Mostyn Llandudno, 22 September to 6 January 2012
‘Awareness raising’, that pursuit of campaigners, activists and educators, is an endless task. In the 1970s, Yugoslavian-born artist Radovan Kraguly began addressing what he saw as humankind’s alienation from the natural environment. Using the figure of the cow as an overarching symbol for the animals with which we regularly interact (via their milk, skin and so on) but largely ignore, he embarked on a decades-long series of drawings, paintings and sculptures that sought to redress that balance. Figurative images of cattle resting beside obtrusive, angular constructions gave way to later, more abstract black-and-white canvases, some of them bearing the recognisable patched markings of Holstein dairy cows. At some point in the 1990s, Kraguly began work on a ‘National Dairy Museum’, a cultural institution dedicated to ‘art in the rural space’; it would have a library, offices, cafeteria and lecture rooms, with entrances both for humans and animals – cows would spend a day there and visitors could learn how to milk by hand.
We learn this through an interview with Kraguly in the video Re-enacted piece #2, all works 2012, as part of Spanish self-described ‘artist, activist and agroecologist’ Fernando García-Dory’s ‘A Dairy Museum’. The exhibition takes Kraguly’s work as a jumping-off point for a set of four so-called ‘re-enacted pieces’, which are more like translations, modifications and updatings. García-Dory’s work, similarly to Kraguly’s, addresses our relationship with the rural, but his approach to the same issues is of a decidedly different tack. His work has in the past involved the establishment of a shepherd school in the Pyrenees and a conference of nomadic peoples that led to the establishment of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Pastoralists (WAMIP). Often mediating between commercial, governmental and cultural fields, you could see García-Dory as similar to the ‘incidental person’ free agent put forward by the Artist Placement Group in the UK but, rather than formatting and inserting himself into a larger bureaucracy, instigating his own systems, connections and new forms of dispersed management. Here at Mostyn, his strategy is more of a post-conceptual game, with texts and actions that follow in Kraguly’s footsteps in their own wayward fashion. In Re-enacted piece #1, García-Dory recreates a lost drawing, a study for a sculptural installation from 1997 which only exists as an image in a catalogue of Kraguly’s work. Re-enacted piece #3 sees García-Dory re-imagining Kraguly’s 1998 dance-performance The Cow in the Imagination of Radovan Kraguly, of which he knows only the name and a few scant documentation images.
The living heart of the show is Re-enacted piece #4, where García-Dory sites a working-scale model of the Dairy Museum within the gallery. The walls are lined with Kraguly’s drawings of different versions of the museum – it is a slick, rounded constructivist science-fiction building that wouldn’t be out of place in Star Wars. One of the drawings is set aside and framed, and it is this version that forms the basis for the crescent-shaped construction of wood, cloth and plastic piping before us. Kraguly’s aspirations for the museum in the video conversation seem a bit cute and old fashioned, talking about the social and didactic as balms for the virtual world we now live in. But just inside the model museum, you are hit with the distinctive smell of a dairy, the musty mixture of hay and cream. It is filled with objects donated from local farms: grazing plans, an ‘Electric Shepherd’ fence system battery, photos here and there of ‘a favourite cow’, an outdated automatic milking machine, a photocopy from a recent issue of British Dairying magazine on the dropping prices of milk being paid by the larger dairies who control the industry. The museum has also become a set where the Young Farmers Club is recording videos for online streaming, and as a place to voice concerns and raise issues to a wider public. García-Dory has imagined the Dairy Museum as a platform where gallery and pastoral constituencies might meet, but also where issues of representation remain openly problematic. His method of raising awareness is to bypass Kraguly’s abstract representation of an issue for more ‘direct’ representation with objects and statements from the farmers themselves, but he consciously and visibly traces a line between the two. His re-enactments link abstract practices and methods of object display, re-invigorating Kraguly’s work and abstracting the objects in his model museum, emphasising the mediation involved in both. Through García-Dory’s sketch, we can imagine an institution that might continually question these connections and somehow bring such disparate audiences into engagement, but perhaps its potency is in that suggestion, in its contingency and temporariness.
First published in Art Monthly 361, November 2012.