About the Museum of Contemporary Farming

Added on by Georgina Barney.

From previously unpublished 2013 and 2009 manifestos:

I

The Museum of Contemporary Farming is an impossible project.

Museums are often places where knowledge about the past is deposited.  Meanwhile the ‘contemporary’ is ever-emerging, always current and never fixed.  ‘Contemporary’ is also a word often used about an art instituted into society through galleries and education that proclaims to be the best, the most ‘cutting edge’, produced by the knowledge, skill and talent of the professional artist.  The contemporary is life today.

These words, ‘museum’ and ‘contemporary’ combined with ‘farming’ resist farming as a metaphor for the past.  The Museum of Contemporary Farming was conceived as a challenge to this view of farming: a view that might be located from afar, from the metropolitan, forward-thinking city (the other side of a false dichotomy).  There are many alternative views of farming. Perhaps it is a science that develops innovative technology; perhaps it is a form of practical poetry; perhaps the battleground of labour, politics, or ethical and ecological struggle.  The Museum of Contemporary Farming has room for all these ideas.

 The Museum of Contemporary Farming is an impossible project to realise, because farms are places.  Their meaning and flavour arises very particularly from the soil, which varies with the terrain and climate.  What happens on a farm is connected to the place it is.  To have a Museum, a site for farming is contrary to its character as place.  For where could it be that would adequately represent all places? 

But the Museum of Contemporary Farming, impossible as it is, does have meaning, and the endeavour towards it is important.  Farming is crucial for obvious and increasingly re-iterated reasons: the production of food; the management of the landscape; the performance and politics of local and global trade.

The Museum of Contemporary Farming is important to farming because farms are by nature isolated.  They are distanced from each other, and from the city, the town and even the village.  They are normally closed to the outside world, to curiosity or inquiry.  The metropolitan confidence of attending an exhibition in a gallery is rarely at home here.  Agriculture is therefore vulnerable to being unfamiliar, strange, ripe for fantasy, an illusion, misread or ignored.  It risks being stuck as an image of the past for an urbanised - or indeed rural - public, which is always at a remove from the reality of the farm.

 

II

The Museum of Contemporary Farming is an impossible project.  It doesn’t exist; it never will or can; but the Museum is a space that manifests itself in different ways, depending on who, where and how it is used.  At times it is a web or wikisite.  It might be something to do with Twitter, or the latest online networking tool.  In another context it is an archive of artworks about farming, a collection of ideas produced by custodians of farming (these might be rural and agricultural museums; media, education or marketing projects; the speech of farmers and commentators). I am the Museum.

A van transforms itself… into a display space for the museum’s objects… it transports sheep, food and people into new contexts.  It is the museum.  Lined with carpet, comfy chairs, perhaps with a radio and a picture hanging on the wall, it becomes a certain kind of interactive place.  A discussion arena.  A party.  In it, people eat and share food.  Sell, maybe.  Shear.  Butcher.  Grow.  Whatever you want; whatever you need it to be.  Maybe it's a trailer.  Perhaps it has the name of the Museum on the side.  It turns up to the Royal Show, Smithfield.  Random points on a map, strategically chosen: rural, urban, culturally deprived, agricultural, white, multi-ethnic.  It parks itself outside the Tate one day and travels to Chalk Farm, Shepherd's Bush, a tower block ‘Shepherd’s House’ just up from St Pancras on the site of the Caledonian Market, where cattle used to be bought and sold, driven up York Way on arrival from the Midlands.  Maybe it re-enacts these journeys.  Maybe it takes a ‘real farm’ to St. John's restaurant in Smithfield.  Or it turns into an exhibition space for 'farm art'.  Travelling, it collects the conversations which take place inside it, of the people involved (artists, farmers, friends) on the road to the latest farm, exhibition, event.

What would you put in the museum?

Whose opinion is valid, who in society is most qualified to decide what and how farming is best represented?  What is a farm, and farming today?  Where is it going and who is deciding, how does it get there?

Best of the best at Compton Verney: 'Creating the Countryside'

Added on by Georgina Barney.

