, one of their key areas of work is engaging with people, through participation in art, in ways that are genuinely meaningful to local “non-art” communities. Alongside seeking, and valuing, the importance of local knowledge, and finding common ground, provocation, tension and conflict, where also seen by this speaker as useful tools, or “strategies”, in the development of arts across a rural terrain. Again there seemed to be a genuine interest in “making change happen”, and simultaneously an acknowledgment that real change can only happen over the long-term.
Finally the morning’s presentations ended with a review of the Bibliobox’s tour in Shropshire. Certainly the box seems to have a life of its own; continually chancing upon new “lasting encounters”, creating new networks and, as one encountee of the box suggested, providing opportunities for sharing work: something that doesn’t happen often.
In the afternoon I attended the “rural as a source for contextual art practice” workshop. This began with a presentation by the artist Richard Walker whose works engage with the landscape by way of, an almost ‘post-romantic’, sense of the impossibility of truly knowing, or coming to terms with, the immensity of that rural environment. The works take the form of spoken dialogue, music and video and seek to investigate our interaction(s) with the rural landscape. The characters within his work also view the rural as an idealised, albeit problematic, “escape from society”. Richard approaches the distinctly traditional subject of “landscape art” in an innovative way, both in his use of moving image and in his self-reflective responses to the rural landscapes in which he “encounters”.
Richard’s presentation was followed by the artist Matthew Cornford, one half of Cornford and Cross, whose collaborative arts practice produce works that critically engage with the specific contexts, situations, or spaces in which those works are produced. Often the result of this is an undermining, or problematizing, of the dominant power structures that exist within those spaces. Their work seems particularly successful in exposing the connections between cultural, economic and political interests. In the light of recent events (2) one example of this type of work, their piece “New Holland”, seems worth mentioning. Drawing on the links between Norfolk’s heavily industrialised agricultural landscape and the supermarkets that support that industry, they constructed a “turkey breeding unit”, from plans provided by Bernard Matthews, in the grounds adjoining the Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich. Arguably, this clash between the industrialised rural economy and the elegant grounds of the Sainsbury’s Centre, proved too great for the exhibition’s organisers. As, prior to the arrival of the Sainsbury’s family for their annual visit, the piece was removed. However, as it was installed in the summer, the grass beneath the structure had turned yellow. Instead of letting the meadow grass return naturally to its original colour, the yellow area was replaced with brand new grass, and this newly planted vivid green rectangle became a perfect trace of the original work.
Finally Torange Khonsari an architect and member of public works, discussed the arts/architecture collective’s latest residency at Wysing. Looking at how people use public spaces and engage with their environment, Torange talked about using the idea of a “shared culture of walking” to explore the links between villages around Wysing. She suggested how existing “informal paths” could become a tool in the development of “people-led” networks in the area. As with the previous presentation issues relating to land, and public, ownership were raised. (Notably, Torange cited a conversation with Kevin Cahill, author of the comprehensively researched book “Who owns Britain” )(3)
Ultimately, what was most evident from many of the presentations was an underlying recognition of the relationship between art and the wider social and political worlds. Although ostensibly about “public art” (4) the following statement, by Patricia Phillips, seems particularly relevant to many of the symposium’s presentation’s concerns with interactive or collaborative art practices (and therefore, I feel, worth quoting in full):

“Public Art is not the grinding, arduous discovery of a common denominator that absolutely everyone will understand and endorse. It actually assists in the identification of individuals and groups and what separates them, so that agreement of a common purpose is an impassioned deliberation rather than a thoughtless resignation. ” (5)

The acknowledgment of a “common purpose”, together with the simultaneous recognition of “what separates” people, and, critically, the call for an “impassioned deliberation”, seems to reflect what took place during the symposium.
Following the close of a thoughtful event centred around the, problematic, subject of “rural art space”, the atmosphere amongst many of the delegates was one of tangible energy. Consequently, I left with a positive, even tentatively hopeful, sense of something beginning: a key moment for the arts in Shrewsbury and Shropshire. Undoubtedly the breadth of knowledge, broad range of interests and occupations gathered in one space was exceptional. And although there was no convergence in terms of defining rural art space, there was, I felt, a common purpose. And that, I believe, was an impassioned advocacy of the growing significance of the rural as a fertile space for contemporary art practice. What’s more, the event in itself served as a vehicle for deliberation and therefore, implicitly, endorsed the relevance of slow growth in generating lasting change within a predominantly rural environment. Finally, and perhaps most meaningfully, these “impassioned deliberations”will support the expansion of those networks of people interested in developing the “spaces for art” across rural environments.

