Analogue Farm is a new artist-led community interest company based in Rossendale, Lancashire. With a strong focus on supposedly outmoded technologies, and practices that involve direct tactile engagement with materials and the land, or ‘slow media’, they launched their first artists’ residency programme in 2022.
Lucy Wright is an artist based in Leeds, whose work combines painting and social practice, often using as source material the large personal archive of photographs and research she has gathered over nearly a decade of documenting female and queer-led folklore and customs. Recent projects have included Plough Witches for Meadow Arts and Chasing the Harestail for experimental Jersey-based art laboratory, Morning Boat.
In August 2022, Wright was the first artist to be invited to undertake a residency at Analogue Farm, developing a body of work, And You Too Have Come Into The World To Do This, which was shown at The Bug in Whitworth in September 2022.
Lucy Wright and Analogue Farm co-founder, Mary Stark talk about the origins and ethos of Analogue Farm and Wright’s residency, reflecting on relationships between women and the landscape, and the consolations of time spent alone in nature…
LW: So tell me a bit more about Analogue Farm…How did it come about?
MS: The idea was that it would be somewhere that would work for us as a community of artists, but that we could also open that up to other artists too.
It started with four of us, myself, my partner (David Chatton-Barker) who is a sound artist, his sister (photographer Rachel Barker) and painter Matt Davies. We also have a fifth, non-resident studio holder, Amy Callaghan, who works in animation and set building.
I had grown up in a rural place, but moved to Manchester for university. When I met David, we both shared a real love of the landscape and British folklore. After a while we realised that it wasn’t enough for us to only be able to go for a walk in nature on the weekends, so it was a bit of a dream for us to get out of Manchester and live somewhere rural and we found the farm that same year.
LW: It really is the most beautiful place. And when did you decide to begin offering artist residencies?
MS: We always knew that we wanted to run our own residency programme because both individually and then collaboratively, David and I have really benefited from artists’ residencies ourselves, and we always thought it would be great to be able to offer that to other people. There aren’t really that many places that you can do it, especially without having to pay a fee.
In 2014 I did a residency at Lift (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) and while I was there I met filmmaker, Phil Hoffman, who runs Film Farm in Ontario. For over twenty-five years Film Farm has run an annual programme where they invite filmmakers to come and spend a week in the landscape, shooting 16mm film and processing, editing and projecting it. That happened the same summer that we found the farm, so everything was very much inspired by the model of Film Farm and the idea of connecting artists with the landscape.
LW: And what about The Cabin (the residency accommodation at Analogue Farm)? I’ve been living out my ‘tiny house’ fantasies staying there throughout the residency.
MS: We were really inspired by Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg. Sweeney’s Bothy is an off-grid cabin designed by architects to be ergonomically perfect, with solar panels and a log burner and an outdoor shower. For six months of the year it’s used for funded residences, and then the other six months it’s available for hire. So we just booked a trip and it was a really inspiring place for us, thinking about the environment and how we could offer something similar in Rossendale.
When we moved to the farm, we inherited this big old container unit that we tried to store a few things in, but everything we put in just went rotten. If it was garden tools they went rusty, if it was a mattress it got covered in mould; But one day I was walking up the lane and I just thought, with a bit of work, it could make the most beautiful cabin accommodation. Once we’d had this vision, it was mainly Matt and David, and David’s friend Zoe, who did the building work.
LW: And it’s a very simple, pared-back kind of living—with no internet. Was that a conscious decision that you made based on the wider ethos of the farm?
MS: Sort of. We used only reclaimed and salvaged materials, like palettes and other bits of wood we found in skips and on roadsides or that we picked up from Facebook Marketplace and Freecycle. Inside, it has a little curated library, a desk with a view and a wood-burning stove. There’s also a mezzanine sleeping area, with a ladder, and it feels like you’re in the trees like a bird when you wake up in the morning.
Our electrician said it would be easy to put power in so we thought yes, let’s have lighting, but we just never put internet in. At first we only had friends and family staying in it and sometimes we’d go in ourselves, as a kind of retreat, to read, write or record music. It felt nice not to have easy access to the internet, a bit like being disconnected from the world for a short while.
