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New exhibition examines the relationship between contemporary art and the rural
International Village Show 1/8, 2015. Photo: Sebastian Schröder. Courtesy Myvillages and GfZK Leipzig.

LONDON.- Whitechapel Gallery morphs Galleries 5 and 6 into a giant cabinet in this exhibition spanning 16 years of artistic thinking and production in over 30 locations, all based outside of urban settings. From Ballykinlar, Ireland, to EkumfiEkawfo, Ghana, international artist collective Myvillages explore the rural as a space for radical cultural practice in Setting the Tables: Village Politics. Presenting a complex vision of the countryside that is distinctively experimental and artistically vital, the exhibition is part of Whitechapel Gallery’s ongoing collaborative programme dedicated to exploring the making of art outside of so-called cultural centres, culminating in June 2019 with a major conference.

Bringing together multiple global projects, the display simulates a showroom. More than 50 objects, vessels and artefacts are piled high, each representing a unique rural industry, economy or community. Works include 56 metres of Höfer Lace, imbued with the history of European lace-making industries, ceramics made in remote Russian village Zvizzchi using a special, high-quality local clay, and an enormous word search puzzle featuring the names of over 100 locations with which Myvillages has worked. 13 monitors show films in 6 different languages, exploring the relationships between object, context and artist, as well as the richness of cultural landscapes outside the metropolis. The exhibition demands we reframe our thinking about the relationship between the rural and contemporary art.

A collaborative practice dedicated to working exclusively in rural places with existing village communities, Myvillages was established in 2003 by artists Kathrin Böhm (b. 1969), Wapke Feenstra (b.1959) and Antje Schiffers (b. 1967). Myvillages aims to bring a new dynamism to solidified notions of local resources and production, agriculture and culture.

Whitechapel Gallery hosts a major conference which invites an international and cross-disciplinary conversation on contemporary art and the rural on 20 - 22 June 2019, titled The Rural Assembly, together with Wysing Arts Centre. Delivering a keynote address is Wu Mali (b. 1957), a Taiwanese conceptual artist and pioneer of socially engaged work which has consistently engaged rural communities. The conference also features a participatory walk with artist Ian Giles, Open Ramble East (b. 1985) and a performance by Jade Monserrat, alongside participants from around the world.

Setting the Table is the final instalment of a programme of public events and research at Whitechapel Gallery, The Rural: Contemporary Art and Spaces of Connection. The Rural was prompted by two key ideas; firstly, to consider the impact of the current political moment on art and cultural institutions, and secondly, the desire to look at art practices and artists working outside of urban centres, erroneously assumed to be less rich in artistic capital. It has included partnerships with Istanbul Biennial, University of Aberystwyth, Manchester School of Art and Wysing Arts Centre. Alongside this, anthology Documents of Contemporary Art: The Rural , edited by Myvillages, was published earlier this year, featuring a collection of texts, interviews and documentation reflecting the complex interrelationship between the urban, the rural and contemporary cultural production.

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