Footnotes:

(1) Lippard, Lucy, from “Mixed Blessings” (originally published in 1990), quoted in a Gavin Jantjes (ed), A Fruitful Incoherence: Dialogues with Artists on Internationalism, London, 1997
(2) At the time of writing the poultry industry has been dominating news headlines, as over 160,000 turkeys were culled after the H5N1 strain, bird flu virus, was found at a turkey processing plant in Suffolk in February 2007.
(3) Cahill, Kevin, Who Owns Britain, Edinburgh, 2001
(4) The book from which the following quote is taken looks at artists working outside of traditional venues for art, and rather than seeing those artists as the creators of art objects, many of the case studies included suggest how these artists are now often adopting strategies analogous to social activism and politics.
(5) Phillips, Patricia, “Public Constructions”, Suzanne Lacy (ed), Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Washington, 1995
text by Richard Hepenstal
February 2007

SYMPOSIUM REVIEW BY RICHARD HEPENSTAL

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 8:01 am

GETTING BACK TO THE COUNTRY

AN “IMPASSIONED DELIBERATION”

“Artists often act in the interstices between old and new, in the possibility of spaces that are as yet socially unrecognisable”

In 2003 Shrewsbury’s 16th century ‘Old Market Hall’ was transformed into a Film Theatre and Digital Media Centre. The manner in which the latter was undertaken was not only sensitive to the original interior architecture, but the final outcome revealed the distinctive timber roofbeams that had hitherto been ‘hidden’ from sight. Moreover, it returned the building to that of a significant public space, one that attracts visitors from across the county. As a result, the relationship, or dialogue, between the old and the new, was literally manifested by the environment in which the Rural Art Space symposium began. This location, it seemed, provided a most useful context, or ‘space’, into which to consider the future possibilities of contemporary art and curatorial practice within a rural context. Indeed the opening speakers, from Shrewsbury’s Museum and Art Gallery, stressed the importance of connecting the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ in their programming and curatorial practices.
The morning’s first presentation was by the General Public Agency, an organisation that works creatively within the areas of planning and regeneration seeking to ‘make change happen’. Central to this organisation’s way of working is the idea of substantial mapping and research, in the pre-planning stage, followed by a ‘process of exchange’ that engages local people. However, what became apparent from the case study discussed was the importance of ‘time’ in the effecting of change. That is, the suggestion that lasting change doesn’t happen quickly but takes place over a long period of time. Significantly this ‘issue of time’, became one of the recurring themes of the day.
The symposium’s second presentation was delivered by Kathrin Bohm, artist member of myvillages.org and Research Fellow at The University of Wolverhampton. This presentation took the form of a research paper in which she considered the role, or potential, of ‘socially-engaged’ art practices that take place beyond the gallery walls in a variety of ‘outside’ spaces; art practices in which participation and ‘dialogue’ are central. Could these practices themselves, her paper proposed, be read as ‘spatial constructs’? To illustrate this proposition Kathrin related how, after developing her own art practice in the city, she returned to her childhood village and the latter became, both conceptually and literally, a new space for art. Central to the development of these new, as yet ‘unrecognisable’, spaces for art were strategies that encompassed experimentation and rigorous self-criticism (on the part of the artist), participation (on the part of the ‘audience’), and an emphasis on ‘common interests’ (both parties). Perhaps this suggests a conception of space as a ‘meeting ground’. Again the issue of time reoccurred in the papers’ recognition of the importance of ‘slow growth’ in generating meaningful change within a rural environment.
Next we were taken on a humorous stroll through the work of Grizedale Arts; an ‘arts institution’ or, possibly more accurately, an ‘arts network’ based in the Lake District. Grizedale are certainly approaching artistic activity and production in a new way. Having recently ‘got rid’ of their gallery, one of their key areas of work is engaging with people, through participation in art, in ways that are genuinely meaningful to local ‘non-art’ communities. Alongside seeking, and valuing, the importance of local knowledge, and finding common ground, provocation, tension and conflict, where also seen by this speaker as useful tools, or ‘strategies’, in the development of arts across a rural terrain. Again there seemed to be a genuine interest in ‘making change happen’, and simultaneously an acknowledgment that real change can only happen over the long-term.
Finally the morning’s presentations ended with a review of the Bibliobox’s tour in Shropshire. Certainly the box seems to have a life of its own; continually chancing upon new ‘lasting encounters’, creating new networks and, as one encountee of the box suggested, providing opportunities for sharing work: ‘something that doesn’t happen often’.
