God Save the Village Green at Cob Gallery

The ideas behind ‘God Save the Village Green’ are rooted in the past – in the pastoral sentiment of the countryside and the communities that gather on these village greens. The question Dmitri Galitizine asks in this unconventional exhibition is: can this Little England sustain itself? The exhibition ‘God Save the Village Green,’ goes about providing an answer with some unexpected results.

 

Curator, Elise Lammer writes in the catalogue that beyond being in a post-modern period of art, we are in a post-internet society. A conclusion she makes undoubtedly with the back-room installation piece – Fleet, in mind. Fleet’s subject matter seems at first a little antagonistic to the drive of ‘God Save the Village Green’ – quintessential England. The installation is composed of 2820 photos of Eddie Stobard vans, which line the walls in a floor-to-ceiling montage; the window of the gallery, barred so that you are encompassed in this affectionate tribute to the vehicles which, like clockwork, transfer the UK’s produce from the city to the countryside.

 

Each van is given a first and middle female name, permitting an anthropomorphic adoring of them, as well as allowing an easy cataloguing and search function. Both allow the spectator to contribute to the artwork’s construction imaginatively, which Lammer identifies as a character of post-internet art. The artwork began as an online call for photographs of Eddie Stobart vans, but fuelled by a community of fans known as ‘Stobard Spotters’ the online store grew to 2000 uploads in just a few weeks, and Galitzine quickly realised the potential of this as an installation artwork. As a product Galitzine serves less as an artist, and more as an archivist, as he arranges the fronts of vans like the spines of books on shelves of library walls. In the gallery, stalls are usefully placed for ‘reaching’ the tops, and a computer installed open to the website which acts as a search engine of the room’s content.

 

As a cohesive whole, there is something more sinister about Fleet than a simple reading of it as a photo album. Together, these photographs become like a commemorative mural akin to pilgrims laying down images of themselves in worship to a saint with handy healing powers; or like cremation plaques in a cemetery, which aligned neatly like tiles on a wall, present the names and faces of those who have passed away. Dmitri’s view on the rural life is presented as outside of the chocolate-box…

 

There’s a sense of irony about the display of these images of rural life. Here is an artist campaigning for a renewed interest in the Village Green, and all it metaphorically represents in this exhibition, in a white-washed gallery in Camden Town. But I sense the irony is warranted by the artist, who, works and lives between the two. Galitzine moved to the rural Hertfordshire in 2011, and so is clearly persuaded by the charms of the country, but he acts in part as an outsider, as he is not yet absorbed into its traditions, he is able to look on with  a degree of criticism.

 

The two objects that appear least fitting in the gallery – the hog roast (titled The Luncheon On the Grass) and Best in Show series – become crucial to this objective yet anecdotal look on the countryside. The Luncheon On the Grass ought to be centrepiece of a community and preferably set up on a good patch of grass. Instead it stands at the end of the downstairs gallery, plugged in as though ready for use, but essentially redundant because of its status as an art object.

 

Likewise, Best in Show, is a series tinged with irony. At first these shots – award-winning poultry taken by a professional photographer – seem outlandishly humourous and little more. Like the vans, these birds take on human personas. A duck stands on one foot, its feathers sweeping forward, poised as though about to reach into a pirouette. One, particularly beautiful white bird has a natural costume to rival that on Strictly Come Dancing, and one cockerel leans its head back in a contrived manner, accentuating its bum feathers that cries out for a comparison with Beyonce’s booty.

 

It’s in realising that these animals are as animated as human figures that the irony kicks in. The title takes on a double meaning in which, a series that embodies the country-bumpkin’s obsession with grow-your-own, becomes a catwalk of well-adorned chicks. Not only have they been shot in a white photographic studio as though models, but they’ve been hung in a bright white gallery space which couldn’t be further from the working farm. The animals have been completely removed from their context and the tradition taken from a place of acceptance (the countryside) to a place in which it can be criticised, questioned, made out – potentially – to look absurd (the city.) In doing so – in effectively meeting the aims of the exhibition – I believe this artwork is the best in the show.

 

 

God Save the Village Green by Dmitri Galitzine is open until 16th March at Cob Gallery, Camden.

http://www.cobgallery.com/?exhibition=god-save-the-village-green

Image: Dmitri Galitzine, Best In Show, c-type prints, 55 x 55cm (made in collaboration with Tom Bolwell.)

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