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The stream of irritating press releases that run through my mail has been particularly virrulent of late, must be the season. Heading the pack is surely the School of Saatchi, unbelievable that anyone would agree to do this, X factor for art, only from the starting point that art is a totally minority interest with an audience in the thousands. So Saatchi's idea that this will be the X factor for visual arts is mental. Actually I am remembering I was asked to do this a couple of years ago, a pilot version made in the north - They asked me to be on the panel, it was 3 days in Newcastle in a studio and then a couple of interviews, I initially said no, then they said they would pay me £10,000 and I said yes - soooo that's how it happens. I mean I thought I would use the money to support good projects, and maybe something interesting could be done with the show. I was naive back then about TV, I now know that you have absolutely no control or influence and that the TV production is unbelievable ruthless in getting its simple messages across.
Other favs include A Foundation's two Euro art tramps in conversation, very drawn out men in black talking about obvious stuff and giving it the full slavic gravitas - quite funny, listen to it as an audio work. The message is 'cun ve do art vat hiz uzeful, yeh zo maybe could be, umm I dont zay hef to. more here
The rest without going into detail, Campaign for Carlise to become city of culture, Abandon Normal Devices and blow minds by using film and video presentation, and so on.
On Sat. 14th November, Guestroom launched their new Lawson Park Library with a Coniston Institute film screening with Oxen Park Cinema Club and a cruise on the solar powered Ruskin Launch on Coniston Water.
Sailors pictured above (left to right) Rob Little (UCLAN), Glenn Boulter (Musician / artist & GA intern), Adam Sutherland (GA director), Maria Benjamin (Guestroom), Dorian Moore (GA technologist and tall person) & musician Jack Maynard.
Thanks to everyone who attended and took part.
Wapke Feenstra was always a little critical of our honesty policy for the honest stall. She would I think prefer that we gave fixed prices for the goods, rather than a pay what you think its worth system, which I understand, given the effort in producing most of the goods, including or especially vegetables. None the less true honesty always wins through even when someone steals all the money from the jar as this picture shows. They have kindly drawn on the jar with the 'comments pen'.
A Radio Animal event by Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson
Supported by the Storey Institute, Lancaster, The Henry Moore Foundation, Arts Council England and University of Cumbria:
Grizedale Arts is hosting a Radio Animal event - a meal at which a number of invited people, including artists, curators and arts facilitators, animal studies scholars, and local interested parties will discuss the issue of 'animal'.
We want to approach issues of identity in relation to animals. Why are we culturally so ambivalent in respect of who we are and how we should behave in the presence of either the term 'animal' or indeed animals themselves. As human animals, culturally we tend to value those animals that are not ourselves or very, very like us, chiefly in relation to their effectiveness in fulfilling some human function or need, or conversely the threat we believe they might hold to challenge our will or comfort.
Awareness of self, a faculty we (human-animals) believe separates us from other species, has unexpectedly brought us a troubled relationship with non-human animals. Because of this it could be argued, that a necessary psychological distance has been established between us and those species over which we exercise the most control.
Because so much of what we are in adulthood is inherited, our subscription to this legacy, leads us to believe without question in the apparent cultural order of things. Such belief generally, is accepting of our dominion over others and an elevated evolutionary position in relation to other species and thus fails in turn to recognize an intrinsic interdependence between species. An acknowledgement of this, might well have helped us avoid many of the more difficult consequences we face today in respect of the environment and therefore paradoxically our own as well as everyone else's survival.
The bottom line for such considerations is one concerning habitat - all species adapt well or less well, for better or for worse to different habitats and when those specialist habitats fail, an ability to move or to adapt quickly enough to survive, is tested. Uncertainty In The City (Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, commissioned by Storey Gallery, Lancaster) is a speculative, artists' exploration into the relationship between humans and the animals that nudge at and breach the borders of our homes. At the heart of this enquiry is the membrane that is breached, whether this is a material 'skin' of bricks and mortar, fences and land, or a linguistic contrivance.
Radio Animal has been on the road since early summer this year asking questions of people regarding their proximity with other species, and discussing their experiences with others in the home, hidden in the fabric of their home, in the garden and otherwise as they go about their daily business.
At a time when environmental peril is discussed as a global issue and overheard in some form by us on a daily basis, leaving us often with a sense of impotence in the face of the inevitable, artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson are examining what 'environment' might mean in a more intimate and domestic sense - where consideration of this term might trigger a more meaningful and evocative recognition for individuals and where the sharing of space between species and its consequences might resonate more powerfully allowing some chance of new understanding and even new behaviour.
Illustrator Meg Falconer, farmer John Atkinson, Guest Room artist Maria Benjamin, poet Jack Maynard, writer and critic Rikke Hansen, tech fiend Dorian Moore, Grizedale Arts Director Adam Sutherland, artist Karen Guthrie, Alistair Hudson, (Radio Animal) artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson.
Wapke Feenstra has been undertaking a Grizedale Arts residency funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, design and Architecture. Over the three month residency Wapke has been involved in a critical dialogue with both the organisation and its context.
She is herself from a farming background in Friesland and so well suited to be the first artist in residence at the new Lawson Park headquarters and farm project.
