'Sheep' was a dialogue around the upland landscape of Mid Wales. This exhibition addressed the current debates around shifting understandings of that landscape - or - change in that landscape, exploring Ceredigion's history, heritage and culture as a sheep-farming community. The museum explored these ideas through artefacts from its own collection, works of art borrowed from the TATE collection, and works by artists living in rural Wales today.
Important conversations are taking place in Wales locally and nationally around uses of the land. As a county museum with a significant collection representing Ceredigion's traditional agricultural heritage, we feel a responsibility to join in the dialogue with our communities about our future. Most of the work in the exhibition depicted sheep in some way, symbolism throughout art history which has deep resonance in a primarily Methodist community of farmers.
We chose to exhibit artists who explore different themes of rurality and farming, including people, place, politics, history, geography, biology and the landscape.
Miranda Whall worked on a series of pieces relating to landscape; the first 'Crossed Paths' looked at the story of the upland mountains of Wales told from the perspective of a sheep.
Short&Forward moved ten years ago from Bristol to rural Ceredigion where they are developing a new site for critical debate, contemporary art and artist's residencies on their smallholding. For this exhibition they showcased 'Dai and Nancy', a poignant short film that follows life in a sheep-farming valley, alongside a series of sculptures and installations that reference 'easy care' sheep, rare breeds that are at risk, and an installation of over 200 ewe hoof casts from the land around their farm, all reflecting the fragility of farming in the Welsh uplands.
Several of the artists are from farming background themselves, including the photographer Marian Delyth, Cardiff-based Carwyn Evans and Christine Mills. Mills' arts practice has for many years used wool in her work, drawing on stories of the farmers and their survival. The work of Morag Colquhoun looks in detail at the upland ecology and biology during residencies in the Elan Valley and on Bardsey Island.
We have also commissioned an artist to work directly with the sheep farming community; Ffion Jones, an artist and lecturer at Aberystwyth University, is herself a farmer and produced a film installation in the museum's woollen looms that featured interviews with ten farmers from the local area. Her questions, including "What do sheep mean to you?", draw out the relationships that farmers have with their flocks. Other works spill over from the gallery into the museum's permanent displays; sheep sculptures with the ceramics, sheep films in the cinema - all of which play on the Coliseum's natural sense of serendipity and theatre when exploring the museum.
Alongside these works we exhibited five works from the Tate collection. The pictures, included three drawings of sheep from Henry Moore's sketchbooks, a Joseph Beuys drawing of two sheep skulls, and 'Sheep B', a screen-print on paper by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, whose trademark subject is sheep.
As curators of our nations’ heritage and culture, conserving and interpreting artefacts and artworks has an important role, not only in preserving the past, but also in shaping the future, and there is no better time for this conversation.
I was brought up as first-generation Welsh on Mynydd Bach, surrounded by the rich heritage, culture, and language of the rural farming communities. I feel a deep connection to the surrounding land, heritage and culture. It forms a significant part of the ‘milltir sgwar’ (my patch) phenomena I learn about every day through my work at Ceredigion Museum. Now, with three children myself and settled in rural Ceredigion, my family’s life is deeply connected to the outdoors and to the close-knit community around me, reminiscent of my own childhood.
However, from what I see in the wider world and from what research tells us about how much children (and people) spend outdoors it seems people, in general, are losing their connections with the natural cycles around us. Increasingly people see themselves as ‘other’ to the land and to nature, rather than existing in communion with their environment. So how do we reconnect those broken cycles in a way that respects the environment but also respects the communities of people whose culture and heritage has been built on this land?
continue reading the Future Landscapes Report