In an article ‘Bringing the arts down the earth’ in Resurgence earlier this year, Clive Adams, co-director of the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) wrote:
“The linking of the words ‘soil’ and ‘culture’ may seem strange, but it should be remembered that the word ‘culture’ was originally used in the ‘agri-cultural’ sense, and it was only from the 16th century that it increasingly came to be used figuratively; as the soil was improved by good husbandry, so the mind was improved by education and the arts. Perhaps it is now time for the arts and education to help put culture back into the soil.”
Prompted by World Food Day on October 16th, curiosity to research the field before embarking on further agricultural-cultural ventures, and a determination to write more blogs, over the last couple of weeks I’ve put together a short list of theatre and art projects that explore, interrogate and make hay with farming, gardening and food.
When, in writing a Masters dissertation on the role of theatre in social change in 2009, I looked for examples of theatre engaging with farming and gardening, I didn’t find many examples.
Now, six years on, I’m aware of plenty. This has a much to do with the circles I’ve moved in since then, but I’d suggest, also reflects a broad and palpable shift towards inter-disciplinary collaboration, community engagement and ecological exploration within theatre and the arts more broadly.
Here’s a brief low-down on the landscape I see:
Exchange Chris Drury and Kay Syrad 2013
Part of Cape Farewell’s Rural Artist Residency program, land artist Chris Drury and writer Kay Syrad worked with three family-run organic farms in Sydling, St Nicholas, West Dorset and were invited to produce a personal response. They documented the stories of farmers in a hand-made book, bound in cowhide and including prints of local wild plants amongst the pages. The book reveals the resilience, creativity and complexity of organic farming.
Our Food Ruth Hayward, Nicola Kenton, William Mortada, Amy Mycock and Tom Wakeford, with directors Jon Luke McKie, Erin Walcon and Patricia Cumper 2013
An initiative that grew out of impulse to widen the range of people involved in discourse within food research, this project produced a series of community events and performances in Newcastle and London, and commissioned four projects, including Green Stage’s collaboration with performers and community gardeners in Cardiff for Trans-Plantable Living Room. The three other commissions worked with community groups, schools and researchers to explore what food means to people in Ullapool, Coventry and Birmingham and White City, London.
Christian Bell, Melissa Aldape and Juan M Aldape
2013 and 2015
This exchange between farmers and performers focused on the concept of community in the process of creating site-specific performance. As well as a performance, the farm venue in County Tippery, Ireland, hosted an exhibition, a weekly People’s Kitchen and workshops on movement, story-telling and farm practice. The vision of the project was that artistic practices have the unique ability to cultivate dialogue around food production, at a local and global scale.
This year that project has begun in Lac Qui Parle County, Minnesota.
Clouds of Witness
Naomi Heath, and Ciara O’Flynn.
Digital sound artist Naomi Heath of Ceredigion and visual artist and sculptor Ciara O’Flynn of County Kerry spent time in Bro Cegir and Y Fron Goch in the Dyfi valley in Wales helping out on farms and working with children in the nearby primary school.Through the creative process, an exhibition was created, featuring objects with printed idioms such as “pobol yw’r lle” (people are the place) and 18 photos of people, with maps drawn on their faces. Farmer Aeron Pugh built the intriguingly named ‘zoetrope’ and Naomi Heath created a short filmed performance personifying the characters of different tractors.
This is Rubbish
Initiated by the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World, this three-year project includes a series of 12 residencies across South West England and at Kew Gardens, giving artists time for experimentation, research and development. The resultant work makes up an exhibition Soil Cultures: Young Shoots, which will be on tour over the coming months:
- Eden Project, 8 January – 21 February
- Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton 28 February – 9 April
- White Moose, Barnstaple, 18 April – 5 June
The artists included in the residency include:
Anton Burdakov at the Eden Project with Soil Map
A 3D map of kaolinite, the most basic form of clay, which is found around the Eden Project in Cornwall, this sculpture was gradually populated with artifacts, images and stories collected from interactions with the Eden community, including students from the MA in Art and Environment at Falmouth University. Burdakov explores how the cycles and structure of soil are reflected in those of human life- how soil is a living archive, with different strata of meaning and memory.
Anne-Marie Culhane at Streatham Campus with Exeter Campus Almanac
Dedicated to increasing our “understanding of our place in the family of things”, Ann Marie Culhane was resident at Streatham Campus, Exeter University, where she led the creation of the Exeter Campus Almanac, a series of ecological and horticultural events, celebrations, walks and performances following the seasons.
Complementing this exhibition of new work, is a second exhibition of established artists:
Featuring artists Paolo Barrile, Mel Chin, herman de vries, Richard Long, Ana Mendieta and Claire Pentecost; as well as work from British artists Chris Drury, Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash, Sandra Masterson, Daro Montag, Peter Ward and Adam White, the exhibition will tour:
- Falmouth Art Gallery until 21 November 2015
- Peninsula Arts at Plymouth University – 16 January to 19 March 2016
In addition to the artist residency program and exhibitions, Soil Cultures has involved a four day Forum, in collaboration with RANE (Research in Art, Nature and Envrionment). Titled Revitalising our relationship to the soil and held on 2-5 July 2015, it saw 80 participants come together at Falmouth University for workshops in visual and literary arts.
A Field of Wheat Ann-Marie Culhane, Ruth Levene and Peter Lungren October 2015- October 2016
Initiated by artists Ann-Marie Culhane and Ruth Levene with farmer Peter Lungren, this year long project has grown out of two years research into the history, culture, economics and community around wheat production. Field of Wheat offers members of the public the chance to invest £200 into a crop of wheat, and in exchange become part of a collective making decisions about the growing and harvesting process, sharing discussion and reflection on different ways of thinking about food and farming, as well as the proceeds of the harvest.
METAL – with Lucy + Jorge Orta and 10 commissioned artists September 2015
This weekend long harvest festival, held in Peterborough on 19th and 20th September 2015 featured food and craft markets, bread-making, a folkloric ritual procession and a mass public ceilidh. The focus of the weekend was a meal for 500 people in Peterborough’s Cathedral Square, produced by Lucy + Jorge Orta, with ingredients sourced in large part from local suppliers, including nearby allotments; thereby connecting people to land and harvest rituals, and promoting local producers.
Place at the Table B-Arts, Stoke on Trent November 2015
Hiraeth Buddug James Jones Collective September – October 2015, and touring from Autumn 2016
Three Acres and a Cow Touring nationwide
Mouthful Metta Theatre, Trafalgar Studio London September – October 2015, and touring from Autumn 2016
So, what happens when we bring together fields of practice, pull down fences, or at least, sit a while on gates and stiles? This is a question to ponder on for further bloggings.
For now this is a small selection of projects, from a short rake through my memory and a couple of internet-searches. Undoubtedly further digging would unearth plenty more examples. If you know of any, please do share them, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @greentheatreuk