CHRIS FREMANTLE

What art have I seen? The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on January 27, 2018

The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset. Enormous exhibition curated by Adam Sutherland.

This exhibition is in parts a bit like a rural museum managed by volunteers with cases of curiosities (models of bird feathers probably ten times life size, a doorstop homage to Robert Burns, various other tchotchkis). The first room you enter had a number of artists’s projects that explored food production. Another had strange hybrid works including an applebarn doubling as a confessional. The end wall of that room had a video piece which included a shocking segment of a cow being killed with a bolt gun in an abbatoir.

Whilst it is great to see the exploration of the rural in art and craft, the curation in the end felt conventional rather than radical. It’s a question of balance – the room with the food production projects was too modest and the room with the arty installation pieces was too overblown. The shocking video was just shocking. In about 1970 Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison exhibited, as part of a group show at the Hayward Gallery, a portable fish farm. This led to a storm of protest because they proposed to kill and eat the fish at the end of the exhibition. What were catfish, a staple food in the US, were carp kept as pets in the UK. The Harrisons’ scale of production was also more interesting – enough to produce a feast. The food production in The Land We Live In might keep a family in lettuce for a couple of weeks – it’s is certainly not enough to supply the Gallery restaurant. That installation should have been a whole room producing vegetables and fish for the restaurant. How would we have felt seeing the fish swimming around and then having them killed for our lunch?

We had too much ‘big art’ and not enough big ideas.

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