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

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