`Imagining Rural America at home`
projects & works
Draw a Farm

shows & archive
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco USA

`Imagining Rural America at home`, Wapke Feenstra & Antje Schiffers (ENG)
Part of The Meadows Network, Newspaper #3. Show: The Gatherers, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco USA, 2008.

My father’s cousin once visited our farm in Wjelsryp in Friesland. This American lady was wearing a rose-coloured coat and I had never seen that colour before. My mother told me that Americans had their own fashion and especially liked strange bright colours. I touched the coat when it was hanging in our cloakroom. This was the end of the sixties, 20 years after the ending of the Second World War. Since that war, having a farm and producing food is seen as a good thing. Back then farms helped hungry citizens from Amsterdam by supplying them with food and the hay-barn was a safe place to hide refugees. After the war the Frisian farmers did not have enough land to farm and there were a lot of young men that wanted to work, so the Dutch government promoted emigration. Many of my father’s cousins emigrated. Two of them went to Wisconsin. My image of American rural life was shaped by this family history. This family that emigrated had much more land than we ever could buy and had a lot of employees working on their farm. That was the good side. They also had to drive hours to meet other people and had winters in which it was so cold and snowy that they couldn’t leave the house for weeks. This was their horror story. Later when pictures accompanied their letters we saw the machines that worked their land and saw the size of their fields. I saw a gleam in my father’s eyes when he talked about their land and I came to believe that Wisconsin was a place for rich farmers. Wapke Feenstra

I grew up on a farm in northern Germany. My parents had an issue of John Steinbeck´s “Grapes of Wrath”. I read it for the first time when I was 13, and reread it at least two times. The image I made for myself of the draught and dust in a country called Oklahoma impressed me as much as the vision of California’s orange trees and never-ending harvests. I still am beside myself with rage when I think about the powerlessness and the injustice the Oklahoma farmers experienced.
There was also Hemingway, berries, lakes and Indians in some seemingly northern landscape. There was the description of a rose-coloured prairie that came from Truman Capote.
There were farmers that never would talk and a hopeless atmosphere in books like Faulkner´s “As I Lay Dying”.
In school we had to learn the names of all the American states and where they were located. Virginia north of Carolina, east of Kentucky … I loved the names of the states, as I filled them with the mysterious world that my mind had composed from the adults books I read when I had not the age to understand them. Antje Schiffers is founded by three artists that grew up in small rural communities: the artists Kathrin Böhm (DE/UK), Wapke Feenstra (NL) and Antje Schiffers (DE). We now live respectively in London, Rotterdam and Berlin. In 2003 we started to work as an artist cooperation. For years we had chatted about the farms and villages where we grew up. - Because lets face it: what is more fun? Talking about the latest visit to a club in London or that your uncle had slaughtered a pig? The participatory art practice - which we share in common - presents an utopian approach to community building. We agreed that we knew through experience a lot about small communities and the close though sometimes narrow relationship people have in villages.

For our first public event - at Antje’s home village Heiligendorf – we brought food and produce with us from the rural places we grew up. Wapke offered a special kind of clove-cheese and a taste of horsemilk. Antje offered good German bread and liver-pâté that is made from her uncle’s pigs. - The smoked Franconian sausages and the schnapps made by Kathrin’s father also made a lot of friends. We share where we come from and frame the rural as a place of cultural production bringing it into the discussion of contemporary arts.

We run several ongoing projects including a travelling archive called bibliobox and an International Village Shop. We try to connect villages and we use our network to explore new ones. A method we like to utilize – besides bringing village produce - is called Rural Background Drawing. What does a farm look like in your memory? What was the last thing you did in the countryside? What would you call rural? We must say, we learn a lot going in and out of the rural and switching between art and non-art contexts.

Thanks to Susanne Cockrell and Ted Purves for inviting us to come to San Francisco and for making it possible to add new images to our vision of rural America. Thanks also to all people we met here and the worldwide rural backgrounds they shared with us.

San Francisco, December 2008