After taking the High Grade Rockers sound system to the two-day Farmfest 2014 where I was also volunteering with Hazel and the festival arts team all weekend (that I will soon be blogging about), manaXi and I decided to indulge (very much-needed) in the new Hauser and Wirth gallery in Bruton, Somerset. I needed to get my curatorial and gallery fix for the weekend, as standard, and see what this new space had to offer after following its development over recent months.
Funnily enough, as I was talking to my Mom today (as you know, called Momma Sooz by my friends), she told me that my Grandpa (Poppa), a man/photographer/writer/inspiration who I miss greatly and very much helped to define my contemporary creative career, went to school at Sexey’s School in Bruton. So Farmfest, Hauser & Wirth and Sexey’s all triggered a sense of what manaXi and I call “serendipitous syncronicity”, something that very much defines our relationship and so many of the experiences we have together. Things just fall into place, come together, a series of coincidences that just make sense…without question. It happens far more often than you’d think.
We arrived just after 2pm after packing up the soundsystem, marquee and campsite mess that we had created over the past few days on Gilcombe Farm in Bruton to make Farmfest 2014 happen. With tired eyes, ringing ears, fuzzy heads, and not very clean skin (which I felt incredibly embarrassed about) but clean clothes, we went to experience something, somewhere that I’d been very much looking forward to viewing, analysing, taking in, contemplating, understanding. Opening only three weeks ago, I was intrigued to know what Hauser and Wirth Somerset was about…what it wanted to do…the message it was projecting…as it’s location and programming was trying to encapsulate so much. I must apologise to Hauser and Wirth as I realise that photographs were not supposed to be taken on site, but it was impossible for wordgirl not to as it really is such a beautifully created gallery both in an interior space and exterior landscape sense…as the images below will show.
Situated on Durslade Farm, a working farm on the edge of Bruton, Somerset, it aims to be ‘a pioneering world-class gallery and multi-purpose arts centre, which acts as a destination for experiencing art, architecture and the remarkable Somerset landscape through new and innovative exhibitions of contemporary art, as well as offering locally sourced produce in on-site restaurant, Roth Bar & Grill. The gallery exhibition programme offers an extensive variety of events and learning opportunities inspired by the exhibitions, countryside and the local community, and is accompanied by an active artists’ residency programme.’ Durslade Farm is a group of Grade II listed buildings including a farmhouse, stables, cowsheds, piggery, threshing barn and other outbuildings that have all been converted for contemporary use. Initially built as a model farm, it is placed within over 1000 acres of fields and woodland. The opening exhibition is by British artist Phyllida Barlow who has created a series of sculptural fabric-filled pompoms for her exhibition ‘Gig’ (pompom isn’t a word you get to say very often) inspired by the landscape and architecture of the space and surrounding landscape. Alongside these, are ‘outdoors in the Piggery, ‘untitled: megaphone’ towers six metres high, rising above the roof line as if to announce the building’s new purpose; stacks of vibrantly painted chairs suggest an absent audience, “one that has yet to arrive and a performance that has yet to begin”; in the main gallery, the viewer is confronted by a thicket of roughly painted raw timber lengths rooted to the floor in cement bases forming a makeshift screen in the centre of the room encircling the space to recall Bruce Nauman’s ‘Smoke Rings’, compelling the viewer to circumnavigate the work, edging along the perimeter of the space peering through the gaps into a space they may not enter. By positioning the works in such a way Barlow challenges and dictates the experience of looking and moving in the space.’
“Barlow’s sculptural practice is grounded in an anti-monumental tradition and is concerned with the relationship between objects and the space that surrounds them.”
