This is the first of a number of dispatches from Sao
I'm here with Jeremy Deller to develop a project with him for
the Sao Paulo Bienal this coming September. It came
out the project we were working on for the Whitworth Ruskin show, a
film by Jeremy on the wrestler Adrian Street, which has a lot
to say on the Ruskinian themes of education, social development,
craft, labour, industry, ethics, aesthetics and self
Adrian was born into a coal mining family in south wales, but
escaped this life through bodybuilding, costume making and
wrestling, transforming himself in to The Queen Bitch of Pro
Wrestling. He now lives (aged 68 and still wrestlng) in LA, running
a cottage industry in wrestling costume production.
The plan is to combine this with a rethinking and reworking of
the victorian Mechanics Institute and make it work in the context
of the Bienal and Sao Paulo.
At the weekend I admonished a mountain biker who was urinating
onto the wood stack I was in the process of moving, he explained
that he thought it belonged to the National Trust.
He finally apologised and considered that that ended the matter,
that no further discussion could be enterd into, (apology accepted
or not). It seems to be a new fad to apologise quickly and then
with the magic word 'the wrong is gone'. Politicians and public
servants seem keen on the approach. So I would like to apologise in
advance, I'm sorry', and that's an end of it.
I gave a lecture recently to some of the sudents at Chelsea
School of Art. One of their number, the young master Robert Mead,
was most enthused therein by such talk of Mr Ruskin's forebearance
of all things discursive, relational and altermodern. He has since
written in haste to share his essay Ruskin's Idea of
Relation and it's Connection to Post Modern Painting,
which I attach for any reader wishing to pursue this line of
I would be tempted to say one might take his arguments as
applicable to Tintorett as to Salle, but this is for another
occasion and we must, in the first instance, take delight in this
exhumation by youth so that that these thoughts may be possessed of
the minds of the masses.
Just organizing for a visit from Californian academic Avery
Gordon and found this interesting interview touching on the
hypocrisies of the environmental movement as well as some of the
high minded and historical precedents and ideals. Avery Gordon interview
Now we've established that big John Ruskin is worth saving from
the dreaded Heritage Vampires, how do we sustain and nourish
ourselves on his memory? Ruskin Soup of course!
According to Adam Sutherland, Ruskin was always a man with a
plan - and this went as far as having an idea that the working man
should always have the recipe for a perfect soup on hand. Cue the
ruthless pursuit of a food metaphor by yours truly while Adam
cooks. What was Ruskin Soup? Did Ruskin have the ingredients? Could
soup - or art for that matter - really sustain and nourish the
Ruskinian working woman or man? And how about their fractured and
fissured twenty first century counterparts? Can Ruskin's recipes
really help us find the way out of the post-postmordern stew were
slowly simmering in? All - or more likely none - of these questions
will be answered in our culinary homage to the late, great Big John
Ruskin (and Keith Floyd).
Thanks to Mat for reminding us of Oscar Wilde's words, 'Its easy
to be good in the country'. Although I think Oscar meant good as in
not be naughty because there is nothing naughty to do, and I think
Mat meant because there is no-one to get naughty with, but what it
really means is there is no competition and whatever you do looks
You might like to listen to this programme about Chinese artist
Li Yuan-Chia who lived in Cumbria for a time and set up a
When Taiwan's first abstract artist settled in a Cumbrian
farmhouse, his life changed. Deriving inspiration from landscape
and local people, he encouraged new British artists and anticipated
the success of contemporary Chinese visual art.
Li Yuan Chia was one of the first significant Chinese abstract
artists of the 20th century. This programme, presented by Sally
Lai, the director of Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre, examines his
career from the place he spent the last 28 years of his life: a
stone farmhouse, built next to Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.
Born in China in 1929, Li was educated in Taiwan. He worked and
exhibited in Italy before moving toLondon in 1963. Here, Li's
reputation was established with monochrome paintings and scrolls
marked with a tiny, isolated dot.
But Li came to dislike the fashionable metropolitan art world of
the mid-1960s. In 1968 he met Cumbrian painter Winifred Nicholson,
who pursuaded Li to move away from the busy capital to a far more
remote location, near her own home. With his own hands Li then set
about converting a farm building, the Banks, at Brampton, where he
built a gallery, library, theatre, printing press, children's art
room and photographic darkroom, and opened it to the public. It
became a popular attraction for local people, art afficianados and
tourists walking Hadrian's Wall.
Over the next ten years over 300 artists exhibited at the Banks,
which was also the base from which Li's organisation, the LYC
Foundation, was able to commission work by young British artists,
some of whom became very successful later, including sculptors and
land artists Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Bill Woodrow.
Li's own work moved into abstract sculpture, using magnets, gold
leaf, plastic discs suspended on plastic thread and additional
text. The landscape also affected him, and he began to explore
photography and environmental art. Always, he wrote poetry.
