About a year ago I was approached by Volkhardt Müller to work with him in developing the project TOPOS (www.toposexeter.uk) Over the following year we had many conversations in the new studio space and covered a wide variety of topics, practical and theoretical. Mostly we talked about the place we were in and how it related to the public spaces of Exeter and its occupants, the shoppers hurrying past in the street below, the shop owner trying to make a living, the homeless people on the street and the flora and fauna that made the city its home. Inevitably in this context we became interested in the the dynamics of commerce and the relationships it created between producer and consumer, something which related back to the landscape around Exeter and its agriculture. However what was being sold on the streets had not come from Devonian producers, the farmer, the artisan or manufacturer, but had come from the people, resources and factories of the world. Just as often what was being sold was not a tangible product at all but an experience, like a holiday or a computer game.
These ways of producing and consuming were reflected in what Volkhardt and other artists were doing in the studio, both making objects to send out into the world and inviting the public to take part in an experience, whether a discussion about 19th century Romantic art, the countryside of Devon or about Sidwell Street’s future regeneration. The idea for Exeter City Likeness Farm was therefore to somehow map and bring alive these relationships, in particular what the consumption of landscape art might mean in a digital global market place which buys and sells anything and everything, including the experience of the countryside.
At the time I was reading The prison letters of Nadya and Slavoj between Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from the Russian artist group Pussy Riot and the cultural critic Slavoj Zizěk. Tolokonnikova was arrested for her part in the Pussy Riot performance of Punk Prayer in a Russian Orthodox Church in 2012, and sent to women’s penal colony. Tolokonnikova describes her time there where she was forced to work for 17 hours a day sewing clothing as part of an institutionalised system of cheap labour, a sweatshop making clothes to profit the Russian government. In their discussion Zizek points out that Western markets equally exploit cheap labour, not only in ways most often publicised, such as the sweatshop making clothes and other products, but equally in consumption of experiences and relationships. An example given is that of “like farming” where poorly paid workers “like” products on Facebook or social media in order to create the impression of popularity and to encourage sales. So as Zizěk says: “…in the universe of commodities “relations between people assume the guise of the relations between things””, and in the case of like farming vice-versa.
The Plantation: An interlinked exhibition of print, mixed-media objects and video by Volkhardt Müller in two Devon venues. The Plantation will include pieces by artists resident at TOPOS in 2015 Sean Borodale, Dawn Scarfe and Alex Murdin, alongside participatory works completed with the assistance of the public. Photo documentation of the TOPOS year will be exhibited by Benjamin Borley.
7th- 28th Feb at TOPOS Exeter
Opening: Thurs-Sun 12pm-6pm
Visit http://www.toposexeter.uk/events/ for directions.
6th Feb-1st April at White Moose Gallery, Barnstaple
Opening: Tues-Sat 11am-5pm