In the afternoon I attended the ‘rural as a source for contextual art practice’ workshop. This began with a presentation by the artist Richard Walker whose works engage with the landscape by way of, an almost ‘post-romantic’, sense of the impossibility of truly knowing, or coming to terms with, the immensity of that rural environment. The works take the form of spoken dialogue, music and video and seek to investigate our interaction(s) with the rural landscape. The ‘characters’ within his work also view the ‘rural’ as an idealised, albeit problematic, ‘escape from society’. Richard approaches the distinctly traditional subject of ‘landscape art’ in an innovative way, both in his use of moving image and in his self-reflective responses to the rural landscapes in which he ‘encounters’.
Richard’s presentation was followed by the artist Matthew Cornford, one half of ‘Cornford and Cross’, whose collaborative arts practice produce works that critically engage with the specific contexts, situations, or ‘spaces’ in which those works are produced. Often the result of this is an undermining, or problematizing, of the dominant power structures that exist within those spaces. Their work seems particularly successful in exposing the connections between cultural, economic and political interests. In the light of recent events one example of this type of work, their piece ‘New Holland’, seems worth mentioning. Drawing on the links between Norfolk’s heavily industrialised agricultural landscape and the supermarkets that support that industry, they constructed a ‘turkey breeding unit’, from plans provided by Bernard Matthews, in the grounds adjoining the Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich. Arguably, this ‘clash’ between the industrialised rural economy and the ‘elegant’ grounds of the Sainsbury’s Centre, proved too great for the exhibition’s organisers. As, prior to the arrival of the Sainsbury’s family for their annual visit, the piece was removed. However, as it was installed in the summer, the grass beneath the structure had turned yellow. Instead of letting the ‘meadow grass’ return naturally to its original colour, the ‘yellow area’ was replaced with brand new grass, and this newly planted ‘vivid green rectangle’ became a perfect trace of the original work.
Finally Torange Khonsari an architect and member of public works,
discussed the arts/architecture collective’s latest residency at Wysing. Looking at how people use public spaces and engage with their environment, Torange talked about using the idea of a ’shared culture of walking’ to explore the links between villages around Wysing. She suggested how existing ‘informal paths’ could become a tool in the development of ‘people-led’ networks in the area. As with the previous presentation issues relating to land, and ‘public’, ownership were raised. (Notably, Torange cited a conversation with Kevin Cahill, author of the comprehensively researched book ‘Who owns Britain’ )
Ultimately, what was most evident from many of the presentations was an underlying recognition of the relationship between art and the wider social and political worlds. Although ostensibly about ‘public art’ the following statement, by Patricia Phillips, seems particularly relevant to many of the symposium’s presentations’ concerns with interactive or collaborative art practices (and therefore, I feel, worth quoting in full):

Public Art is not the grinding, arduous discovery of a common denominator that absolutely everyone will understand and endorse. It actually assists in the identification of individuals and groups and what separates them, so that agreement of a common purpose is an impassioned deliberation rather than a thoughtless resignation.

The acknowledgment of a ‘common purpose’, together with the simultaneous recognition of ‘what separates’ people, and, critically, the call for an ‘impassioned deliberation’, seems to reflect what took place during the symposium.
Following the close of a thoughtful event centred around the, problematic, subject of ‘rural art space’, the atmosphere amongst many of the delegates was one of tangible ‘energy’. Consequently, I left with a positive, even tentatively hopeful, sense of something beginning: a ‘key moment’ for the arts in Shrewsbury and Shropshire. Undoubtedly the breadth of knowledge, broad range of interests and occupations gathered in one space was exceptional. And although there was no convergence in terms of defining ‘rural art space’, there was, I felt, a ‘common purpose’. And that, I believe, was an ‘impassioned’ advocacy of the growing significance of ‘the rural’ as a fertile space for contemporary art practice. What’s more, the event in itself served as a vehicle for deliberation and therefore, implicitly, endorsed the relevance of slow growth in generating lasting change within a predominantly rural environment. Finally, and perhaps most meaningfully, these ‘impassioned deliberations’ will support the expansion of those networks of people interested in developing the ‘spaces for art’ across rural environments.

