Coniston & Torver Christmas Farmers Market & Art Fair was held at the Coniston Institute on December 11th & 12th 2010. It was conceived as part of the ongoing work with the village to breathe new life into the Coniston Institute.
This in turn formed part of the wider body of work to rethink the complex of ideas around local polymath John Ruskin. It was Ruskin, Coniston’s most famous resident after Donald Campbell, Steve Coogan, Mick Jagger and Arthur Ransome (in that order) who re-founded the Institute with WG Collingwood in the 1870s.
The Coniston Institute, which evolved out of the old Mechanics Institute, was an early model for the modern day arts centre. With facilities such as bathhouse, kitchen, library, billiard room, smoking room, artists' studios, theatre and an extensive collection of minerals, fossils, pictures, antiquities, archaeology and stuffed animals it hoped to offer the ideal education for everyman (as long as you liked the classics).
By the early 21st century the Institute no longer operated as an education and social centre in the same way. At the request of the Institute Committee we were asked to help develop the building in new ways and so started a series of projects that aim to reinstate the Coniston Institute as model for cultural and educational development.
It was WG Collingwood who in the 1930's established the Lakeland Artists Society with an annual exhibition in the hall of paintings by Academy artists, which would be in current terms the equivalent of a group show of Turner Prize winners in the village hall.
These were the starting points for this event - to revisit the idea of showing ‘high end’ art within a village context, alongside stalls from local farmers, producers and craftspeople which demonstrate the exceptionally wide range of culture in Coniston.
Rather than a jumble of stalls and holders we opted for a total presentation of goods, ‘curated’ if you must, and a single pay point at the entrance, so producers would not have to man their stalls.
We also ran a cafe with the usual exquisite Grizedale cuisine. All profits were donated to the Coniston Institute fund to restore the roof.
Contributors included Yew Tree Farm heritage meats, Gary McClure’s free range pork products, Owen Jones the basket maker from Nibthwaite, jams, pickles, cakes, cheese from the Holker Estate alongside contributions from blue chip galleries Lisson Gallery, Modern Art, Herald St, Vitamin Creative Space, Modern Institute and Ceri Hand. Ceri showed juneau/projects’ albums, cds and instruments. The Lisson display was dedicated to Ryan Gander’s Albers-inspired Love Cups (a popular Christmas gift, it seems), Modern Art showed a Jonathan Meese suite of over-painted photographs (not so readily snapped up at £1500 a pop). Herald St showed drawings by Pablo Bronstein. The Modern Institute showed Jeremy Deller’s recent film on the life of wrestler Adrian Street, which was very popular with the older villagers who remembered him well from Saturday wrestling on ITV. This was shown to them by way of a thank you for the village lending items from the Institute collections for the Sao Paulo Biennale the previous year. Vitamin Creative Space elected to show works by Huang He and a video of The Qi of RMB City and collaboration between Caoi Fei and Huang He.
Alongside this, Huang He offered for sale prayer beads and ornaments created out of the material surplus from the manufacturing industries of Guangdong’s heartland. Many people were particularly drawn the miniature sculpture garden in a box, composed of surplus ornaments from the factories and a South Lakeland district councillor walked away with a set of prayer beads and a book of Master Q’s Guide to Virtual Feng Shui.
In some ways this material was not so far, or just a twist and turn away, from what you might normally see in a village craft fair, but the difference is in intention, content and presentation. Having something to say. You can do this with vegetables too, or pork or tea and cake, it all depends how you do something and I suppose this was the point of our endeavour and what links it back to Ruskin and Collingwood.