Far, far away, somewhere deep in darkest Warwickshire... Rosemary Shirley and Verity Elson have brought together a nuanced collection of some of the most interesting artwork on the subject of (those nebulous words) 'the countryside'; 'rural' and 'farming'.  My work squeaked in and made the grade, a triptych of light-boxes from my milestone 2007 project 'GB Farming' featuring a snapshot of the complex tapestry of 'farms' in the UK: the patchwork roof of a lambing shed of a family farm in the quilted hills of the Scottish Borders; the muscle of scything arms at an eco-community in Somerset; the artificial blue crates of endless seedlings mirrored under the infinite blue dome of an East Anglian sky.  And what a treat to be hung next to Stubbs, an historic and important artwork featuring a picturesque scene of immaculate peasant reapers, dressed in white, overseen by the authoritarian, possibly benevolent farmer, an artwork I have previously written about as it reveals a penchant for a tidy, ordered countryside both socially and as a landscape (and yet the 'star', addressing the viewer directly, being the peasant).  

One of the highlights of this exhibition, is surely the interplay between historic and contemporary artworks that traces attitudes towards the countryside and reveals those references with which contemporary artists have been grappling, to disturb and question prevalent notions on this our subject.  And what quality: show-stopping classics greet you in the first room, including a Claude Lorraine drawing, an original Claude glass and - no major historic UK show complete without it - a Turner!  In the same room, contemporary artist Mat Collishaw's Hollow Oak, a projection of this tree into a nineteenth century carry case for glass negatives, meditates on the historically loaded iconography of the British countryside whilst Hilary Jack's Souvenir, a curiosity of a knotted wooden relic from the wooded landscape, provides a peephole through the walls of the gallery, towards an alternative landscape slideshow - perhaps a metaphor for the exhibition as a whole.

Jack's work was certainly one of my highlights from the exhibition: her prior series of photographs of turquoise plastic bags caught in trees (also a subject of Joanne Lee's artwork shown at the Harris Museum's exhibition 'Green and Pleasant Land?' in 2015, known colloquially as 'witches' knickers'), having been developed into a bronze cast hanging from a real-dead-tree installed into the gallery space.  Another fave was a selection of photographs by Andy Sewell from his gentle, slowly observed chronicle of anonymous lives' connection to the landscape, 'Something Like a Nest': the banal, yet sacred view of and from a kitchen sink; a pile of Tesco's bags on a church altar at harvest-time; a string of washing blowing in a domestic garden abutting the green edge of farmland, echoed compositionally above by the strings of telegraph wires criss-crossing the-not-natural-either-landscape.  One of the many successes of Sewell's work is its exposure of the ambiguity of all those notions, of green, natural, countryside, rural, food; and their ironies.  Nothing is simple (I'm thinking of the word 'authentic').  Embedded in each of his images (you'll want to seek out Sewell's publication) is also a sense of humanity, however potentially available to ridicule: old hands around a commemorative 'Diana and Charles' biscuit tin with an advert of rurally priced tea (£1) and coffee (£1.50) at, I'm guessing, some kind of village fundraiser or fete. His breadth of industrial-domestic-rural subject matter is a reminder of the surprising diversity in how we intersect with, and derive meaning and value from this thing, the Countryside.

Something that made me chuckle whilst I travelled the exhibition was a suspicion that some of the many visitors (may I say elderly?) were doing their best - as in a recent Country Life review - to sidestep the contemporary works, stumbling over the Collishaw on their way from the Claude Lorraine to the Turner.  Be it an error in marketing (?) it also spoke to me of issues of taste in generational relationships both towards art and the countryside, and possibly of class through Compton Verney's attraction as an endowed country house, set in a Capability Brown landscaped estate: the very latent themes historically embedded in the aesthetic lens of 'landscape' so powerfully brought into the foreground by Ingrid Pollard's important 1988 photographic and text series Pastoral Interlude, featuring herself as a surprising, disruptive black figure in the historically 'white' picture postcard Lake District countryside.  This suspicion seemed to invert some of the problems of representation and the countryside that I've engaged with in ten years of practice: Tom Hackett's review of my 2014 exhibition Sheep Sketchbook highlighted the snobbery against the dangerous 'fluffiness' and - heaven forbid! - nostalgia associated with the countryside, all but banned from the imagination by Art School.

When I embarked upon my post-graduation 2007 tour around fourteen UK farms ten years ago, I was conscious that it was an entirely contrary choice, even for an art school graduate.  I had no particular career ambitions for it as a project (though, ironically, it has forged and established my practice); it was simply something that I was interested in doing, and I accepted an attitude from my peers and tutors that I was a little bit weird.  Creating the Countryside therefore is an astonishing landmark from my perspective, interrogating a subject with a high quality of contemporary work that, since 2007, has scaled the walls of public consciousness.  It's good to be in the company of these artists.

