The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind

THE story of humanity’s connection to the land, throughout the centuries, is investigated in a thoughtful and important exhibition, The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, from 20th January to 7th May.

The exhibition has been curated by Adam Sutherland, director of Grizedale Arts in the Lake District.  This ambitious survey explores the contradictory nature of society’s relationship to the rural. The presentation features paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture by artists working from the 1500s to the present day, including Paul McCarthy, Beatrix Potter, Carsten Holler, Laure Prouvost, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Palmer, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcus Coates, Fernando García-Dory, Mark Dion, Roni Horn, Aaron Angell and Mark Wallinger.

With a 1,000 year scope from 10th-century anchorites to 21st-century urban ruralists, The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind tells the story of humanity’s evolving connection to the land, our perception of, and reliance upon it.

The exhibition’s title refers to a toast used by migrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, which celebrated the land they had arrived in, followed by a riposte celebrating their country of origin – a place that for many embodied romantic longing.

There are a number of themes, considering the rural as a laboratory for the development of ideas, in particular the notion of a rural utopia, religious migrants, industrial escapees, the metaphors of the flight from Egypt and the return to Eden, that are embedded in humanity’s collective unconscious.

Documentary film and reportage provide a counter-balance for these philosophical elements, from works illustrating the reality of modern farming, to artefacts relating to boy racers’ car culture.

Visitors are greeted by goats grazing in the grass farmyard; artist Fernando García-Dory and Hayatsu Architects have created a wooden pavilion – a functioning artwork – for goats to climb on and socialise. Milking and cheese making workshops have been scheduled as part of the gallery’s education programme.

The display in the Threshing Barn is centred on produce, growing and processing, with most of the installations generating food; a balanced diet of fish, eggs, cheese and salad. Visible through the windows in the Cloister Courtyard is Hayatsu Architect’s ‘Community Bread Oven’ (2017) – a working oven built in collaboration with architecture students from Central Saint Martins, which will be used for workshops during the course of the exhibition.

In other galleries there are historic works and artefacts, interspersed by some contemporary works, focusing on rural movements, from the Adamites, Diggers and New Diggers, to William Morris and the inter-related visionary communities. Works on display include  William Holman Hunt’s painting Afterglow in Egypt, a William Heath Robinson cartoon, Tightening up the Green Belt and a pair of sandals (c. 1890) belonging to the radical Victorian writer and philosopher Edward Carpenter.

In the large Rhoades gallery, with its dark green walls, the exhibits allude to ideas of transformation, transition, and transubstantiation. On the far wall, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s film Our Daily Bread (2005), which lyrically describes the highly developed technologies involved in contemporary farming, is being screened on a loop.

Down the centre of the room is a series of long tables with works that are all related to food, by artists including Bedwyr Williams, Laure Prouvost, Pablo Bronstein, and Francesca Ulivi. Anchorhold (2015) is an ingenious wooden structure, designed by the architectural practice Sutherland Hussey Harris, working in collaboration with artist Marcus Coates. The name refers to a tenth century hermitage in which anchorites would withdraw from society in order to deliberate on God. For this exhibition, Coates has repurposed the structure as an apple store. The structure holds two people within it and in the course of the show Coates will hold a series of one-on-one artist performances, which will be audio-recorded and played back during the exhibition. The stored apples will also be available for visitors to eat.

Two works on loan from Southampton City Art Gallery are Summer (1566) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, one of the artist’s trademark composite heads of fruit and vegetables, and the John Martin painting Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (1812), a climbing figure set against a vast and unstable landscape.

A lobby leading off from this gallery houses The Honest Shop, selling products handmade by the local community. There is no special selection process for what is sold; anyone living locally may place their wares in the shop – provided they are handmade. Visitors may purchase the products at the price specified and are trusted to leave the money in an honesty box. This bespoke, unregulated model for trading provides a unique snapshot of the people of Bruton and suggests an alternative to commercial mass consumerism.

The final room in the exhibition examines the influence of the rural on urban culture – from art to marketing – and includes contributions from Mark Dion, Mildred’s Lane, Myvillages, Somewhere, Kultivator, Fairland Collective and Phytology, among many others. This space will play host to a wide variety of workshops, talks and other educational activities.

Hauser & Wirth senior director Alice Workman says: “Since before we opened, it has been our ambition to present an exhibition examining our location and how we understand and respond to contemporary ideas and The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind brings together the many different elements – art, architecture, nature, farming, conservation, food and education – that combine at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.”

Centred around a core belief in conservation, education and sustainability, Hauser & Wirth Somerset offers a wide variety of special events including talks, seminars, workshops and screenings, as well as an extensive learning programme for local schools, young people and families.

Adam Sutherland is director of Grizedale Arts, an arts collective based on a farm in the Lake District of England. As the director he leads many of the projects, creating structures into which a wide range of people can contribute, from artists to farmers, fishermen to philosophers.

Images from the exhibition:
Carsten Höller, Giant Triple Mushroom, 2015, polyester paint, synthetic resin, acrylic paint, wire, putty, polyurethane, rigid foam, stainless steel; 125.7 x 94 x 87 cm / 49 ½ x 37 x 34 ¼ in. Photo © Carsten Höller. Courtesy Gagosian

Marcus Coates, Turtle Mountain, 2012; still from digital video, 18:22 min. © Marcus Coates; courtesy of the artist and Workplace Gallery

Denis Constanduros, Farmers Prefer Shell, 1934; courtesy of the Shell Heritage Art Collection

Jacob Van Hulsdonck (1582 – 1647), A Still Life with Artichokes, Radishes, Asparagus, Plums, Cherries and Peaches in a Basket, together with a Ham and Pig’s Trotters on pewter plates, a Herring, a Tongue and some Butter on blue-and-white dishes, Mulberries in a blue-and-white bowl, a Knife, Bread, Grapes and a Lemon with a broken Berkemeyer Glass, all on a table partly covered by a white cloth; 71.5 x 104 cm / 28 x 41 in; courtesy of Johnny Van Haeften Ltd, London

John Martin (1789-1854), Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion 1812; oil on canvas; courtesy of Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / Bridgeman Images

Olaf Breuning, We Only Move When Something Changes 2002; C-Print; 122 x 155 cm / 48 x 61 in; courtesy of Olaf Breuning / Metro Pictures

Takeshi Hayatsu, Community Bread Oven, 2017; image © Motoko Fujita 2017

Image courtesy of Laure Prouvost and Grizedale Arts