rural vernacular

The rural, far from the empty landscape of tourist brochures, is a contested zone in which a complex matrix of perspectives is at work. Socio-economic change, climate change and ecological realities demand a radical re-thinking of the rural so that a new discourse can be developed by cultural practitioners and grassroots participants in the rural dynamic.  

Rural Vernacular set out to foster a new type of engagement between Public Art and rural contexts. A number of artists were invited to conduct research in rural Co. Clare . This agricultural region is a European microcosm in which all of the fault lines, developing as a result of the impacts of globalisation and industrialisation on agriculture, are evident.  

Relating to the complex, rural context was central to the project; public art was understood as both a both a process of research and a mode of dialoguing between artists, rural communities and the wider cultural discourse. The project proposed the development of a form of public art which would not impose the values of the dominant cultural discourse on rural communities, but seeks to engage with rural issues and vernacular rural culture. It’s important to bring into focus for contemporary art practice the broader definitions of culture which apply in rural contexts and which must be recognised if a genuine cultural dialogue is to occur. Selected artists were asked to consider rural knowledge and rural culture, and to engage with rural communities as part of their research.  

vladimir arkhipov, functioning forms ireland, 2006, final work installed in the gallery of the burren college of art, ballyvaughan, co. clare
Amanda Dunsmore, still images from Mr and Mrs Krab's Utopia, 2006
tamas kaszas, seashore reliefs 2006

various locations, co. clare
fiona woods              rural vernacular >>
The project was also located within a particular political context; locality and sustainability are important cultural issues that are coming under enormous pressure as priority is increasingly given to the global economy based on the Oil Paradigm. The cultural imperative of the global paradigm is to wipe out local distinctiveness and to replace the community principle of mutual assistance, so central to rural culture, with relations based on monetary transactions. These are issues that affect the rural population right across Europe, and beyond.  

Vladimir Arkhipov’s project Functioning Forms Ireland highlights a phenomenon in which economic transactions are almost entirely absent. His ‘Post-Folk Archive’ is composed of hand-made objects that individuals have fashioned for their own use.   Farmers are, by necessity, inventors and tool-makers, responding to the constantly changing needs of the cultivation process. Arkhipov’s collection shows us that this is a human trait found in many places; these objects have an ingenuity but also a frailty in the face of rampant consumerism.        

Amanda Dunsmore is an English artist living in rural County Clare. This ‘insider-outsider’ status gives her a particular perspective on the blow-in population, so crucial to the cultural life of rural Clare.   Utopia? is a body of research based on interviews with individuals who have relocated from their countries of birth to live in County Clare.   These are people who move to rural Ireland in search of a better or alternative lifestyle. They often revive traditional crafts such as cheese-making, thatching, organic farming  - but many of them come to have a love-hate relationship with rural Ireland, something that is reflected in the title of the work.  

Dunsmore says ‘The conversations touched on many rural issues, such as the weather, family, time, roads, drugs, cars, wealth, houses and the future. I wanted to know why they’d come to live in rural Ireland, were they looking for a kind of Utopia and what did they find.’  

A video work Mr. and Mrs. Krab’s Utopia was screened at the Shifting Ground conference and also in the X-PO (2008).  

The work of Hungarian artist Tamás Kaszás has social, ecological and political dimensions; it combines a distrust of state authority and control with an optimistic rejection pof cynical thinking. He creates complex environments that function as symbolic spaces where free thinking and discussion can take place.  

His work for Rural Vernacular Seashore Reliefs is located on the edge of 5 beaches, areas that at first seem remote and pristine. Kaszás has, however, spent weeks collecting plastic debris that has washed up all along this beautiful coast and has arranged it to resemble the kind of colourful signs that are so much a part of our visual culture. 
‘Boards often control our behaviour’ says the artist. They are carriers of clear, unchallengable messages that treat the members of society as kids with taking away the possibility of making a decision. . . . The alternative (signposts) boards are easy to be understood; they draw people’s attention to the pollution of the environment but don’t operate with the didactic statement.' 

At the same time as drawing our attention to the use of the oceans as dumping grounds, this work focuses our attention on a material with which we all have a complex relationship. The artist says 'I want to collect and use only plastic pieces in my work, because first of all, plastic is not regarded as a nice, soft material; however some of the pieces that were abraded and polished by the sea like gravel have surprisingly beautiful forms. Second of all, plastic is connected to many layers of meaning; it is made from oil, the residue of ancient seas and also the most important fuel of modern economy for which many wars have been started. Plastic is also the material of eternity; it decays very slowly - if ever.'

Bauntlieve - Conversations is composed of two parallel projects by artists Patricia Hurl and Therry Rudin. Having recently moved to a cottage in the somewhat ‘remote’ townland of Bauntlieve, Inagh in Co. Clare, they wanted to find a way to create a cultural dialogue with their new neighbours. They kicked off the project with a party at their cottage, which quickly turned into a ‘round-the-house’ céilí event, with the best of traditional music and dancing.  

The community of Bauntlieve were familiar with the ‘documentary’ traditions of art ' portraiture, the representation of houses, animals and land' and while this was somewhat outside of the usual practice of these artists, they recognized the opportunity that this presented to stand on common aesthetic ground and to develop a truly collaborative artwork with this rural community.   Hurl began to invite neighbours into her studio to paint them; she decided to 'revisit an old favourite painting, Grant Wood’ American Gothic, the iconic image of mid-American vernacular' as a template for the portraits. The sittings became a form of cultural exchange, with stories and histories being offered by the sitters to the artist, who in turn sought to arrive at a physical likeness, something that was important to the sitters.  
Rudin, for her part, began to make a photographic record of houses, land and animals; she sought to 'monumentalise' the images and began to give framed copies as gifts to the families. The artist is making light boxes which will illuminate these images of Bauntlieve is a celebratory fashion. The light boxes also function to bring into focus images of and insights into the shared experiences of our lives, including universal questions as 'who am I?' 'how do I define my relationships?' and 'what happens when we die?' .


Fiona Woods, 2006