Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Land of Plenty

It isn’t every day that one dons a pair of wellies to go visit and art gallery, but you’d have a pretty slippery time getting to Hauser and Wirth in Bruton, Somerset if you didn’t (unless of course you came by car, but this way is infinitely more fun)! Whilst I am unsure how gratefully received the mud I tramped-in to the gallery was, in my mind, it was the best possible start to viewing an exhibition about ‘Land’ by bringing some of it with me! You’re welcome!
Carston Höller ‘Giant Triple Mushroom’ [2015] Polyester
paint, synthetic resin, acrylic paint, wire, putty,
polyurethane, rigid foam, stainless steel.
By pure coincidence, around the time of seeing this show I had just started reading for the first time, Graham Swift’s novel, Waterland [1983], in it Swift writes, that “Only nature knows neither memory nor history.” Implying that it is forever changing and has been there long before us and will continue to do so long after we have gone. I thought this was a good connection to the exhibition titled, ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ at Hauser and With Somerset, whose key themes include an exploration of, ‘society’s relationship to the rural’ featuring work, projects, reportage and documentation in response to land; food production, consumption, sustainability and nature in the urban environment. These are just some of the concepts explored by over 50 artists and creative groups of people from the past (as far back as the 14thand 18th Century) up to the present. I meant it when I called this post, ‘Land of Plenty’! Whilst writing this review I kept going back to my copy of Waterland and reading things that related to what I saw in this exhibition, with John Burnside’s introduction including the following useful quote from Dorothy Canfield, 
“Art is considered as the expression of any people as a whole, is the response they make in various mediums to the impact that the totality of their experience makes upon them, and there is no sort of experience that works so constantly and subtly upon man as his regional environment.”
What is interesting about the ‘land’ exhibition at Hauser and Wirth is it is a diverse collection of people’s responses to their ‘regionalness’ from where they are from and so includes work from all over the UK and the world, yet despite this the common theme that unites them all is a very human one and that is the desire to create, explore and understand, on a social, political, spiritual, scientific, bodily, biographical [delete as appropriate/the list goes on..] level the land and how we connect to it.
Eric Sjödlin ‘The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project’ [2017] Azolla weed.
 It is an ambitious and plentiful exhibition, each room of the gallery hosting anything between forty and fifty small works on the walls, in vitrines and in one instance as a feast set-out on a grand dining room table (but more on that later). Read it as you might read a book, with each room responding to a different theme and idea within the overall totality that it is a [book] about the human relationship and impact on land or vice versa. In the first room, ‘the rural as a laboratory for the development of ideas’ greets visitors with the overwhelming smell of cheese in Fernando Garia-Dory’s, ‘Mobile Dairy School’ and plastic-lit water tanks growing pond weed in Eric Sjödin’s ‘The Azolla Cooking and Cultivation Project’. It genuinely feels like a laboratory, elsewhere ‘Sweetwater Foundation Aquaponics system’ houses fish and grows salads at the same time whilst Tom Philipson’s eggs and pickles in jars form a calendar of sorts and CarstonHöller’s botanical cross-sections of mushrooms are inquisitive and precise scientific looking spectacles that render large the architectural and alien-like fascination people, not limited to mycologists, have with beholding the natural world. During the exhibition’s running time these exhibits also act as working models for social engagement and participation, supported by live demonstrations of cheese and bread making as well as goat milking.
Tom Philpson ‘Shelf’ [2018] Wood, eggs, vinegar, glass, pickles.
