God Save The Village Green

An interview written for T-R-E-M-O-R-S online with the artist Dimitri Galzatine at his solo show in London God Save The Village Green at The Cob Gallery.

As a tourist your role is to take something away, but as an artist it is to give something back.

Outside a gallery in North London, a queue of people wait to have their photograph taken. Laughing at themselves, they pose in front of a pretty painted backdrop with a trained owl perched delicately upon their arm. If they like, later they will be able to buy a copy of the picture to take home as a souvenir. At the entrance to Dmitri Galitzine’s solo show at The Cob Gallery in London, ”God Save the Village Green’ , the installation of Mr and Mrs Andrews succinctly situates the visitor within the context  of contemporary rural Britain as a tourist destination.

In Mr and Mrs Andrews the backdrop is actually a painting of a large postcard of the Finchingfield village green in Essex. According to an un-sited source on Wikipedia – which I like quite a lot because it means it’s not true (laughs) – it’s the most photographed village green in the UK. It was a really nice way to enter the show. There was a queue to get in, which built up the suspense and it created souvenirs for the exhibition, effectively simulating what it is like at a mass tourist destination. Tourism – what that word means – is a long investigative process for me.

The backdrop itself, made in collaboration with Martin Kelly, is indicative of the tourists’ approach to the rural – it has the minimum amount of information needed to visually make sense of it. A broad brush treatment of a location. Taking its name from a Gainsborough portrait painting of some Essex landowners by the same title, Galitzine’s Mr and Mrs Andrews exemplifies a contemporary relationship to the rural, exploring the connection between the figures and their staged landscape. In both works the landscape is being used as a symbolic backdrop for a particular conception of what the rural represents in relation to the figures. Galitzine’s practice is a long term investigation into how to understand this representation of the rural in contemporary terms, and rather than acting as a tourist, to embed himself personally within its specificities; to fill in the rich detail to the pastoral backdrop.

Two years ago, Galitzine moved permanently to the countryside, from London to rural Herefordshire, and since then has explored how traditional practices and values that are emblematic of the countryside have both persisted and morphed through modernisation. In doing so he grapples with a tension between preservation and a kind of warped adaptation.

I think it is all to do with how tradition modernises. The title of the show is taken from the 1968 album The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks. They actually would have written the whole thing from very near to where we are at The Cob Gallery. Whilst they were definitely looking at the countryside from a tourists’ point of view, it also represented for them traditional value systems at a time when the preservation of tradition was seen to be under threat, both socially and politically. For example, supermarkets ‘happened’ really between around then, and now. In my work I am trying to understand what has happened since then.  When I first moved to the countryside,  I certainly didn’t expect people to go to Tesco every Saturday afternoon. Instead I imagined that everyone would go to a small green grocers and an independent butcher. It is an effect of modernisation that things get more and more convenient.

This tension between tradition and its translation by modernisation is most acute in the conversation between two works exhibited together in the downstairs of the gallery. Philip Clarke CEO and The Luncheon On The Grass  compare two different realities of the modern consumption of tradition driven by the insistent goal of convenience; an overarching aim which fuels business and has overlaid itself onto a rural setting which might be expected to be resistant to such homogenisation. However, these two works display a more complicated picture. The rumble of an industrial spit roast, ostensibly cooking the roughly carved wooden carcass of a hog, visually contrasts to the bust of a Tesco CEO, glowing washing powder white and perched upon a plinth the colour of the global conglomerates brand of blue. The smooth tone of the bust has a cartoonish uncanniness appropriate to its outsourced manufacture, appearing as it did, as if by magic one day on the artist’s doorstep.

These two pieces, Philip Clarke CEO and The Luncheon On The Grass are definitely meant to be shown together. The Luncheon On The Grass references the age old tradition of a spit roast, which has been modernised to be more convenient and I think can be related to what Philip Clarke has done with a food business. And then chainsaw carving is again an adaptation of a rural tradition that has also been modernised, from using a hammer and a chisel to a chainsaw. You constantly come across these chainsaw carvings at village fêtes and festivals. I really wanted to try my hand at it; to actually buy a chainsaw and get a big fallen down bit of oak to work on as an investigation into its worth. In a strange formal co-incidence of material, wood cracks quite similar to meat, so for me as a trained sculpture that is also just a very lovely thing. I am drawn to this as a sculptural object; the absurdity of it as a form.

