Rural Slop: Subverting Notions of Contemporary Rural Art

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Subverting Notions of Contemporary Rural Art

The countryside is not just a backdrop for the privileged, a wellness retreat for busy city workers, or a timeless idyll populated by salt-of-theearth bumpkins. Depictions of the countryside in European landscape painting of the 17th and 18th Centuries were tainted by the landed gentry, a crass glorification of their property rights, or a pining for an imagined sublime untouched by human hand. The formation of European national identities has been shaped by the patchwork of rural scenes that still dwell in our cultural consciousness from this period. In our country, a parochial and conservative English identity feeds on twee imaginings of the vicar and the village green. The depictions we now see in rural galleries however seem more concerned with the decorative aspects of nature, adornments for the walls of middle class holiday homes. “Contemporary� abstractions of sea-scapes and driftwood rabbits; sanitised artworks made to sell. What we rarely see are representations of the real lived experience of those in the countryside. Rural Slop is about platforming artists with work far removed from these palatable landscape paintings and screensaver photography. Access to both viewing and making art has always been a class issue. In the UK rural incomes are nearly 20% lower than urban ones, while rural citizens need to spend 10-20% more to cover everyday expenses. Lack of access to public transport leaves rural households who can afford it dependent on cars, and those that can’t on piecemeal bus and train services. If you are lucky enough to live near an art gallery it is most likely commercial and unlikely to be showing boundary pushing work. Rural Slop looks to create a space to share stories from the countryside, not just depictions of it, and the kind of exciting contemporary art that should be available to view no matter where you are located. Bringing these artists together in this publication we hope to show that, while their work takes many forms and covers much conceptual ground, contemporary art practice is alive and kicking in the countryside if you look past the stags and watercolour fields. If only there were more opportunities to see it.

Pip Woolf Woollenline (Photo taken by Gil Chambers)

Woollenline (Photo taken by Pip Woolf)

The physical materials Pip uses to create her artwork are informed by the communities and landscapes of Wales. She works in collaboration with others, the enviroment and elemental forces. About this work, Woollenline, Pip says “there is nothing romantic about the Pen Trumau peat scar, caused by fire in 1976 which burnt an area of 70,000 square metres. Since then it has continued to erode releasing thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the air and water courses and losing any associated wildlife value. The site and its history came to my attention in 2009 and led to a durational body of work, Woollenline, a landscape drawing made with the participation of over 1,000 people of all ages. The drawing medium was sheep’s wool. A material that not only contributed through its physical qualities but which also provided a license to work with hill farmers, bringing them back into conversation with statutory bodies. The wool literally drew people together. The work actively continued over 5 years won two national awards, was shortlisted for the International Artes Laguna Prize in Venice and the John Ruskin, Agents of Change.”

Woollenline (Photo taken by Gil Chambers)

David Foggo

National Treasure (Spunking Concrete)

Collage, text and found objects play a big role in David’s practice, demo found David’s humour and cut-ups an excellent antidote to the sombre void of 21st century life...). On the featured text in this piece David com tion or vandalism in regards to the popular image, and therefore also a

onstrated by this work National Treasure (Spunking Concrete). We e depictions of landscapes we usually see (which are always weirdly demments “This seemingly crude text could be seen as an act of desecraalludes to similar concerns regarding the destruction of our countryside.�

Angela Read Totem

Cluster View

Angela’s work focuses on surface and texture through the use of repetitive motifs or “doodles” echoing feminine craft traditions like knitting or sewing. We were struck by the clear natural influences in the almost fractal growth of the forms. In her words, her work is “processed based using ritualised methods to articulate ideas involving renewal, nature, repetition and change.” In not making more commercial pieces she finds it difficult to exhibit alongside the type of work made locally in the rural community in which she lives, something we know is an issue for many artists.

Maddie Exton Maddie is a conceptual artist and writer based in East Anglia, with the influence of the countryside being a big, unavoidable theme in her work. Being from East Anglia ourselves, Maddie’s work really resonated with us; the long flats of ebbing tarmac shown in this performance by Maddie is a huge part of the region’s visual vocabulary- yet rarely deemed picturesque enough to show in contemporary art. Creating Things Carry On Invisibly Around You Maddie “left a 1 mile breadcrumb trail through Wickham Market and Pettistree, my childhood home. I made this work just before I moved to university, my first time moving house ever. The works speak to the feeling of belonging to a place, and that place belonging to you. Mimicking Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail (which allowed them to trace their way home) the breadcrumbs are destined to be swept away, showing how things carry on without you. I think your childhood home is a place which you don’t want to grow without you.”