A drawback as well as a value, is that this exhibition is at Compton Verney.  The exhibition interrogates the art gallery's setting and a complex, rich art history but good as it is, Compton Verney still feels 'far away' as a site, perhaps further away from London than New York and Shanghai (I only briefly entertained trying to drum up enthusiasm for a trip from my home city of Nottingham, let alone London); and its subject matter therefore still has an invisibility.  This year London's Science Museum permanently closed its Agriculture Gallery, demolishing a unique collection of in-built post-war dioramas and the only major national museum presence for farming in the capital.  Though proposals are afoot for something new, I can't help feeling saddened by the loss of this resource, a rare site within the city, for having conversations about that world 'out there' that feeds and nourishes us: a place that is so much more than an empty space to draw a line across, as historical landscape art might view it.  Whilst it is still difficult to envision an art world that isn't metropolitan, it seems that there is still a problematic, essential incompatibility between contemporary art and the countryside.  But perhaps that's why I like it.

Hannah Brown's current exhibition Lain Fallow For Too Long at the Dalla Rosa gallery in Camden moots itself as a quietly subversive approach, partly because it is in London, because it is painting and because it looks dammed lovely.  I regret, that when I was a dilettante of the city last weekend, I didn't make it.

'GB Farming' is successfully launched!

Added on by Georgina Barney.

Blimey.

In the first 24 hours donors helped me raise 25% of my target amount for GB Farming and on Day 3 it's still going strong. We're heading towards the 50% mark as I write from Small Food Bakery where I'm exhibiting artwork over the course of the campaign. 2 out of 3 drawings have flown off the virtual shelves, as well as several 'Playmobil 07' screen prints and a number of books from the first edition. Kickstarter themselves have also chosen 'GB Farming' as a "project we love". 

Thank you so much to everyone who's donated already. It means everything to me: not just that I'll be able to bring the book into the world and out of my head; but just as importantly your commitment to my work and to 'GB Farming' as an important project, is hugely encouraging. 

I'm really excited about the remaining days of the campaign, looking forward to two events in particular: tomorrow at Whirlow, a farm I visited during 'GB Farming' during it's Open Farm Sunday event; and later in June at the Science Museum, where a special collection of dioramas speak of farming in the capital.  I hope to see you there!  Please help keep the campaign rolling by sharing information about the campaign, and the events below, with friends and contacts.

Many thanks, Georgina x

Pop-up Exhibition Sunday 5th June 2016 11am - 4pm in The Cruck Barn, Whirlow Hall Farm Trust Sheffield S11 9QF. Visit the exhibition and observe sheep-shearing during Open Farm Sunday

Closing Discussion Wednesday 29th June 2016 7:30-9pm in The Agriculture Gallery, Science Museum Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD Hosted by Haystacks with guests Guy Smith, Vice President of the National Farmers Union and Kate Genever, artist and farmer.

 

 

 

'GB Farming' Kickstarter Campaign, June 2016

Added on by Georgina Barney.

My Kickstarter campaign to publish 'GB Farming' will launch at PRIMARY, Nottingham with drinks in the Small Food Bakery on Saturday 4th June, 10am - 2pm.

I'm producing a first edition of 100 signed, numbered copies with a special Midland Cheese, which will be available to donors.

Several other tiered rewards for donors will be available, from postcards to prints, drawings and a one-off experience at my studio in PRIMARY.

I'm collaborating with Haystacks for a discussion closing event about farming in art, starting at London's Science Museum in the Agricultural Gallery during their Lates evening on Wednesday 29th June.

Installing at the Harris Museum

Added on by Georgina Barney.

I'm delighted to be installing works tomorrow at the Harris Museum's summer exhibition 'Green and Pleasant Land?'  It's exciting to be showing a selection of my artwork from GB Farming, Sheep Sketchbook and A Perfect Line alongside historic paintings from the Museum's collection and work of landscape and agricultural themes by other contemporary artists.  Can't wait to see the full, confirmed line up of artists and artworks; and finally see how my newly presented images, including lightboxes, hang alongside the older pieces!

'Sheep Sketchbook' at Embrace Arts and Leicester Cathedral

Added on by Georgina Barney.

I'm delighted that 'Sheep Sketchbook' is travelling to Embrace Arts at Leicester University, open from Monday 21st July - Sunday 21st September 2014.  There will be a few new pieces: artwork  by Rachel Foster 2014 NTU graduating student and an offsite installation at Leicester Cathedral.

Please join me:

Preview event at Embrace Arts on 23rd July from 3pm

Discussion at Leicester Cathedral 23rd July from 6:30pm