ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art.
If the thought of artists working from the landscape makes you think nostalgically of Gainsborough’s woods or Constable’s hay carts and rivers – or even Hockney’s pet lane defined by the season in pinks and limes – then ENTWINED should offer a nice change of perspective, literally as well as metaphorically. This VARC project involves artists working in, via and with the collaboration of the landscape, relating to it as a process rather than translating it into a fixed image. Far from simply representing a spontaneous collaboration between nature, geology and climate, the British landscape is a made and lived in environment, demonstrating human intervention and usage. It operates as a document of continuing negotiation, where our needs, economics, identities, communities and tastes are encoded into a complex and changeable system via a balancing act that can seem homely and comfortable or dangerously precarious. VARC (Visual Arts in Rural Communities) has championed their searching, multi-faceted approach by establishing this two-year multi-partner programme comprising six mixed length residencies and associated artist projects, all encouraging the exploration of the interconnectedness of rural land and rural lives as well as the different aspects of what makes a “place”.
Far from just looking out of studio windows, this involved engagement with communities and histories, the words and participation of the local inhabitants and a sympathetic response to the way their activities become visual documents imprinted on the land. Now coming to its end, ENTWINED culminates in an exhibition at VARC’s home at Highgreen in rural Northumberland. Featuring the work of eight artists, the exhibition will open on Saturday 4th September and run until Sun 12th September. Later in the year the work will be exhibited at Vane Gallery, Newcastle and will coincide with the launch of a major publication that celebrates the end of the ENTWINED programme and VARC’s 21st Anniversary.
Meanwhile, a stroll around the website at: https://varc.org.uk/entwined/artists/is highly recommended to give a taste of the eight different (yet entwined) approaches that were generated, and to remind us that these happened while Covid 19 was disrupting plans – nothing in our relationship with the landscape stands obligingly still and poses for us! The musical aspect in Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman’s work with the Song Reivers Community Choir, for example, took place when indoor choral singing represented a major health risk. While Bridget Kennedy’s woven constructions are conversations with the raw and found materials specific to a particular time and place, Shane Finan’s work drew on the network of communication between plants and fungi at just the time when worries about human communication postponed his residency for a year.
Despite vast differences of approach, scale and medium, all the artists have shared a heightened awareness of the shifting complexity of our relationship with a particular type of environment. Earth and sky, ecology, archaeology, the ancient and the industrial, the animal, mineral and vegetable, turn out not to be categories of difference so much as markers of an interaction that, though considered here at a particular moment, tracks back through the past and forward into our future.