By learning the art of chainsaw carving, Galitzine compares the method of making in these two pieces in order to explore the value of a traditional craft and personally find out if there is any magic left in the effort of doing something the hard way.

In my experience of living outside of cities, there is a resistance to that kind of rapid convenience. Everything isn’t necessarily better if its cleaner and faster: it loses something. Like trying to carve a massive piece of tree into a pig when you could pay some very skilled Chinese sculptors to do it in half the time for a quarter of the money. I suppose I am trying to find out if there is something that we lose through this convenience by doing it myself.

This element of becoming genuinely involved with a craft or working collaboratively with a community to the extent that he becomes completely immersed in its passions and knowledge base is an important part of Galitzine’s practice. It prevents him from becoming an artist who presents ‘oddities’ to the public from an outsiders’ perspective. Whether he is learning to take professional photographs of poultry as exhibited in Best in Show or becoming part of an impassioned Eddie Stobbart Truck spotter community who collectively constructed the 2820 photographs for the installation Fleet, Galitzine penetrates and becomes part of different subcultures, and takes personal delight in doing so.

As a tourist your role is to take something away, but as an artist it is to give something back.

Placed in the gallery, these pieces are presented as artworks, but this underlines their cultural relevancy rather than attributing them with it.

People have said, “ I can’t believe you have made this, it’s such a thing to make, to make these birds into something else”, but I haven’t actually. There are photographers at poultry shows who make images in a very similar way. Best in Show currently exists in the gallery, but also very much in the setting that the subject is from. There are lot of poultry magazines. I’d actually quite like to get them published in one.

At the same time Galitzine uncovers an unresolved tension between how individual difference, small communities and localised passions can retain a relevance whilst being encompassed by larger, seemingly all powerful economic mechanisms. The tale of Philip Clark’s rise within the ranks of Tesco from stacking shelves at 14 to CEO is an American Dream style story of success, whilst the naming of the Eddie Stobart Fleet is an old tradition that pertains to the romanticism of transience and the modern cowboy. These elements of  large companies are genuinely attractive and create genuine cultural phenomenon like the ‘collection’ of the vehicle names by spotters. At the same time these companies employ deliberate and self-concious mechanisms in order to personalise business, which is vast, impersonal and non-localised.

I don’t think with either piece I am in any way criticising, but trying to make sense of and document them. I am trying to take on these massive multi million pound brands – Tesco and Eddie Stobart – and I’m trying to separate the brand from the reality. They are an enormous, scary, global phenomena. But they are also romantic and engaging. In the case of Eddie Stobbart trucks, I was drawn to them as a kid. I used to shout out the names to my parents on the motorway. They do all of Tesco’s haulage, which is a nice kind of link. Tesco are obviously are aware of their flaws. But then we all have a guilty pleasure in going to Tesco.

Perhaps the answer to Galitzine’s question of where the ‘middle is’ in Middle England lies within his negotiation of the space between the localities – the strange and wonderful singularities – that persist within a modern reality of encompassing homogenisation. The jubilant pin pricks of resistant detail in the indefinite expanse of the backdrop. The rural is a constant negotiation between its contemporary relevancy to communities, preservation of tradition and a persistent fiction which masks its resiliency. That it escapes definition pertains to the multifarious nature of the rural and its surviving complexity.

I’m not an expert. I moved  to the countryside two years ago and so my experience is not only subjective, but very specific to one place. I can’t say the countryside is dot dot dot. But definitely where I live does seem  to have a kind of timelessness.

God Save The Village Green, presents a body of work which investigates this odd, overlapping relationship between the “metropolitan fantasy” of the rural and the modern reality of the countryside. The fictionalisation, even trivialisation, of the pastoral by the picture postcard frame of tourism, is countered by Dmitri Galitzine’s exploration of the resilience of  rural traditions, even when processed through the mechanisms of modernisation and convenience.

I am forever astounded by the modern world, because…you cant go back. I am trying to figure out how we got here.

 

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