Underlying her multi strand approach here has been a slight incredulousness around the British rural culture and also the British rural art scene. That any one bothers to farm this land of the Lake District, with no soil and no market for its product other than tourist entertainment, underlined much of her work here.
Her membership of the myvillages group made a good starting point, in that she was able to address the immediate issue of the Lawson Park honesty stall. This stall, which had originally been designed and built by a group of art students from Oxford, was created as part of a chain of stalls in a network of shops that aim to promote products and ideas from peripheral zones (ie rural backwaters) through the sale of local goods combined with a socio-political message. The ambition being to engage with the tourist/visitor at a deeper level and encourage a truer understanding of the context.
The Lawson Park stall, however, had grown weather weary and tired, so Wapke offered to undertake the redesign and reconstruction of the stall, to make it effective and functional.
Working with intern Sophie Perry, the stall was adapted and extended with shelving systems, boxes, signage, a picnic table for eating and viewing leaden with homespun phraseology to stimulate the user into considering the value of the produce on sale (in this case a pay what you want honesty jar policy) and subsequently the value of rural life in general.
The stall was launched at the opening of Lawson Park and was soon turning over a good few hundred pounds a week, clearly making an impact on its passing punters, including a beaming Nick Serota who cleaned us out of Chantrelles. She also built a market around the stall of local crafts and food for both openings and offered her own imported myvillages delicacies of cheese, brot and and pate.
Wapke contributed in other ways during her stay too, including the commission of the Lawson Park dining room table made by the artist for the main and central (physical, social, theoretical) space in the building. Wapke used her familiar technique of overpainted plywood grain combined with supporting structure produced by Process Pipework Services of Ulverston.
She made research visits to three local farms: Bracelet Hall, Yew Tree and Nibthwaite Grange, the latter being the most successful as farmer John Atkinson was able to dedicate a considerable amount of time to explaining the reality of farming this land and his campaigning as treasurer of the Cumbrian Commoners Association. Wapke took a soil sample from John's best meadow by the river which reinforced Wapke's aforementioned incredulousness as only 15cm of soil was the best she could manage without hitting bare rock.
Wapke also took part in the Rhizome and MyVillages Symposium from October 23 to 29. She is currently developing two projects with us: the International Village Shop with myvillages.org and a European toruing project on primary industries with German curator Robert Eikmeyer.
Kathrin Boehm leads the Rhyzom field trip with Public Works, myvillages, AAA Paris, PS2 Belfast, Agency Sheffield. Another kind of conference/seminar use and they even did some weeding.
This is what two small ponies do on a daily basis
Mark Wilson and Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir present a radio broadcast over dinner at Lawson Park. To Discuss our attitude to animals while eating some of them.
Rikke Hansen (writer and critic)
Meg Falconer (Illustrator)
John Atkinson (farmer)
Dorian Moore (web designer)
and a range of the Grizedale staff
Tune in on via www.radioanimal.org
Radio Animal is supported by The Storey Institute, the Henry Moore Foundation, University of Cumbria and Arts Council England
Charlie Gere wants to do wonderful things to the corps of John Ruskin and, to my surprise, I don't just want to watch, I want to join in!
Charlie, like myself, thinks that the heritage vampires have tried their hardest to reduce Ruskin to nothing more than an anachronistic token of neo-conservative Victorian Chic. In thier eyes, nothing remins of Big JR and his legacy besides a sign-post to a lost past and dreams of medieval craft-based evangelism.
In this interview, shot in the heartland of the academic Ruskinian heritage industry - Charlie outlines his conviction that Big JR may still be able to influence us positively from beyond the grave of museology. Tipping a wink and a nod to Derrida's book 'Spectres of Marx' (in my hazy left-wing mind his finest work), Mr Gere asserts that Big JR haunts us still, like a spectre of the undead, reminding us that ethics is at the heart of any re-assessment of what art actually is and can do.
Big Johnny Ruskin strode the Victorian art world with balls of steel, a heart full of moral invective, keen critical sensibilities, dubious/unconventional/repressed sexuality (delete as appropriate) and a penchant for spotting and supporting young talent. Oh, and don't forget those sideburns. If he were alive today he would probably be a judge on the X-Factor.
Such a flippant view is, hopefully, anathema to supporters of the heritage industry - that specialist sector of the culture, tourism and leisure industry whose job it is to produce a dewy eyed retro market for Past Time franchises, Laura Ashley wallpaper and endless TV regurgitations of period and costume dramas. You are not the guardians of history. You are the producers of a marketable image which is just as crass, tacky and removed from the 'reality' of culture (whatever that might or could be) as Father Christmas and Sonic the Hedgehog (on second thoughts, apologies to Sonic).
This blog intends to help wrestle the memory of John Ruskin away from those who wish to fix him as a definable historical identity - all medieval moralism and anti-technological rant. Instead, it intends to return John Ruskin to the land of the living - as a complex cipher for understanding our current dilemmas with ever changing relationships between art, artists, culture and society.
Lofty stuff I hear you cry!
But manageable if you are prepared to work with me (and indulge me a little) in the production of a meandering text/video blog whose singular intention is to uncover what Ruskin might mean to artists, curators, producers and publics today. So here's looking forward to an amusing and possibly informative culture clash of the old, new, borrowed and often simply made up.
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