The Land We Live In -The Land We Left Behind

Visiting Hauser & Wirth Somerset

The train rode us into the countryside from Paddington Station into Bruton, a rural village in Somerset. Surrounded by bird song, we made our way towards the gallery, through a muddy road peppered with flowers. The Gallery greeted us with Paul McCarthy Sculptures bulging out of the field.

The exhibition set out to tell the story of the evolving relations to the land from the 1500’s to current days, featuring over hundred international artist including Beatrix Potter, Carsten Höller, Laure Prouvost, William Holman Hunt, Samuel Palmer, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcus Coates, Fernando García-Dory, Mark Dion, Roni Horn, Aaron Angell and Mark Wallinger.

I was very excited to experience the participatory elements and to see works by some of my favorite artists. Unfortunately none of the promised interactivity was present, there were no goats utilizing the climbing frame built for them by Fernando Gracia-Dory, and the other possibilities stood static with remnants of play around them.

The show yielded many interesting articles relating to rural existence paired with contemporary pieces presented in a set of vitrines invoking museum displays. The first room had an ethically questionable installation of a three-tiered aquaponic tank system, where fish and plants are growing together in one integrated system. As we learned from the very helpful invigilator, there were many problems with this work. At one point the tank had too many occupants so the fish were transferred to a restaurant for slaughter and profit. Another incident, the overfeeding of fish made the water conditions unsuitable resulting in deaths. I was shocked to hear this, as usually when live animals/plants are used within art the galleries contact local RSPCA or other organizations to ensure the well being of the lifeforms.

Rhodes Gallery, a separate building within the structure contained the strongest curation of works. The walls pained dark green, welcome the visitor with a meditative atmosphere. The middle of the room is dominated by a long table set for a surreal service, scattered with objects related to consumption by various artists.

This room also contained ‘Anchorhold’ (2015), an ingenious wooden structure, designed by architect Sutherland Hussey Harris, working in collaboration with artist Marcus Coates. The name Anchorhold refers to a tenth century hermitage in which anchorites would withdraw from society in order to deliberate on God. For this exhibition, Coates has repurposed the structure as an apple store. The work invites two people to spent some time while munching on apples. It was exciting to climb in there and find our own little place, like a childhood hide-out.

On the far wall, Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s film ‘Our Daily Bread’ (2005), which coldly presents the highly developed technologies involved in contemporary farming, without commentary and the original on site sounds is being screened on a loop, disturbing the viewing of the exhibit and calling attention to the sci-fi like conditions of our lives.

The show was exciting, a bit overwhelming with the amount of work in certain rooms, Rhodes Gallery was the high point for me with its excellently curated, coherent vision. I was disappointed in the lack of interactivity promised on the website.


Monika Tobel