But after Arts Council funding became increasingly limited, (Is
this right? That can't be right, DG) the LYC Foundation had to
struggle to survive. Li continued to produce art, which became
increasingly contemplative. He fell ill with cancer and died in
1994. Art historians now acknowledge Li Yuan Chia as having paved
the way for the current expansion of Chinese contemporary art. But
his former home in Cumbria is derelict.
Angus Farquhar of NVA in Glasgow recently invited Karen & Adam to
share an inspirational but very wet (just like home then) tour of
the unique St Peter's seminary just outside Glasgow. abandoned now
but a rare example thereabouts of an architectural icon of the
1970's and now justly listed. NVA are bravely engaging in the
battle to reclaim the building and surrounding landscape from the
jaws of Nature - the grounds include an immense range of historic
buildings from the 15th / 16th century onwards, and a landscape to
A good array of images of the incredible site can be seen on
Flickr here, and you can read about Historic
Scotland's detailed report on the building its significance and
possible future here.
The stream of irritating press releases that run through my mail
has been particularly virrulent of late, must be the season.
Heading the pack is surely the School of Saatchi, unbelievable that
anyone would agree to do this, X factor for art, only from the
starting point that art is a totally minority interest with an
audience in the thousands. So Saatchi's idea that this will be the
X factor for visual arts is mental. Actually I am remembering I was
asked to do this a couple of years ago, a pilot version made in the
north - They asked me to be on the panel, it was 3 days in
Newcastle in a studio and then a couple of interviews, I initially
said no, then they said they would pay me £10,000 and I said yes -
soooo that's how it happens. I mean I thought I would use the money
to support good projects, and maybe something interesting could be
done with the show. I was naive back then about TV, I now know that
you have absolutely no control or influence and that the TV
production is unbelievable ruthless in getting its simple messages
Other favs include A Foundation's two Euro art tramps in
conversation, very drawn out men in black talking about obvious
stuff and giving it the full slavic gravitas - quite funny, listen
to it as an audio work. The message is 'cun ve do art vat hiz
uzeful, yeh zo maybe could be, umm I dont zay hef to. more here
The rest without going into detail, Campaign for Carlise to
become city of culture, Abandon Normal Devices and blow minds by
using film and video presentation, and so on.
On Sat. 14th November, Guestroom launched their
new Lawson Park Library with a Coniston Institute film screening
with Oxen Park Cinema Club and a cruise on the solar
powered Ruskin Launch on Coniston Water.
Sailors pictured above (left to right) Rob
Little (UCLAN), Glenn Boulter (Musician /
artist & GA intern), Adam Sutherland (GA
director), Maria Benjamin (Guestroom),
Dorian Moore (GA technologist and tall person)
& musician Jack Maynard.
Wapke Feenstra was always a little critical of our honesty
policy for the honest stall. She would I think prefer that we gave
fixed prices for the goods, rather than a pay what you think its
worth system, which I understand, given the effort in producing
most of the goods, including or especially vegetables. None the
less true honesty always wins through even when someone steals all
the money from the jar as this picture shows. They have kindly
drawn on the jar with the 'comments pen'.
Supported by the Storey Institute, Lancaster, The
Henry Moore Foundation, Arts Council England and University of
Grizedale Arts is hosting a Radio Animal event - a meal
at which a number of invited people, including artists, curators
and arts facilitators, animal studies scholars, and local
interested parties will discuss the issue of 'animal'.
We want to approach issues of identity in relation to animals.
Why are we culturally so ambivalent in respect of who we are and
how we should behave in the presence of either the term 'animal' or
indeed animals themselves. As human animals, culturally we tend to
value those animals that are not ourselves or very, very
like us, chiefly in relation to their effectiveness in fulfilling
some human function or need, or conversely the threat we believe
they might hold to challenge our will or comfort.
Awareness of self, a faculty we (human-animals) believe
separates us from other species, has unexpectedly brought us a
troubled relationship with non-human animals. Because of this it
could be argued, that a necessary psychological distance has been
established between us and those species over which we exercise the
Because so much of what we are in adulthood is inherited, our
subscription to this legacy, leads us to believe without question
in the apparent cultural order of things. Such belief generally, is
accepting of our dominion over others and an elevated evolutionary
position in relation to other species and thus fails in turn to
recognize an intrinsic interdependence between species. An
acknowledgement of this, might well have helped us avoid many of
the more difficult consequences we face today in respect of the
environment and therefore paradoxically our own as well as everyone
The bottom line for such considerations is one concerning
habitat - all species adapt well or less well, for better or for
worse to different habitats and when those specialist habitats
fail, an ability to move or to adapt quickly enough to survive, is
tested. Uncertainty In The City (Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson,
commissioned by Storey Gallery, Lancaster) is a speculative,
artists' exploration into the relationship between humans and the
animals that nudge at and breach the borders of our homes. At the
heart of this enquiry is the membrane that is breached, whether
this is a material 'skin' of bricks and mortar, fences and land, or
a linguistic contrivance.