The exterior landscape was manaXi and I’s moment of being awe-struck…a large and very beautifully curated (yes a garden can be curated) perennial meadow to the north of the farmyard and new gallery buildings – the Oudolf Field – designed by Piet Oudolf, the internationally renowned landscape designer from the Netherlands. ‘Carefully shaped and planted, the garden echoes the tradition of classical gardens, but the variety of species and combination of plants creates a looseness, softening the formality of its appearance. Wide canopied trees are planted between the gallery and garden to frame the view of the garden for visitors as they leave the buildings. The surrounding hedges provide a sense of enclosure, whilst the views of the hills and fields beyond remain visible. A series of paths cut through the vegetation, inviting visitors to wander through the garden. Oudolf’s landscaping design continues around the buildings including the inner cloister courtyard, where the old buildings meet the new.’ manaXi and I sat in the metal recliner chairs silently looking, thinking, consumed visually…wondering how and why each area was created in the way it was with those specific plants…that was later explained in the accompanying exhibition.
manaXi and I were ravenous by the time we’d wandered, stopped, stared and got lost (psychologically) in the exhibition and the Oudolf Field…so it was time for refreshments at their new Roth bar and grill. Obviously, we hadn’t even thought about booking a table (and of course it was super popular as it was a Sunday) so we got seated at the bar, which was a great experience as we got to talk to the bar staff and rather wonderfully enthusiastic Polish bar manager who must be thanked for his knowledge, friendliness and charisma. After much tired eyed deliberation over an amazingly fresh menu (virtually everything sourced from a five-mile radius) that I could actually eat so much from (which doesn’t often happen with Amoy tiger tummy’s particular needs), I simply had to order my favourite dish – kedgeree – and my favourite drink – root juice (beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger). I’m a juicer at heart and at home. I was one happy wordgirl. manaXi order the burger and a fresh lemonade, his favourite eats too and we were not disappointed. As manaXi said, in a pop culture clichéd way, it was definitely “Hauser and Wirth it”. The layered flavours and colours of the kedgeree were something else. A cacophony for the palette, if that’s possible! We didn’t want it to end and felt bad for our scruffiness in relation to the decadence of the food (apologies to Roth bar and grill!). We finished on our Croatian addiction – two small macchiato’s that were again just perfection.
The bar area was a visual wonderland of found objects transformed into a floor to ceiling sculptural creation by Björn and Oddur Roth, the son and grandson of Dieter Roth. They were resident in the restaurant for six months to create the piece. It has been described as ‘a site-specific art installation, a higgledy piggledy 3-D collage of salvaged parts of farm machinery, junk and found objects, including drums masquerading as bar stools’ (these were AMAZING when the bar manager revealed them to us…so much fun and loved by minds fuelled by music like ours). There’s a nice review of the place here from the Telegraph. In the main restaurant area, there is ‘a salon-style hang of works based on the intertwining themes of food, cooking, animals and the countryside, incorporating Hauser and Wirth‘s entire family of artists alongside works from the private collection of Iwan and Manuela Wirth. Works on show in the dining area range from Henry Moore’s fine drawing of lobster claws to vibrant neon chandeliers by the late Jason Rhoades, which hang from the ceiling illuminating the dining area.’
As a curator it is very hard to go to a new gallery, a new space without decoding it, fragmenting it, making sense of its spatial capability and message-making. There is a sense of real educated engagement here at Hauser and Wirth Somerset…from the gallery, to the artist(s) on show, to the gardens, the public sculptures, the restaurant, the food and where it is sourced from, the public programming and events…it knows what it is talking about and is clearly investing in the local area, the local people, the local interest as much as understanding how it should be placed regionally and nationally in the contemporary arts ecology. The place of contemporary art in a rural locations like in Bruton, Somerset, is a new phenomenon, and integral to its development today as we seek an ecological humanistic point of view to our daily cultural experiences, a sustainable and quantifiable justification to something, to culture, that is, in reality, one of life’s richest added extras. We want impact, we want conversations, we want understanding, we want to breed knowledge, new creative and cultural knowledge, a new future that is beyond just “art” that at Hauser and Wirth Somerset you can see is clearly being carved, carved out in the programming, carved into the soil and land of Durslade Farm, carved in the art history books currently being written. Let’s watch Hauser and Wirth Somerset grow…like their Oudolf Field meadow. This was an unforgettable Sunday…post-Farmfest 2014 indulgence, Roth bar and grill decadence, Oudolf meadow field silence and one unforgettable curatorial fix…