Richard Hepenstal
February 2007

To download the review as pdf please klick here.

VIDEO BOOTH

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 7:55 am

The New Media College in Wem has interviewed delegates thorughout the day to give short feedbacks and talk about some of their ideas.

To watch the short video klick here.

April 23, 2007

CLARE CUMBERLIDGE FROM GENERAL PUBLIC AGENCY

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruralartspace @ 3:59 pm

Clare Cumberlidge is a Curator and Director of General Public Agency.

Thurrock: A Visionary Brief for the Thames Gateway
A study of failure

I will be presenting what seems like quite an old programme of General Public Agency now Thurrock: A Visionary Brief for the Thames Gateway, a project that we completed in 2004.
It is a model of a different form of culturally-led generation and within the programme there are a lot of different ways in which artists were engaged within a regeneration programme. In fact in some ways I see it as a case study of failure. I will talk about that after I have shown you the process.

About General Public Agency
General Public Agency launched in Mayday 2003. We are a creative consultancy and we work broadly within cultural regeneration. We do spatial, social, and cultural planning, landscape and urban design and organise and produce cultural programmes. An illustration of the kind of projects we do: we were public role coordinators for Argent, who are the developers of Kings Cross Central in London, which is the major development scheme in central London. We have produced a design and a heritage strategy for Dorset County Council, we recently worked for the Tate Gallery for Karsten Höller, doing a feasibility study for the use of slides within the public realm as a mean of public transportation. We work for both private and public sector clients. All our work is informed by our international research base, and we extend that research base partly through research and publications but also through running workshops nationally and internationally, and organising seminars and conferences.
We have a particular methodology. A key part of our approach is about identity and celebrating the particularity and the distinctiveness of place, and we set this within a context of international best practice. A lot of work within planning and regeneration is not informed by an understanding of the international best practice, particularly within the UK. So we have a particular methodology, which starts with research and mapping, followed by a process of exchange which leads then to actual plans and strategic visions. I will demonstrate this methodology in the Thurrock project. General Public Agency is also informed by a particular curatorial methodology. We position ourselves to clients as an interdisciplinary consultancy. We have architects, artists, curators and urban designers within our team. We never mention the word ‘curating’ to private commercial corporate clients, nor do we talk about artists. We are a team, and we respond to what the brief is.

One of our ongoing projects is called ‘public image’ where people donate public images about the public realm, and everybody can subscribe to it. Every week we feature a different public image and it is becoming an amazing archive of people’s sense of where the public lies. On a more philosophical level we are interested in where the current public realm resides.

Thurrock: A Visionary Brief for the Thames Gateway

The Thames Gateway is a government-designated area of growth. 200,000 new homes are due to built in the gateway before 2016 – in theory. There are three areas to the gateway: the London Thames gateway, the Thurrock Thames Gateway, and then the Kent Thames Gateway in the South. The government set up the Unitary Development Corporations (UDC) with extraordinary planning powers, so the planning powers of the UDCs can override the powers of the existing local authorities, and they have large amounts of money to implement their programmes of growth. Our client was a mix of public sector agencies that were operating on the ground in Thurrock. It was Thurrock Council, East of England Development Agency, the Arts Council, Cabe, Sport England, etc, a kind of 13-headed client body.
The initial client’s idea for this project was to organise a conference. The brief was to promote the potential of culturally led regeneration, to look in new forms of culturally-led regeneration, and to raise the profile of Thurrock. We felt that a conference would not do this and we proposed an alternative programme. On the basis that a job is only as ever as good as the brief, we wanted to look at a visionary brief for the Thames Gateway. “What would it mean if you created an informed brief that would lead development?”

Programme Project
We devised a programme in phases:
- factual and creative research or mapping
- three multi-disciplinary Charrettes, one day workshops where strategic principles were developed and visionary briefs evolved
- public and policy presentations to disseminate these findings.
We did a series of mapping exercises and commissioned different practitioners to look at specific areas. The photographer Jason Orton produced a photographic portrait of Thurrock. We felt that it had got a really strong aesthetic, but actually the reputation of Thurrock is that of ‘nowhere land’ – a nowhere land of retail sheds and remains of all kinds of a post-industrial heritage. Thurrock has a really strong heritage, but one that wasn’t recognised internally or externally. We wanted to celebrate that heritage. 60% of Thurrock is green-belt, and there is an enormous amount of river frontage. There is a lot of marshland, much of which is landfill.
And there are enormous housing developments that could in fact just blanket the whole area.

