From previously unpublished 2013 and 2009 manifestos:
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.
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?