On Wednesday, the first day of what now seems to be Summer (sunshine, blue skies, mid 20s temperature), we drove a couple of counties west to Somerset and the Hauser and Wirth gallery in a former farmyard to see their current exhibition The Land we live in, the Land we left behind. We drive through quite a lot of landscape to get there; some intricately folded topography, sweeping views, solar parks, ploughed fields, rape in bloom, pigs, Stonehenge, petrol stations, traffic, warehouse parks, hotels and guesthouses, a 17th century wedding venue, wild cherry trees in bloom ... indeed our present and past landscape all laid out in glorious sunshine.
The description of the exhibition is intriguing, the curator - as director of Grizedale Arts, someone admirably appropriate, the theme also appropriate for a gallery in a former farmyard, as well as providing a topical theme of universal importance, not to mention the promise of goats. When coupled with the anticipation of a delicious brunch all promised a great day out.
Goat mountain - without goats
Well, after the initial disappointment that there did not seem to be any goats, the brunch was certainly delicious. The trip to the loo as quirky as ever, and then we started on the exhibition.
The unisex loo - with cattle trough sink
The layout is such that coming from the loo the first room is in fact the last room. However, as this is not a chronological show really, we persisted in our unravelling.
So much stuff. Too much? (Of course, because we had not started at the beginning, we did not have the room guide, and as nothing much was specifically labelled we let the pieces speak for themselves.)
I heard the room guide tell one visitor that it is really a two visit exhibition, but in my mind that room alone warranted longterm thought. Exhibitions on a theme are usually rather like a book: the curator has considered the theme, thought about the possible range of content and edited it in order to present an internally coherent whole - perhaps with a point of view. In this case it looked as if not much editing had taken place. Everything that you could think of is included. Perhaps the book that best represents this show is the Whole Earth Catalog (of which there was a copy for visitors to read): The Whole Way We Look at the Land Exhibition -? For me the exhibition is best summed up in Adrian Searle's review for the Guardian.
The empty apple costume, and painted yellow tree stumps.
Certainly I must congratulate the exhibition on being thoroughly thought-provoking. I have not stopped mulling over various aspects of the land and how we view/represent it since seeing the show, and I cannot see myself stopping that mulling any time soon. The exhibition is successful for me because I came away with questions which had been raised but not answered by the content. I suppose I suspect that the evidence laid out throughout these galleries leans rather heavily towards the romantic; but is that because that is the more general view anyway? After all, some years ago when so much of the land was quarantined because of foot and mouth disease, I remember being shocked at the comparative statistics of the value to the nation of farming versus tourism: something like 2% to 16% respectively (specific figures from my unreliable memory).
There is a lot to read about the show as well as films on the Hauser and Wirth Somerset website, and there are meaty descriptions and/or reviews with illustrations here, and here, and here, and here, and here (as well as the review mentioned a couple of paragraphs above).
The goats we didn't see (image from here)