Other [chapters] of this exhibition include two rooms exploring the rural utopia, the religious, the spiritual and ritualistic through a historic and joyous plethora of artefacts; featuring exquisite tiny Samuel Palmer prints to work by William Blake and John Ruskin. A Kate Greenaway study of rock, moss and ivy and drawings by Beatrix Potter remind visitors of how their published illustrations helped educate and inspire an interest in the natural world. They are a treat to spot in a room nearly bursting with work by Henry Moore, David Nash and Kurt Schwitters to name a few! There is a Grayson Perry print (because he’s everywhere!) hung above a door, too high to see and two excellent photographic works by Paul McCarthy, ‘Use a Shovel to Throw Dirt in the Air’ and Roni Horn's, ‘Becoming a Landscape’ that document a performance or moment-in-time. The art in these rooms generates conversations through the sheer variety and on-going obsession artists have had in depicting how we relate to earth, not only in reproductions/descriptions of it, but crucially how art has evolved to make work that reflects the  philosophical idea of being of and in the land. None more so, is this present and grounded than in the farm tools hung throughout the entire exhibition, donated by Richard Hollingberry. I salute you!
Nikolaus Geyrhalter ‘Our Daily Bread’ [2005] Dvd.
One of the more powerful rooms is the darkened Rhoades Gallery in which a film projection titled, ‘Our Daily Bread’ [2005] by Nikolaus Greyhalter dominates showing scenes of food production; from the heavily mechanised more gentle crop-harvesting to the graphic slaughter of cattle and chickens in an abattoir. For vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, it is highly emotive and likely to cause much debate and possible controversy in its harsh, but starkly honest, documentation. Before it, lies a banquet of art works on a table, reminiscent for me of Hestercombe Gallery’s, Buffet d’art’ [June 2017] in which a host of artist’s make table and/or food-based work to be metaphorically consumed by the viewer. The theme for this room of, ‘transformation, transition and transubstantiation’ presents work that is largely about food production and consumption. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s, ‘The Four Seasons’ feel oddly at home here, their message of ‘you are what you eat’ and slightly sinister, strangeness alongside a mountain of decaying compost and Karen Guthrie’s 'House of Ferment' [2016] act as a reminder of the cyclical-nature of our relationship with food. Marcus Coates’Anchorhold’ [2015] offers a more spiritual and contemplative form of transformation through a performance inside an architecturally bespoke, apple-store in which participants are invited to eat an apple and address the artist, ‘As the Apple Service Provider’ with a question[conversations of which will later be played as audio in the space].
Giuseppe Arcimboldo ‘The Four Seasons’ [1572] Oil on canvas.
The final room of this exhibition ends similarly to how it began, with working examples of participatory projects, but this time in more urban settings. Projects highlighted such as, ‘What will the harvest be?’ and an Honesty Shop selling items hand-made by people living in Bruton are two examples in which communities have been brought together through a creative activity. It is an uplifting end to the exhibition, aided by Simon Fairlie’s haystacks and Bedwyr Williams’ ram/bicycle hybrid. Visitors who enjoy this exhibition should also note that with this show Hauser and Wirth is doing what exhibitions at Hestercombe Gallery, under the curation of Tim Martin, has been doing for the best part of three years; bringing local and national artists who work with rural, environmental residencies and programmes into the context of the gardens and house at Hestercombe. Their current exhibition, ‘Odyssean Topographies’ is well worth a look if you enjoyed this one!
Bedwyr Williams ‘Wooly Back’[2010] Bike, rams horns,
skull, wool.
‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ is the exhibition that Hauser and Wirth in Bruton have always needed; a chance for it to utilise its unique feature of being located in a rural setting and community. I am surprised it has taken this long for it to happen, but the breadth of work in this exhibition has made it worth the wait. Conceptually, it is a show that is almost self-gratuitously proud and flaunting in telling the themes and ideas within its curation, perhaps it’s a little too much in some places... The positives are, that its potential for social influence is good; it inspires and aspires that communities can have a significant and mutually beneficial relationship with their environment and that artist’s have a very active role to play as pioneers of change, instigators of activity as well as practical doers and credible researchers. ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ reminds that change begins at home, we do not need to go further than our front door in order to have a connection with a sense of place. It can begin with the land right under our feet.
The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset until 7th May 2018

Text Copyright Natalie Parsley© January 2018

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