In search of real-life interaction with world-leading artists, the creatives of tomorrow are heading for Bruton. Debbie Hillyerd, Director of Education at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, raises a placard in the name of education (and inspiration) as she explains why this is the place.
Back in the spring of 2014, we began plotting the contents of an education and events programme for the soon to open, Hauser & Wirth Somerset. The arts centre in Bruton provides an extraordinary setting for an education programme. The exhibitions, architecture, garden, food and sustainability are an inspiration for the widest approach to learning. Four years later, the education programme is a huge success, and is a fully integrated part of the gallery. It welcomes thousands of learners each year, from primary school children to international groups. For me, one of the highlights is Arthaus – the gallery’s youth group, launched in our opening year. The group meets every month at the gallery and consists of a mix of 15-19 year-olds from various schools and colleges across Somerset. Arthaus was given its name by its first members at their very first session. They played various word games around the gallery and garden until the name Arthaus was born – from both the art and the house on site at Durslade Farm. The name also makes reference to films of artistic quality and, finally, ‘Haus’ as a natural link to ‘Hauser’, as in Hauser & Wirth. Since its launch, Arthaus has both instigated and responded to an impressive range of projects. The group has met with world-leading artists within the exhibition programme, such as Pipilotti Rist, Jenny Holzer, Phyllida Barlow and Mark Wallinger. They worked directly with artist Martin Creed to produce one of his paintings, the finished piece being included in his exhibition, What You Find (2016), at the gallery.
One of the unique features of Hauser & Wirth Somerset is its artist-in-residence programme. Martin Creed took part in an artist’s residency here in 2016 and produced much of the work for his exhibition in the residency studio. The residency programme provides an opportunity for artists to immerse themselves in their practice. It also provides opportunities for audiences to access this close proximity to art manufacture and production – how the maker thinks, speaks about, and presents their work. Other outcomes from Arthaus’ activities include: private view events just for young people, visits to London art galleries, competing in national competitions such as Articulation, performances at the Hauser & Wirth annual Summer Party, work experience and much, much more. Four years on, we regularly hear from past members; this summer we welcomed one of them for an internship. Mostly, they are happily studying art, with many now at institutions such as Goldsmiths, The Courtauld, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Chelsea, to name a few top art schools with Arthaus blood running through them! I grew up in a city, but my own children grew up in rural Somerset, and I have learnt a lot through their experiences and those of their friends. The county of Somerset is huge and mostly rural. It is visually beautiful and has many great schools, but it is not known for its culture industry, and there are not many places for young people to hang out; visiting an art gallery can often mean travelling for an hour.
This understanding, coupled with a long history of working in universities, has allowed me to simultaneously recognise the young person and the university student – two very separate stages. Young people are still in a world shaped by restrictions: school, parents, travel, knowledge, compared to those who have transcended boundaries and are exploring the world from a different perspective. That journey can take different forms for many young people, and the opportunity to hold a group, especially for young people who were still at school and college, living at home and trying to find out about the world outside their physical location, felt very necessary. Hauser & Wirth Somerset occupies a unique rural location, and the renovated farm buildings celebrate their past and embrace their new additions. They are not restricted by their agricultural history, but instead, when filled with young people, become a platform for the incubation of new ideas. The artists John Wood and Paul Harrison were already known to the gallery and we were in discussion about a possible event. When they declared their interest in working with Arthaus we were, of course, delighted! They came to a Wednesday meeting and provided an introduction to their work, talking about key projects and what it means to be an artist duo. The experience of meeting artists is always different – no artists are ever the same – and Arthaus had never met artists who practice in a partnership before. Wood and Harrison started working together in 1991, in their early career as artists. For over twenty-five years they have worked collaboratively, making single-channel videos, multi-screen video installations, drawings, prints and sculpture that elegantly fuse aesthetic research with existential comedy. Their approach and style is easily identifiable and often their pared down and to-the-point works explore how human beings interact with everyday objects. In particular, Wood and Harrison’s work regularly features the actions of their own bodies, as well as a wide variety of static and moving props.
Following their presentation, Arthaus were invited to commit to a workshop project with the artists. Taking their methods as a starting point, the commissioned project, This Is The Plan, involved a three-day workshop and two days filming with Wood and Harrison. The finished film, titled This Rectangle (2018), was exhibited at the gallery from May-September and is credited as a project by Wood and Harrison in collaboration with Arthaus. It has been wonderful to see many visitors enjoying the film, especially the young people involved who have revisited with friends and family during the summer months. This was a unique opportunity for members of Arthaus to work alongside the artists, learn about their creative processes, embrace collaborative practice and produce an original short film. Each participant received their own copy of the film, a valuable addition to their portfolio for those who are just about to apply to art college. John Wood and Paul Harrison worked brilliantly with each member of the group, and certainly a strong working party became evident, yet they still maintained the character of each individual in the group. Each time I watch their film, I recognise this and feel privileged to have an added smile of recognition. However, I feel the value of Arthaus is also about those less visual qualities – the development of each participant’s confidence, their sense of enquiry and ownership, and the deeper knowledge they now own regarding artists, the art world, and all of its complexities. In addition, these experiences were equally beneficial for the artists, Wood and Harrison. I’m excited about the future possibilities for the members of Arthaus, and interested to see how the group grows and develops.
Arthaus student India Savill was keen to share her thoughts on what the group has meant to her, since joining a year ago. ‘I first joined Arthaus looking for some inspiration and a direction for my creativity. However, since being involved, I’ve realised it’s given me so much more than that. Since being part of the group at Hauser & Wirth, I have gained so much knowledge and confidence – in myself and in the way I work as an artist. Arthaus has given me once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: interviewing artists and visiting private studios, and it has even introduced me to filmmaking, working alongside John Wood and Paul Harrison, helping them create This Rectangle (2018). I am also extremely proud to be able to add my involvement with Arthaus to my CV – it is great experience to have and I am so pleased that we have Hauser & Wirth Somerset right on our doorstep. Working with John and Paul has been my favourite Arthaus project so far. We planned, took test shots and filmed the entirety of the film in just a handful of evenings. Seeing the film on show at Hauser & Wirth, and receiving a copy to add to my portfolio, was just amazing and working with these artists really opened my eyes, not only to filmmaking but to a whole world of experiences within the world of art. It was so interesting to see how John and Paul worked, and where their inspiration comes from, and so rewarding to step back at the end and see the finished product – the result of all our hard work. I’m so grateful for what Arthaus has given me, and my only regret is that I didn’t get involved sooner!’