We also commissioned two essays: one by the social historical Ken Worpole, who wrote about the South Essex landscape and memory, and discovered this incredible tradition of small scale utopian communities that have operated there over the past 200 hundred years. Chris Barnes, the environmentalist, wrote an essay as if environmental principles have been adopted, and he was writing in 2020. We produced a new atlas and maps, putting together all the information that all agencies involved had, so that everybody shared the same body of knowledge, including everything from demographics to industry.

The flood plane mapping was controversial. The pale blue bordering shows the river there and the flood planes, and that in fact is were all the housing was being developed and proposed at that time, and nobody was drawing that map.
We also pulled together a series of international case studies to inform the development. We showed
Common Ground who run incredible programmes about local distinctiveness and how to support that. We included a competition in Holland Amphibious Living on how to develop amphibious architecture.
We commissioned three creative practitioners to map the area in different ways. Helena Ben-Zenou did a kind of fine grain contemporary and historical mapping. The art and architecture collective
public works mapped the cultural spaces in Purfleet, with interviews of about 80 local residents about what their culture was. As it is always the case with those projects were you do listen to local people, new and unexpected findings emerged from this and public works’ analysis was really interesting. Purfleet had a very rich culture but there was no public space in which to express it. The finding that local people value the landscape of industry rather than the river which was also a completely unexpected finding to us. We commissioned Nils Norman to make a mapping of the green-belt, and he produced this “call to action”, which was a graphic novel looking at solutions to global warming, which basically was about community activism. It was e.g. proposing that we use the Lakeside Shopping Centre as an alternative fuel production centre.

In the next step we pulled three briefs together that we wanted the Charrettes to address. These were the three briefs that we thought were going to inform the development in Thurrock:
- Access to the riverfront
- New uses of the green belt
- New models of cultural facilities.
What was really interesting about the Charrettes was that everybody who took part had read all the material and all the briefing pack before they arrived, and they all tried really hard where everybody gave their best. I think partly because it was interdisciplinary, nobody was sure of their place within the hierarchy of that group of people. If we had had a group of architects or a group of artists, everyone would have known where they were, they would have been quite comfortable in that setting. And actually that slight discomfort of not knowing who the other participants were worked very well. Ideas started coming out really fast.
The four key principals that emerged:
- Do no harm
- Community engagement
- Innovation and creativity
- long-term thinking.
All principals are quite common sense and blunt principals, motherhood and apple-pie, who could argue with them. And yet they are not adopted within the vast majority of regeneration projects in this country. A series of big ideas came out of this process, one of which was to commission a new form of housing. This idea came from Jeremy Deller who said that “housing was going to be the icon of Thames Gateway”, and that is what we had to adopt as the new expression of culture. So, we all worked together to develop an idea of how a form of housing could be produced.

This is just an idea of a series of prototypes.

The idea that came out of the Charrette on new uses of the green-belt, was a whole new approach to mapping the value of land, and a total rejection of the idea of green-belt brown field, and a methodology which could engage with everything from the flight path of the red goose to a child’s walk to school.

The idea for The Town of Purfleet came out of a whole range of strategies to link Purfleet back to the river Thames, spatial, cultural and economic strategies.

The cultural charette suggested a new form of commissioning agency, instead of the kind of iconic cultural development, in the form of long-term series of commissions, in which different elements of cultural activity could be crossed in each commission.

Finally we then presented all the material and outcomes at the Cruise Terminal in Tilbury, to an audience of politicians, developers and planning and regeneration professionals, including Tessa Jowell who came to the launch, where Richard Rogers gave a speech amongst others. It was all fabulous event, and everybody was really excited.
A strong part of our belief is that all material should be publicly disseminated, so everything is available on the project website
www.visionarythurrock.org.uk.
We were then commissioned by the client to to look at what form of delivery vehicle we could design to deliver the proposed programmes. And we did that piece of work. East England Development Agency and the Arts Council developed a joint agreement in which they committed major money to the project in order to get it going. We also had developers wanting to work with us on the housing scheme.
And two and half years on, none of the ideas directly emerging from the programme has happened.