And of course, with smartphones you’re never completely cut off.
LW: That’s true. I was a bit anxious that I’d feel really lost without the internet, but actually it was very refreshing. I read, listened to music, looked out of the window and of course, painted for hours on end.
MS: You were the first resident artist we have had at the farm. We applied for some funding in June 2021 so that we could create proper facilities for cooking, showering and washing clothes, that sort of thing. We wanted people to be able to stay with us for several weeks at a time. We also have a lot of visitors when we run workshops and events at the farm so we needed a proper toilet and somewhere for people to wash their hands and clean up afterwards. Once we had that sorted, we knew that we could start inviting artists in.
It was important to us to attract as wide an audience as possible to apply for the residencies, so we worked closely with Esther Kennington-Ferry from Horse and Bamboo to help us develop the open call. We ended up getting quite a lot of applications and after interviewing our shortlisted candidates, we picked you and also an artist duo, Laura Phillips and Luke Godden, who did their residency just after you.
From your application, we could see that the residency would be really beneficial. You talked about the recent shift in your practice from more of a social practice to painting, as well as your recent bereavement and the need for some reflective time in nature.
LW: The residency came at a really important time for me, both in my practice and personally. I had spent the best part of a decade making work with other people in a socially engaged or research-based practice, but the impacts of the pandemic, followed by losing my Dad in 2021 made me want to use my work to retreat into myself and my own narrative more.
Funnily enough, I’d always been oddly critical of painting. I didn’t go to art school (or at least, not for my undergrad or Masters) and I think I’d come to view having a ‘personal’ studio-based practice as a bit self-indulgent. I always thought that I only wanted to make work that engaged directly with people, rather than being holed up in some closed-off white cube gallery space. But as soon as I started painting it was like a floodgate opened. Indulgent or otherwise it was clearly something that I really needed to do and it brought me a lot of solace and focus when everything around me felt unstable and frightening.
MS: We also liked that your project spoke about solitude and isolation, which is something that I think so many people have been forced to think more about since Covid…
LW: The thing is that solitude is almost always talked about in very negative terms. We’re told that loneliness takes years off your life, and that people who live alone—especially women—are outcasts; sad, potentially dangerous characters who don’t fit into society. And yet, as someone who already probably spends more than the average amount of time on my own, I’d say that being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely or antisocial. I have a great partner who I love dearly, so I’m not saying that I am—or want to be—alone all of the time, but I also don’t want to be afraid of solitude. I think it’s really important to be comfortable with our own company and to find ways of living well and generously, on our own. Some of the most wonderful—and productive—people I know live alone.
MS: I remember that straight from the first day of the residency you really made yourself at home. You just sat at the desk in The Cabin, got your paints out, and every day, we saw you sitting there and knew that you were getting so much out of the experience.
LW: It’s true. I had the most blissful time and I was also just so incredibly grateful for the opportunity because I know what a rare one it is.
It’s only been just over eighteen months since I went part-time as a freelance artist, having always previously had to work full time and there have been times when it has been so incredibly difficult to hold onto the thread of my practice. For years I didn’t have a studio or even a space of my own to work, just an old bit of plywood that my Dad gave me out of his garage which I propped up on the kitchen table whenever I wanted to make something. I had to pack it all away when we wanted to eat dinner.
I also worked for a few years in academia and the culture of over-work there was intense. I had no time for anything else, even in the evenings and weekends, and I knew then that even though it was quite a good, well-paid career path (at least in theory), I couldn’t keep doing it. Being able to pursue my practice is too important to me, at this stage in my life more than ever.
Working at Analogue Farm was just such a gift because I could paint every day until about 3 o’clock, then get up and walk straight into the hills. I also loved being around all the animals, especially the chickens and Scout the residency cat. It made me think about whether I’m actually trying to develop a new kind of interspecies social practice; one that’s not so anthropocentric.
MS: That’s interesting. Can you talk a bit more about the connections between the social practice you were doing before and the ways you’re working now?
