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Art & Agriculture

by James on January 17th, 2011

This is one area I’ve not explored in a huge amount of depth so far, although it feeds into my work as I explore place and rural life. I have worked with a dairy farm once before, in Dorset, facilitating creative sessions for primary children to explore the links between the cheese that they ate at home, and the way that the countryside looks and operates around them.

So what is it that interests me in the relationship between the creation of art, of art as a process of researching and modeling different realities, and the process of farming the land for food?

To be honest I think that’s one of the main things that I want to explore and discover, so its not something I can or want to define as yet. But its something about art as a process of engagement of individuals and communities in dialogue with the places around them, and how this can and does intersect with the way that farmers engage with and cultivate that same earth/landscape to create our food.

So its about bodily, cultural and even spiritual engagement with the land through working it and harvesting food from it. Its also very much about the rich cultural heritage of farming, and farming communities, and of course the issues that relate to sustainability and biodiversity in both modern and more traditional farming methods.

In addition it’s also about the very creation and re-creation of our countryside, and the myths that surround ‘the countryside’, as a cultural construction, and how these affect the way that we perceive and treat the world around us.

Thanks to all those on Twitter who have generously shared their own sources of information and inspiration around Art & Agriculture, especially Deidre Nelson, I’ve put some of those links together with a few of my own here, in case you fancy reading into this area a little more yourself.

I would really welcome hearing of any other organisations, any research that has taken place, or relevant opportunities/funding sources that you know of.

Thank you – here goes…

First up is  ‘Art & Farming in Britain’ – A Resource produced by artist Georgina Barney and published by FACE (Farming & Countryside Education).

This downloadable resource consists of a series of documents tracing the history of the relationship between art and farming in the UK, and should prove a useful introduction for anyone with a keen interest.

Next, and this is the one example that sprang to mind of an artist farming an area as part of their practice, is Wheatfield by Agnes Dene. A landmark piece of work for me in the area of art and ecological restoration, its use of sown wheat in an urban setting really gets to the heart of my own interests, in blurring the boundaries between urban and rural, humanity and ‘nature’.

This quote is taken from the Green Museum site, a great source of information  on Art, Ecology and Learning…

In, Wheatfield – A Confrontation, Denes examined the natural cycles of growth and regeneration.

Her stated purpose was to call “people’s attention to having to rethink their priorities.” She constructed the wheatfield on a landfill near the World Trade Center, an unlikely spot for crop production.

Two assistants and some volunteers helped her remove trash from the 4 acres of land, spread 225 truckloads of topsoil, and plant 1.8 acres of wheat. She contends the work would not have been possible without numerous volunteers who arrived at random to help, “ranging from one or two to six or seven on a good day”. (Oakes, 1995, p. 169)

An irrigation system was installed to sustain and regulate the wheat’s growth cycle over four months. In summer, the green wheat stalks stretched skyward and turned a brilliant amber by early autumn. In the late fall, the artist harvested a thousand pounds of the grain. (Matilsky, 1992)

Now onto the organisations. I’m sure there are lots more organisations out there supporting work in this area of arts practice, but for now, here’s two that I know of –

Inland – Art, Agricultures & Countryside, Spain

“INLAND- CAMPO ADENTRO” is a project that examines the role of territories, geopolitics, culture and identity in the relationship between the city and the countryside in Spain today.

This initiative offers residencies for artists who share the values of the organisation which seeks to analyse current perceptions and representations of rural life and how these influence the construction of identity…. to provide an interpretation of rural life that highlights the threats and opportunities that exist in the Spanish countryside from the standpoint of contemporary culture’

The project provides artists, farmers, intellectuals, rural development agents, policymakers, curators and art critics, amongst others from the rural and urban spheres, with an open platform for presenting their research and practice.

Focus on Farmers – Aune Head Arts with Beaford Arts, Devon UK

Aune Head Arts is a similar initiative to the last, in that it is a rural arts initiative, but one which focuses largely on the South West of the UK, and more specifically on the Dartmoor area. One of AHA’s projects which ran from 2003 to 2005 was Focus on Farmers, working with four farms and farming families –

Focus on Farmers (FoF) was developed as a contemporary artistic response to a contemporary issue regarding hill-farming on Dartmoor and Exmoor.  The central idea was to use contemporary artforms to present Dartmoor and Exmoor as living landscapes maintained through farming, and the agricultural practices of their hill farmers, commoners and others who use the moors.

AHA have run many other projects with artists of various backgrounds, exploring farmed and protected landscapes, so its well worth having a look at their website.

Finally a brief mention of another artist, David Blyth, a contemporary artist based in Scotland. Blyth works with taxidermy, video and sound, and has created work informed by lambing and other farming practices –

His recent project Knockturne (2007) explored lambing as a dark narrative of contradictory aesthetic values through collaboration with a local shepherd in rural Aberdeenshire. By exploiting the aesthetic of installation and surrealism as a genre, the very cultural specific is conceptualised and represented as a provocation about value and inhabitation. (Grays School of Art Website)

So that’s just a few examples, and quite a wide spread between the socially engaged, what could be called Land Art and the agriculturally inspired but gallery-based practice.

Its such a rich area to draw from (or feed on) and I’m excited to be allowing myself to start to plan and research a new area for my practice. As soon as there’s any developments I’ll let you know…

  1. This is an interesting direction of enquiry and you mention Land art. It may be worth looking at what Andy Goldsworthy has to contribute. He makes some interesting commnets here: about the effect of sheep on the landscape but the work of his I would like to draw your attention too are the large scale sheep canvases that he exhibited in the YSP a couple of years ago: notwithstanding the pinfold sculptures he has made in the villages around us. Art of the land, a land shaped by agriculture.

  2. admin permalink

    Thanks for your speedy response Lily, and your useful examples.
    I think you’re right, Goldsworthy’s work when it relates to the way that sheep use and shape the land, and the sculptures that he has made for them, are a different approach to the other examples I mentioned, in the way they work with the behaviour of the sheep, and the ongoing effects of their grazing on the landscape.
    The canvases are new to me so I’ll definitely be taking a look at those…
    Thanks again,

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