Hauser & Wirth Somerset is delighted to announce ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’, curated by Adam Sutherland. This ambitious survey exhibition explores the contradictory nature of society’s relationship to the rural. The presentation features over 50 international artists and creatives, as well as works on loan, by artists working from the 1500s to the present day, including Paul McCarthy, Beatrix Potter, Carsten Höller, Laure Prouvost, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Palmer, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcus Coates, Fernando García-Dory, Mark Dion, Roni Horn, Aaron Angell and Mark Wallinger.
With protagonists ranging from 10th-century anchorites to 21st-century urban ruralists, ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’ tells the story of humanity’s evolving connection to the land, our perception of, and reliance upon it. Viewers will have the opportunity to engage with the themes of the exhibition through a series of participatory artists’ projects and practical presentations, such as aquaponics, fermentation, goat milking and cheese making.
The exhibition’s title refers to a toast used by migrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, which celebrated the land they had arrived in, followed by a riposte celebrating their country of origin – a place that for many embodied romantic longing. The selected works suggest the rural as a laboratory for the development of ideas, in particular the notion of a rural utopia, exploring the religious migrants, the industrial escapees, the metaphors of the flight from Egypt and the return to Eden, that are embedded in humanity’s collective unconscious. This vision is counter-balanced and punctuated by pieces of documentary and reportage, from works illustrating the reality of modern farming, to artefacts relating to boy racers’ car culture. The exhibition explores these tangible themes of territorial friction, procreation, death, and our primeval base instinct, against the backdrop of a more elusive and arcadian incarnation of the rural.
Upon arriving at Hauser & Wirth Somerset viewers may encounter goats grazing in the grass farmyard; artist Fernando García-Dory and Hayatsu Architects have created a wooden pavilion – a functioning artwork – for goats to climb on and socialise. Milking and cheese making workshops have been scheduled as part of the gallery’s education programme. In a fitting tribute to its original usage, the display in the Threshing Barn is centred on produce, growing and processing, with most of the installations generating food; a balanced diet of fish, eggs, cheese and salad. Works include a three-tiered aquaponic tank system, where fish and plants are growing together in one integrated system, and a mobile cheese production unit. Visible through the windows in the Cloister Courtyard is Hayatsu Architect’s ‘Community Bread Oven’ (2017) – a working oven built in collaboration with architecture students from Central Saint Martins, which will be used for workshops during the course of the exhibition.
The following two galleries house a mix of historic works and artefacts, interspersed by some contemporary works, focusing on various histories of rurally based movements, from the Adamites, Diggers and New Diggers, to William Morris and the inter-related visionary communities. The call of the land has drawn many movements into forming rural utopias; these spaces comprise a visual essay following some of these optically rich and ideologically disparate attempts, and highlight how our vision of the rural has evolved. They are described by curator Adam Sutherland as ‘a loose overview and a bit of a romp through the precedents and experiments of the well-meaning and the well-driven’. The many works on display include the William Holman Hunt painting ‘Afterglow in Egypt’ (c. 1854 – 63), a William Heath Robinson cartoon ‘Tightening up the Green Belt’ (c. 1935 – 47) and a pair of sandals (c. 1890) belonging to the radical Victorian writer and philosopher Edward Carpenter. The collection is knitted together by a series of interpretative wall drawings by Fernando García-Dory.
Moving into the Rhoades gallery – the largest of the exhibition spaces – the walls are painted dark green, lending the space a sombre atmosphere. The works in this room allude to ideas of transformation, transition, and transubstantiation. On the far wall, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s film ‘Our Daily Bread’ (2005), which lyrically describes the highly developed technologies involved in contemporary farming, is being screened on a loop. With no commentary or background music, except the ambient sounds of the production, the viewing experience is of an intense and sometimes graphic sequence of moving images showing animals, plants, workers and the specialised machinery involved in mass food production.
Dominating the centre of the room is a series of long tables with works that are all related to food, by various artists including Bedwyr Williams, Laure Prouvost, Pablo Bronstein, and Francesca Ulivi. The rest of the room is populated by two small building-like structures, one of which is ‘Anchorhold’ (2015), an ingenious wooden structure, designed by the architectural practice Sutherland Hussey Harris, working in collaboration with artist Marcus Coates. The name Anchorhold refers to a tenth century hermitage in which anchorites would withdraw from society in order to deliberate on God. For this exhibition, Coates has repurposed the structure as an apple store. The structure holds two people within it and in the course of the show Coates will hold a series of one-on-one artist performances, which will be audio-recorded and played back during the exhibition. The stored apples will also be available for visitors to eat.
Spotlit on one wall of the gallery are four works by Giuseppe Arcimboldo; anthropomorphic allegories composed of fruits and plants entitled ‘Autumn’ (1572), ‘Winter’ (1572), ‘Spring’ (1572) and ‘Summer’ (1572). On the opposite wall hangs the John Martin painting ‘Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion’ (1812), which depicts a climbing figure set against a vast and unstable landscape.
A lobby leading off from this gallery houses The Honest Shop, selling products handmade by the local community. There is no special selection process for what is sold; anyone living locally may place their wares in the shop – provided they are handmade. Visitors may purchase the products at the price specified and are trusted to leave the money in an honesty box. This bespoke, unregulated model for trading provides a unique snapshot of the people of Bruton and suggests an alternative to commercial mass consumerism.
The final room in the exhibition examines the influence of the rural on urban culture – from art to marketing – and includes contributions from Mildred’s Lane, Myvillages, Somewhere, Kultivator, Fairland Collective and Phytology, among many others. This space will play host to a wide variety of workshops, talks and other educational activities.
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