Things Carry On Invisibly Around You

Suffolk ‘Til I Die

Suffolk ‘Til I Die

Born and bred, Here I wander, Here (my parents roof I’m under). Born and bred, Death by boredom Suffolk in my blood, post mortem. Born and bred, Working people, Local Co-op: my cathedral. Born and bred, Culture deprived, And you’re f*cked if you can’t drive. Suffolk is my first and last, Extons present, future, past. Fact is; I love village gossip, Buried here (and that’s a promise).

Nicky Deeley God Ant Walking

Substance of WE Feeling Poly Codales Moly Codales We absolutely love these performance works by artist Nicky Deeley, which for us enact the sense of magical potential that is tangible when immersed in nature, delving head first into creativity and nostalgic playfulness. They remind us how the wild can create possibilities of different worlds and lives that seem incomprehensible in urban locations. “My films, drawings, and performances are inspired by myth, psychology and history, these regularly have characters who combine the human-like with botanical and animal characteristics, these are also tinted by the lens of the psychedelic, folk horror, the occult, and science fiction tropes. My work has received much new energy after moving from London to Norwich where I have easy access to wild spaces such as rivers, marshes and woodlands. These have become the main resource for both influencing my work (in the forms of plants, animals, local folklore) and also testing and staging it, inviting the public to outdoor live shows (The Sainsbury Centre, Wymondham Abbey, The Museum of London, Lismore) and in the creation of site based films- sinking and floating sculptures in rivers, filming characters in woodlands. I am particularly drawn to the idea of weird events happening in natural rural spaces, how the rural functions as a place to slip through into other dimensions, both in time, and place.� MARCIA

Saint Laundry

Clean sheets Are important Especially when Hung out to dry But her sheets Bear no blood She washes them In the Laundry Where they took Her baby away From her and Locked her up For being a whore

Fallen (a song)

I fell in love But love’s no good Before a ring cries Wedding bells They sold my child To keep her clean Safe from the Gates of Hell My name is gone I wash the guilt Nuns say I’m Stained I fell One day He took My Morwyndodd My cut bleeds Tears of pain Death’s the worst Sin of all they Pray so I must Live in shame

Alix Edwards

Saint Laundry, Fallen (A Song) From Whence I Came Merthyr Poor Law Union Alix’s multi-disciplinary practice uses site visits and research to uncover the hidden, harsh realities inflicted upon women throughout history. Alix’s current project Saints, Sinners and Stories (supported by the Arts Council of Wales) delves into the histories of the ‘fallen women’ of rural Wales, shamed and sent away after falling pregnant. “Through my research I have found the Welsh valleys to be anything but ‘green and pleasant’, as ‘big city’ values that came with ‘progress’ and ‘industrialisation’ encroached upon and then became embedded in traditionally practical and tolerant rural culture. The Welsh practice of bundling, in which unmarried couples slept in the same bed as an accepted part of courtship, was replaced by a far less tolerant attitude towards sex outside the societal norm of marriage. The shame was so great that most families abandoned their pregnant daughters who were sent to a variety of institutions, until the scandal passed or sometimes for years, or the rest of their lives, ranging from workhouses to lunatic asylums, which are documented in these photographs. The images are taken in a sense of psychogeography and seeks to tell the story of the harsh reality these women faced against the beautiful rural valley backdrop, that we tend to romanticise now (particularly as visually it’s recovered from the traces of the coal industry). The shame continues now but in a different way: the majority of these ‘institutions’ that upheld moral values have fallen into disrepair, crumbled to the ground, been repurposed as luxury flats or have been demolished to make way for bigger, better institutions like hospitals and in one case a prison.”

Alfie Fox Alfie is a disabled artist living in a small rural hamlet- in these locations changes and development are slow, progress not often a priority, and infrastructures remain unaltered for many years. Alfie’s perspective throws into sharp relief the idealised view, and use of, the countryside by some people as a space for wellness, pastimes and second homes. “Access is a concern, we have no local public transport, internet connection is poor, and while access is a concern in cities and across all services it is more so in rural areas where consideration for any disability has not been thought about. The landscape, rolling hills, dales and vales are not accessible, neither are the sandy beaches. The rural aspects mean nothing when they cannot be accessed and it is felt acutely by those living in rural areas who have disabilities. This is how I see my life: a series of barriers and black holes where we are forgotten.�

Fall Down

Steve Smith

The Landscape Painting For us, Steve’s work reifies the thoughts behind this publication: the need for the expansion and subversion of rural art scenes. Often when work doesn’t fit the narrow expectations (frequently dictated by wealthy, white, middle class men) exciting work loses out on available opportunities, with antiquated art being more favoured. This climate can discourage artists from breaking the mould, so we want to show alternatives to this like Steve’s amazing paintings. Steve comments: “There is an expectancy that as I am a painter in the Highlands of Scotland that I produce ‘Landscape paintings’ or at the least respond to the ‘sublime’ of nature. Yes, it is beautiful, but we can also provoke, amuse, wonder about some of the smaller incidental quirks of human beings.” Smile Caravaggio Scrap This Is Not For You

Victoria Lucy Williams Wildman, Evergreen Forest

The scenes featured in Victoria’s work offer a temporal space, outside of society, timeless and frozen but scattered with long forgotten relics of long gone activities, haunted by feelings of absence and loss. “A far cry away from today’s monoculture, these wild areas have always existed on the edge of a deep temporal community farming past, although no longer retaining folkloric tales that these edge-lands are the well-known habitat of the local wild woman or Wildman, witch or even shaman. Unmanicured and unconditioned unlike much of the countryside today, sit rich pockets of wild ecosystems that become inextricably linked with the shadowier habits of modern human society, much like edge-lands throughout human history, albeit telling a different, but a similar story about the local populations to one our ancestors would have told.” .

Rural 2 Simon developed his unique style of drawing through the experience of drawing with his eyes closed, after temporarily damaging his eyesight. Through this methodoglogy his work connects with the past, and uses “memory to draw images of places that I would see and inspire me and use current photos to finish off the final details to create my own unique view of the world. In this way I am recreating my experiences in these rural settings with a totally new perspective�. The use of negative space in these images offer possibilities to the viewer, they could be reminders of experiences or memories from our own pasts, or own imaginations. Rural 5

Simon Turner

John Thomson Marfona Main Crop Deer Butchery Still Life With Parsnips John creates art located on a working farm in Hampshire, a “green machine, connected directly to the supply & demand food chain. A low manned, highly mechanised industry set in the rolling downland of Britain’s newest National Park populated by beef cattle, grain silos and commuters all set against a seemingly bucolic tapestry of flora and fauna�. Slop believes that in our modern urban lifestyles, with food presented as a commodity, opposed to a basic necessity, it is easy to be alienated from where our food comes from in regards to process, location and even which animals. If we are to really address any ethical, environmental and social issues to do with agriculture, realities of the industry need to be shared.

Adam King Arbour (romantic) Adam’s work takes an architectural look at the landscapes of Norfolk, charting a changed and developing environment. “In the spring of 2016 I returned from living in London to the semi-arable Landscape south of Norwich in Norfolk where I grew up. I was struck by the new housing developments and traffic increase. A process of suburbanisation was taking place at a considerable pace. As a response, I made a series of constructions over a period of 14 months. These became a means to explore and make sense of the changes in this once-familiar landscape. I was keen to ensure the work was going to be quite different to the picturesque images I often saw in Norfolk. A county well known for its landscape painters. The resulting works are made from a variety of often quite light and ephemeral materials including card, printed paper and wire. Many of the forms started as drawings and in some cases linocut prints. The marks, that explore the textures of ruptured/ploughed earth and wood/bark, invest forms with patterns that might evoke camouflage. The completed pieces meld architectural and organic qualities and reference to nature in structures that often suggest enclosures and habitations.”

Kio Griffith Yugawara Elegy 2

Yugawara Elegy 7

Kio is an artist and curator working across many mediums, including performance, computer programming and writing to explore themes around social and geopolitical issues, and migrating cultures. The Yugawara Elegy series that features here “begun as a document of encounters through a once thriving hot spring resort, weekend getaway for Tokyoites to rest their souls and body seeping in the healing hot springs. As the industrial and technological impact took affect on Yugawara, services dwindled and the focus shifted to gambling and adult entertainment. Yugawara wasted into the ghost town it is now with a small population of storekeepers keeping its last heartbeat in a heavy rusted main street arcade. The conceptual process of this series is derivative of the Japanese “hanga” technique, a multiple plate printing method. In this series, they are layered journal entries of chance operations and encounters. The result is one of unreal dimensions but assembled by actual events.”