Radio Animal has been on the road since early summer
this year asking questions of people regarding their proximity with
other species, and discussing their experiences with others in the
home, hidden in the fabric of their home, in the garden and
otherwise as they go about their daily business.
At a time when environmental peril is discussed as a global
issue and overheard in some form by us on a daily basis, leaving us
often with a sense of impotence in the face of the inevitable,
artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson are examining what
'environment' might mean in a more intimate and domestic sense -
where consideration of this term might trigger a more meaningful
and evocative recognition for individuals and where the sharing of
space between species and its consequences might resonate more
powerfully allowing some chance of new understanding and even new
Illustrator Meg Falconer, farmer John Atkinson, Guest Room
artist Maria Benjamin, poet Jack Maynard, writer and critic Rikke
Hansen, tech fiend Dorian Moore, Grizedale Arts Director Adam
Sutherland, artist Karen Guthrie, Alistair Hudson, (Radio Animal)
artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson.
Wapke Feenstra has been undertaking a Grizedale Arts residency
funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, design and
Architecture. Over the three month residency Wapke has been
involved in a critical dialogue with both the organisation and its
She is herself from a farming background in Friesland and so
well suited to be the first artist in residence at the new Lawson
Park headquarters and farm project.
Underlying her multi strand approach here has been a slight
incredulousness around the British rural culture and also the
British rural art scene. That any one bothers to farm this land of
the Lake District, with no soil and no market for its product other
than tourist entertainment, underlined much of her work here.
Her membership of the myvillages group made a good starting
point, in that she was able to address the immediate issue of the
Lawson Park honesty stall. This stall, which had originally been
designed and built by a group of art students from Oxford, was
created as part of a chain of stalls in a network of shops that aim
to promote products and ideas from peripheral zones (ie rural
backwaters) through the sale of local goods combined with a
socio-political message. The ambition being to engage with the
tourist/visitor at a deeper level and encourage a truer
understanding of the context.
The Lawson Park stall, however, had grown weather weary and
tired, so Wapke offered to undertake the redesign and
reconstruction of the stall, to make it effective and
Working with intern Sophie Perry, the stall was adapted and
extended with shelving systems, boxes, signage, a picnic table for
eating and viewing leaden with homespun phraseology to stimulate
the user into considering the value of the produce on sale (in this
case a pay what you want honesty jar policy) and subsequently the
value of rural life in general.
The stall was launched at the opening of Lawson Park and was
soon turning over a good few hundred pounds a week, clearly making
an impact on its passing punters, including a beaming Nick Serota
who cleaned us out of Chantrelles. She also built a market around
the stall of local crafts and food for both openings and offered
her own imported myvillages delicacies of cheese, brot and and
Wapke contributed in other ways during her stay too, including
the commission of the Lawson Park dining room table made by the
artist for the main and central (physical, social, theoretical)
space in the building. Wapke used her familiar technique of
overpainted plywood grain combined with supporting structure
produced by Process Pipework Services of Ulverston.
She made research visits to three local farms: Bracelet Hall,
Yew Tree and Nibthwaite Grange, the latter being the most
successful as farmer John Atkinson was able to dedicate a
considerable amount of time to explaining the reality of farming
this land and his campaigning as treasurer of the Cumbrian
Commoners Association. Wapke took a soil sample from John's best
meadow by the river which reinforced Wapke's aforementioned
incredulousness as only 15cm of soil was the best she could manage
without hitting bare rock.
Wapke also took part in the Rhizome and MyVillages Symposium
from October 23 to 29. She is currently developing two projects
with us: the International Village Shop with myvillages.org and a
European toruing project on primary industries with German curator
Charlie Gere wants to do wonderful things to the corps of John
Ruskin and, to my surprise, I don't just want to watch, I want to
Charlie, like myself, thinks that the heritage vampires have
tried their hardest to reduce Ruskin to nothing more than an
anachronistic token of neo-conservative Victorian Chic. In thier
eyes, nothing remins of Big JR and his legacy besides a sign-post
to a lost past and dreams of medieval craft-based evangelism.
In this interview, shot in the heartland of the academic
Ruskinian heritage industry - Charlie outlines his conviction that
Big JR may still be able to influence us positively from beyond the
grave of museology. Tipping a wink and a nod to Derrida's book
'Spectres of Marx' (in my hazy left-wing mind his finest work), Mr
Gere asserts that Big JR haunts us still, like a spectre of the
undead, reminding us that ethics is at the heart of any
re-assessment of what art actually is and can do.