Rural art biennial: are you tough enough?

04 Mar 2010

Two things have sent me (in a virtual capacity) back to Tatton this week to mull over the issue of audience expectation. Firstly, the BBC's “strategic review” – the questions of what 'we' want and where the slashing of costs will be felt: from the sublime 6 Music station to reality TV and, of course, the flagship costume drama. Secondly, the 'Zero Budget Biennial', a travelling gallery-project that opened at Rokeby in London last week, the no-frills approach of which highlights critical perceptions of the international art-event phenomenon .

Nineteenth century dramas have been a dominant feature of the BBC's output in recent years (although, arguably, the viewer [or commissioning] tide is turning: see Guardian article link) and, naturally, this genre is of particular relevance to Tatton, not least because the house has featured in the novels of former Knutsford local and author of Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskill. While it's likely the historical interest as a result has increased visitor traffic, the carefully-tailored 'bonnet' view of the rural idyll, loved by so many, contrasts wildly with the idea of encountering contemporary art in such a context.

On the hardened art-audience flipside...the biennial has been around long enough, and found far and wide enough, to have become embedded within the cultural consciousness as some(not always good for art or good for site)thing. I haven't yet seen the theme-, programme- and (in biennial terms) cost-free 'Zero Art Biennial' but am intrigued by its list of artists and the half-smiling-but-critically-serious stance it has taken: “most biennials perpetuate a particular genre one might call biennial art in the service of illustrating dominant biennial themes”.

So how does the themed rural art-biennial go about challenging notions of the preserved site as historical keepsake that has little or nothing to do with contemporary Britain and the international community at large, or the perceived problems associated with this exhibition format?

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 11:04 PM