11th January 2007 — 10th February 2007
to the Woodcraft Folk are greeted after a few seconds of silence by
recorded singing and an ambient instrumental accompaniment. The sound
is triggered by a motion sensor nestled among customised musical
instruments and a Marshall amplifier set as if for a gig. There are
percussion cymbals mounted on sawn-off tree branches and a pair of
guitars, one shaped like a beetle and the other a stag's head. These
trademark motifs of the Juneau/Projects/' aesthetic will be familiar to
many viewers, as will the conjunction of the primitive and the
In one sense this show is easier on the viewer than some of the artists' previous presentations. It shares the same iconography of cult, countryside and gadgets, but many items are displayed in isolation so that they can be considered in their own right. There is a humorous pair of Doctor Martins painted up with a rural landscape and a framed-up collage of a stag goring someone made with magazine cuttings and pressed flowers. But in another sense the arrangement makes the show more problematic. For despite the effort to establish the autonomous status for the objects and present them as a static, museum-orientated product, there remains an overwhelming sense that what is on offer is not, in fact, the artwork. The shoes are worn, the instruments damaged through use, and many of the works look functional, as if to suggest their status as props within a performance that is over. Nor though, do they quite attain the status of an archive. For the exhibition does not make clear what kind of performance they belong to and photographic documentation of an event is conspicuously absent. As a result, the viewer is left with a feeling of disappointment at having missed out on something that would have been participatory and a lot of fun.
In his recent publication Art Time and Technology Charlie Gere suggests that one of the key roles of art in an age of real-time technology (the internet, email, video conferencing and so forth) is to keep our human relation with time open. He argues that real-time technology threatens to close this relationship with the result that memory and human interaction could become marginal forces in the attempt to shape the future. Gere's anxiety about technology, his concern with the importance of time as well as his belief in the transformative potential of interaction find striking parallels in the Woodcraft Folk. In the back room there is a set of woodblock prints mounted on the wall. The prints depict rural scenes of a pre-industrial England: there is a falcon taking off from the forearm of its handler, a fisherman, a shepherdess caressing a pair of lambs.
Their innocence aside, what is significant about this choice of images is that something is happening in each of them. This is a countryside where people do things, live from the land and are employed for themselves rather than for the benefit of other people. A comparison with William Morris is inevitable but unlike Morris, Juneau/Projects/ have worked collaboratively with a real rural organisation from whom the exhibition takes its name. Thus through research, engagement, performance, the project proceeds with an aesthetic of small gestures that build bridges between urban and otherwise disenfranchised rural communities. In engaging with its communities, it entertains the possibility that there are alternative ways of thinking about the countryside to those propagated by the leisure industry, an unlimited source of bed and breakfasts, pony trekking trips, and gift shop staff. Those that don't get it perhaps need to get out a bit more and find out what people really do, but make sure you arrive on time.
1-2 Bear Gardens
London SE1 9ED