Office of Useful Art, Coniston – It’s All About the Landscape at the Coniston Mechanics InstituteInitiated by Grizedale Arts, Coniston Institute, DJ Simpson.
It’s All About the Landscape mutated the concept of the Office of Useful Art through a presentation that offered a rebirth of production through combined art, craft and design in the original home of the Lakes Artists and of Ruskin’s Home Craft Industries. Turning the Mechanics Institute’s main hall into a self-sustaining production, exhibition and retail unit, the show combined an exhibition of traditional and palatable landscape paintings from Cumbrian collections (the pre-industrial revolution working landscape with actual people in them actually working), with an antique shop specialising in the local Arts and Crafts movement, a functioning coffee and cake café, a massage bed, and a crafts workshop developing new home craft products.
(Significantly the village is found in the English Lake District, one of the worlds most popular tourist landscapes, created through Romanticism and Industrialisation in the 18th Century. With over 14 million visitors a year this region that has relinquished the use of the landscape for production (farming) in preference to spectatorship (tourism), creating deep seated socio-economic issues.)
Alongside productive resources the exhibition also offered visitors the opportunity to create their own souvenirs and nascent products. The self-contained unit was designed and built by artist D J Simpson, and incorporated the village indoor bowls club; visitors to the exhibition were welcome to attend during bowls times and to join in with sessions.
This project was conceived by Grizedale Arts as part of the five year ‘Uses of Art’ project with L’Internationale, a confederation of European museums and was made possible with the support of the Culture Fund of the European Union and Arts Council England.