Yugawara Elegy 5

Sam Lee Membrane

Samuel is an artist printmaker making sculptures, installations, site-specific art work, photographs, books and prints. In his words, his work “is made in a rural context, although abstract it is informed by the cycles of planting, growing and harvesting�. This image shows a site-specific work made in the countryside where Samuel lives and touches on issues of plastic pollution and recycling. Here plastic is shaped by and smothers nature in instances of light and form. This work makes beautiful and sculptural a sight we are all familiar with on the side of motorways in our fields and forests.

Naomi Even-Aberle My Dakota Body

South Dakota based artist Naomi incorporates her martial arts practice into her performance artworks, utilising the body as a site for cultural and feminist exploration. “The costumed figure draws parallels between the American “white-washing” historical practices that the artist grapples with as an inherited cultural identity, western feminism, rural country life, and the sometimes fetishized Korean traditions. As a martial artist that owns and teaches Korean based martial arts to American and Native American students, the tension between the three cultural identities inherited histories, and the artists’ personal identity is under constant scrutiny and fluctuation. Clad in hanbok, or training gear, My Dakota Body harnesses the power of the bodies within landscapes as a symbolic performance to draw visual parallels between the emotional toll of navigating cultural traditions and personal identities. Where did I exist within these narratives? The costumes and the dry cracking of the landscape paint call visual parallels between the nourishment and determination of the perceived and navigated cultures.”

Kerry Fox Ode to Bureaucracy

As a carer, artist, and activist Kerry’s choice of material is central to her sculptural works. Using “the fragile and flimsy sheets of paper that strong words are printed upon, the documents and officious paperwork in a system of bureaucracy that are the Education, Health and Care Plans of special educational needs” she explores “how the paperwork could take on the appearance of something other, how the intention of chaotic bureaucracy could be portrayed without the need for the documents to be explicit or be read, the reading of the content isn’t something that needs to be seen only implied”. Disability, lack of equal access and the effects of government cuts are often topics hidden behind closed doors; with Kerry’s work they dominate, taking over rooms and taking up space.

Julian Mckenny [About] A Place Series Julian is a photographer and fine artist capturing autobiographical subject matter in poignant and poetic depictions of life in rural Wales. “For the last ten years my partner and I have run a small permaculture based market garden, selling vegetables from the farm gate. In the last four years we have built a straw bale house. My photographic work has been focused on the close at hand, moments of our lives as we moved from Manchester to live in a caravan in a field whilst setting up the market garden. My work always shows evidence of the human hand on our landscape as the one does not exist without the other in today’s Britain - all landscapes are shaped by human intervention, there is little or no wild landscape left.” Julian’s images depict beautiful in the ordinary, the small gestures that make up a life; these photos really stand out to us against the cultural backdrop of transient, commercial, and hugely artificial images we consume over instagram and other social media on a daily basis.

Olivia Kay Foskett Looming

Human impact on our environments is key to Olivia’s photographic work; she explores ‘edge-lands’ as spaces between the natural wild, and the contemporary, industrial, urban. About these images Olivia says “this photographic series was created as part of a body of work imagining an Archaeology of the Future which looks back on this twenty first century epoch as an ancient period of mystery and danger. As such it re-envisions this coastal, countryside location (the pictures are mainly taken on Newhaven beach on the south coast, below the Fort which overlooks from the cliff) as an inaccessible, indecipherable pocket of folkloric history. Featuring in the images, though reimagined and reframed as ominous monuments of a volatile past, are signs of the locations rich history including shipping industry, local scrap metal industry, wartime defenses, and most prominently the remnants of human presence. In these images I wanted to highlight our human instinct to record our existence, to make our mark on the world, and to question how these marks will translate over time.” We really like how these images present nature as something spooky and mysterious, perhaps to be feared- opposed to a bucolic backdrop for human entertainment.


Thank you to the amazing people that have supported us: IB, London and Newcastle friends, the girlies, the Duffys, Kays, brother and Mitchell/Howes. Thank you to everyone that applied to take part in this project, and to our fantastic feautured artists: Pip Woolfe, Julian McKenny, Victoria Williams, Angela Read, Simon Turner, Naomi Even-Aberle, Kio Griffith, Samuel Lee, Nicky Deeley, Adam King, Kerry Fox, Olivia Foskett, Alfie Fox, David Foggo, Steve Smith, Maddie Exton, John Thomson and Alix Edwards. A special thanks to Alix Edwards and Maddie Exton for their wonderful poetry readings, and to Will Eds for his magical music mix.

Thank you so much for reading, love,

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