REPORT

A travel through the English agri-culture by Lenka Dolanova

Why should a rural space, lacking the cultural infrastructure, be a good space for artists? How artists justify their existence in a space, which is often hostile to them? I was asking these questions, visiting some examples of rural art residencies in England.


Wysing Arts: artists and scientists
Wysing Arts is just outside Cambridge. Its program curator Lotte Juul Petersen showed us the residency flats and studios, gallery, garden and another spaces in total ten buildings. Large meadow hosts temporarily wooden structures, used during the summer music festival. They prefer artists, who they can work with long-term, who co-operate with the others and try to function in the local context.
The farm was acquired by four friends in the 1990s, with the aim to provide cheap studios for emerging artists. Donna Lynas, the current director, made it more professional, and decided to focus on contemporary arts. The funding comes from foundations, initiatives, sponsors etc. The artists work with the local farmers as well, and the proximity of Cambridge makes Wysing an ideal space for art - science co-operation. During the series of events with the theme of Improbable, artists and scientists worked together. Now, some new strategies of survival are needed, a new model of creative economy is being developed.


London: eco-art without money
In London, I met Michaela Crimmin from the project Arts & Ecology, an initiative of RSA, focused on the environmental problems. Its aim was to connect various activities and persons, and the results present on the website and during the series of conferences and seminars. They published the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (2006), and co-organised exhibitions. Now, the project is ending because of the lack of funding. Gasworks, which was my host institution, is above all a traditional residency project, providing also an international residency network, but the centre also initiated some interesting eco-art exhibitions: Anna Colin was co-author of the series Disclosures. The first was dedicated to sharing the resources in the sphere of culture, Disclosures II: The Middle Ages to a historical and rural context of openness, and interconnection between the farming methods and open source ideas.


Grizedale Arts: real (art) farmers
Grizedale Arts in Lake District is another rural space I visited. Located in the middle of the mountains, in the summer a cyclists paradise, in November quite a quiet place. Like in Wysing, also Grizedale relatively recently appeared on the map of contemporary art. The director Adam Sutherland had gradually distanced himself from the traditional sculpture heritage. In 2000, the Grizedale Arts rented an old farm Lawson Park, where it is located now. Classical facade from massive stone blocks hides a simple and cozy interior.
The question, how to involve the locals and justify the artistic existence, seems to be more urgent outside of the big art centres. Doubts, concerning the meaning of the art residencies, are more insistent, than in the cities.
Grizedale Arts initiated the renewal of traditional water festival in Coniston village. They develop projects about responsible tourism: how can visitors and locals enrich each other? Also help with the pre-Christmas decorations. Presenting activities to people without art experience, it is necessary to move in various "other" cultures: villagers, farmers, tourists, cyclists... With some of the artists they have been already working for decades. Many of them play with the local context, despite this for some the participation in Grizedale Arts started their successful career.
Most of the farm's 15 acres is cultivated. The residents are expected to help with farming and cooking. The residency pigs loosen the ground, cultural organisers plant fruit trees. Garden contains herbs and vegetables, there are some chicken, beehive, local types of plants. Very nice is the library with very eclectic collection: book about the nature of Cumbria, Lake District mythology, rural culture, agriculture, community utopias, culinary books, art travelogues... Agriculture is the justification of the artists' presence, and a good tactics for communicating with the locals. Garden can be used for art experiments. The artists are not limited to the agriculture though, dealing with the variety of subjects, like romanticised idea of artist, interconnection of human and nature, changing ideas of wilderness, hunting, travelling, local histories, tourism.