LW: The thing that coheres the different aspects of my practice is my interest in contemporary folklore. I come from a background in the English folk arts. My Dad was a morris dancer and I was in a folk band (BBC Folk Award-nominated act, Pilgrims’ Way) for a few years when I was a student. I worked out pretty quickly that I didn’t have the temperament for a career on the stage but there were still things about the idea of ‘folk’ that really interested me and I wanted to use my practice to explore in more detail.
Firstly there’s the fact that the folk collecting project, from which the majority of the songs, dances and customs that we know today were derived, was carried out in the Victorian period and was always conceived as a finite thing. People believed that the essential spirit of Englishness could be found in the performances and customs of rural communities, but that these were dying out and needed to be ‘salvaged’ because of the rapid changes associated with industrialisation. As such, it was pretty much agreed that by the 1960s, everything of value had already been collected. But the ‘salvage theory’, as it is sometimes called, was roundly debunked in the 1980s and I always wondered what happened to the uncollected customs and people practising them? It just didn’t seem believable to me that people had been creative on their own terms until a certain point in history, and then after that they just stopped.
At the same time, the Victorian period was not exactly a golden era for gender or racial equality, and the canon that we have inherited strongly reflects the biases and prejudices of that time. Women are massively underrepresented in the materials collected by the old folklorists, not to mention queer and gender-non-conforming folks, and of course, there is very little acknowledgement of the contributions of non-white people, either then or since. Through my research over many years I realised that there were a lot of really incredible customs and practices led by women, queer and non-white folk that had been overlooked or suppressed over the years, and that led me to write the ‘Folk Is A Feminist Issue’ manifesta in 2021, to advocate for the value of what we all make, do and think for ourselves.
MS: And what about the paintings?
LW: When I started painting, it felt natural to bring all of that research into my work. My first ever paintings were a series of self-portraits in the guise of various folk characters historically performed by men. So I painted myself as the straw bear, the burry (wo)man and the Earl of Rone. There are so few calendar customs or folk archetypes that are performed by women, so I wanted to insert my own female body into these male-dominated practices. Somebody said to me, ‘but what about the wild woman?’ and although I don’t necessarily view her as a folk character per se, I did a bit of research online and started finding all these wonderful Renaissance images of Mary Magdalene covered head to toe in all this thick body hair, looking every bit like the wild woman, but obviously framed and interpreted very differently.
Legend has it that after the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene went into the desert by herself and lived as a hermit. She was out in the elements for so long that her clothes fell off and she grew thick body hair to protect her. I’ve always been interested in the ways that folk customs are appropriated by institutions, but it also felt like a potent symbol of grief and the way that our bodies are changed by trauma.
That has been the inspiration and the starting point for the whole series of paintings that I’ve been working on since February, which make up my exhibition, And You Too Have Come Into The World To Do This, at The Bug (Analogue Farm’s exhibition space on Whitworth high street). I also like the fact that body hair on women is still quite taboo. We’re taught from childhood that female body hair is dirty and disgusting and we spend hundreds of pounds on products to remove it. I think things are improving somewhat which is great, but there still seems something subversive about a hairy woman claiming her place—and her power—in the world.
MS: I wanted to talk about the way you create juxtapositions between the body and aspects of landscape. I was thinking about how tree bark is also like the skin of the tree and the grass is a bit like the body hair of the earth.. The paintings could almost be a microscopic view of the human body.
LW: That taps into something I feel strongly about. I remember, during the first lockdown, I was working on a little pilot project, which didn’t end up going ahead, but it was about ash dieback disease which is at present killing off about 90% of ash trees in the UK. It’s an airborne virus and its spread throughout Europe was entirely preventable in the a similar kind of way that Covid was: so much of it was about trying to save money.
And back in the summer of 2020 while we were all locked down and could only go out for a walk, there was this ash tree that I would go and sit under in the plantation a short walk from our house. It was suffering from ash dieback and I couldn’t help but make the connection between our own global pandemic and what the ash trees are going through, much more quietly. It really upset me to think about it. And yet, as a society, we are bad at recognising our absolute connectedness to the natural world.
MS: I was going to ask you about the distinctive layout of the paintings: they look a bit like medieval illuminated manuscripts.