Analysis of failure
It has been really interesting for us that although the project was seen as a major success (we raised the profile of Thurrock and demonstrated a new model of culturally led regeneration), and everybody was happy and they all had this really big great day. But despite the principals and approach having a major legacy in the ongoing work of the client agency’s, nothing is being directly implemented from the programme. At General Public Agency we want to make change happen. So we have thought a lot about why this project might be considered to have failed. And I think my major conclusion is: you can not lead the public sector from the front, which is what we tried to do here. We thought we did this fantastic thing and we will take them with us. Another factor was that the client wanted this programme to happen before the UDC was established, which gave us very little time and we delivered everything from contract to dissemination in 8 months. Basically that was just too fast, it was too fast to embed it. And I think our feeling was it was such a great opportunity, it was worth going for it, but our ultimate conclusion is: if you cannot embed it within the work of the clients, then it is not going to get delivered. The key fact that happened that stopped it from being delivered was that the council went Tory the day before our public dissemination event. And it is only the second time in political history that Thurrock council has not been Labour. I think that demonstrates the importance of political stability and making sure that you have those political advocates with you in the development of any programme.

Mary White is the Director Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery


A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO SHREWSBURY AND SHROPSHIRE
CULTURAL LINKS AND DEVELOPMENTS

mary1.jpg

The Shrewsbury Museum Service as Adrian Plant said has a tradition of working with contemporary artists, and we work within what is called Cultural Services in the Borough Council of Shrewsbury. We have a real commitment within this town to culturally led regeneration, and we see cultural activity and the arts as a real driver, also an economic driver for the town, which is quite significant, because it has taken quite a while to get there. To convince councillors that the arts are not just something flaky that you bolt on at the end, but that the arts have to play an essential role in developing a town like Shrewsbury, which has a wonderful heritage. I very quickly want to explain some of the initiatives that are happening in Shrewsbury at the moment: we have just started work on building a new theatre by the river which is a major achievement for this council. It has probably taken twenty years to get there, but we’ve done it finally, and work has started. The building we are in today, the Old Market Hall Film and Digital Media Centre has been quite an icon in the process of development of making link between the heritage and the contemporary and is again one the very significant buildings in Shrewsbury. It was built as a market hall built by the Drapers Company in the 16th century. Later it was used as a magistrate’s court and nobody got in unless you were here because you have done something you shouldn’t. It became redundant as a court about a decade ago, and there was a long period where no one could decide what to do with it. The proposal to put a cinema and a cafe in here was such anathema to many people, that there was literally public fighting in the streets about it. Members of the council were physically attacked because of what they were seen to be doing, to destroy the heritage of Shrewsbury. People actually had to see the realised vision of a cinema/cafe/public building, to recognise how the contemporary arts, contemporary technology and a contemporary social life could sit within a historic building without destroying it. The building had been beautifully revealed. Nobody had ever seen this roof for hundreds of years, it was completely boxed in with bits of chipboard and stuff. Then suddenly it was revealed and there was a connection and people could see how that could work. I think that was a revelation for this town, that you could actually have both, the historic and the contemporary, and one didn’t have to destroy the other, but one could inform and illuminate the other. And that’s really the principle on which we are now working. We are looking to develop our museum service, and we have a number of other projects on the way, but they all are predicated on this premise: that you could have a meaningful relationship between the old and the new, and that can be part of the creative process.
We have probably more listed buildings for a town of this size than anywhere else in the country. It is an amazing historic place. Charles Darwin was born here. It has quite an extraordinary topography, because of the way it’s surrounded by the river, and the way that the river shapes the town. It shapes it physically, but I believe it also shapes it psychologically as well as socially, and certainly politically.
Shropshire itself is a very interesting county. It is the largest land-mocked county in England, with probably one of the smallest populations for its size. So in Shrewsbury we are very conscious of the fact, that although this is quite an urban centre, this is not really what this area is all about. It is very much about the relationship of centres of population and a wider rural population. The town itself, its whole history depended for hundreds of years and still does on its relationship with the rural area. And of course not just the English rural area but extends over the border into Wales, which is only five miles away. Historically our contacts and commitment is very much towards the West, into the hills and the mountains, and as far as the sea. So there is a real focus for this town on its rural hinterland. We have hardly begun to explore that relationship effectively, and therefore I think it’s terrific that this day is happening. This is going to be a springboard for wider work within the whole of our area, both the urban and rural areas.

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