LW: That was very much in my mind when I was creating them. For a long time I’ve had this idea of documenting my own life in the form of a medieval manuscript, although so far I’ve only created individual pages, not a whole book. I love the richness of the colours as well as the intricacy and whimsy of many of the designs in old psalters and gospels. Even the wash of ochre ink that I use as a background is intended to evoke manuscript parchment, while the high gloss effect I’m hinting at in the borders are more ‘digital’ in aesthetic. I like the blend of the two things, old and new, natural and technologised.
MS: A lot of your work features the naked female body…
LW: Yes, my own!
MS: And how have you found it, moving from creating the works in the private space of your own studio to exhibiting them publicly here at The Bug?
LW: Well if you had told me a few years ago that I would have a solo exhibition of paintings of my own semi-naked body, I wouldn’t have believed it. I have to preface this by saying that I am a white, able-bodied woman, so presenting myself in this way is hardly radical, but on a personal level it has felt significant. I’ve never felt totally comfortable with having a female body, post-puberty, so there has been a process of trying to come to terms with what I am.
MS: And what about other people’s reactions?
LW: There were actually some quite moving responses from people who said, ‘I am a hairy woman and this work makes me feel better about myself!’. So many women worry that they grow too much hair in the ‘wrong places’ and that it’s not feminine, not attractive. Lots of us go to great lengths to remove our body hair, but these images, they’re not grotesque. It’s about the hair protecting us in an inhospitable terrain. It’s about our ability to adapt and survive, whatever life throws at us.
MS: It’s also building on the radical tradition of feminist art to present your own body, and then juxtaposing that body with nature, which is something that most people agree is beautiful.
LW: Yes, that’s right. I’m just piggy-backing off nature.
So returning to Analogue Farm…do you have a vision for the future? What can we all look forward to?
MS: We’ve certainly got a vision for the cowsheds. We’re trying to get planning permission for more living space. Then on the other side, we want to create a cinema and a wood workshop. There’s also a kiln. We’d like to have solar panels on the roof too.
I also just want to watch the trees we have planted continue to grow. When you plant trees you start to tap into a different timescale. Our children probably won’t build tree houses in those trees, but perhaps our grandchildren will.
LW: You also do a huge amount with the local community in Whitworth and Rossendale. I know that you run a workshop programme, as well as staging exhibitions at The Bug.
MS: We run lots of workshops, especially during the summer, so we really need a dedicated space where people can come to learn something or make something and also perhaps show and test new work as well.
But as much as it’s about learning new skills, it’s also about offering people the space and time to be creative in a beautiful, peaceful place.
And what about you? Where do you see your practice going next?
LW: I know that it will continue to involve painting. I’d like to continue exhibiting my work too. This exhibition, And You Too Have Come Into The World To Do This (named from a Mary Oliver poem) is the first proper solo exhibition I’ve ever had as a painter and it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve been working on the same body of work since February and then the residency super-charged my practice.
MS: I also just realised that we didn’t talk yet about the rushes on the gallery floor; they’re such a feature of the local landscape. If there’s bog, there’s rushes! And of course, we have all the traditions associated with rushcart around here. It feels so appropriate because the Whitworth Rushcart passed by The Bug only a couple of weeks ago, and they also used to be laid on the floor of the church like a carpet. They’re actually surprisingly comfortable.
LW: Yes and they smell incredible too! I have blisters on my fingers from cutting them all down, but I really wanted to bring them into the gallery space, to introduce a new sensory element to the experience of the work, bringing the outdoors in. I also like how they created a frame around the gallery space, so that if it was viewed from above, the whole thing would look a bit like one of my paintings.
I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for being such incredible residency hosts. I had the most wonderful time and I couldn’t have asked for more support and friendship. Everyone should get to spend some time here!
MS: Thank you!
Click here to watch a short video about Wright’s residency at Analogue Farm.
Lucy Wright is an artist, researcher and writer based in Leeds
Analogue Farm is a community interest company based in Rossendale connecting the arts, nature and heritage through events, exhibitions and workshops.