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Credit John Hammersley

Singing the wassail in the poundhouse. Credit John Hammersley

Here’s to Thee – new art collaboration explores the rich ecology and culture behind cider making

A fascinating and thought-provoking new collaboration will seek to uncover the complex ecology and cultures that surround the art of cider making.

Arts and Culture University of Exeter and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) have teamed up to launch a joint Arts Commission 2020-21 led by internationally-renowned artist, Simon Pope.

The project - called Here’s to Thee after the opening line of the traditional apple wassail – will see Pope collaborate with a team of creative practitioners, curators from RAMM and University of Exeter academics to explore the more-than-human ecology and cultures around cider-making.

A programme of public events and displays, hosted by the University, RAMM and project partners, will allow audiences to discover more about the rich and fascinating world of microbiomes and better understand how we are all connected with our environment.

For the launch of the project, Simon Pope said: “Here’s to Thee is a multi-disciplinary and participatory art project that experiments with our relationships with the many nonhumans – especially the microbial life – involved in cider-making, and explores the ways in which our social worlds are formed in relation to them.

“This project offers an example of how artistic practice is aligned with other disciplines – rather than being remote from them – and how artists contribute to thinking about ways to conduct and disseminated research.”

Cider-farms are rich and complex ecologies, where people, other species, and abiotic natural and synthetic things come into contact with each other; plastic vats, oak barrels, submersible pumps, a range of apple tree species, lichens, farm animals, soil, agricultural policy, food health and safety regulations, all produce what we know as ‘farmhouse cider’.

One of several events during the year will be a wassail. Wassailing is the ancient custom of visiting apple orchards in mid-Winter to carry out certain rituals which are meant to ensure a good apple-harvest later in the year. These rituals include walking from tree to tree, singing a wassail song and reciting an incantation as well as drinking mulled cider from a communal wassail bowl.

Pope, who is originally from Devon and now working between here and Toronto, Canada, will be collaborating with many creative practitioners in the South-West - musician and song-writer Jim Causley, photographer Robert Darch, and ceramic artist Abigail North, all of whom took part in Pope’s work at Gray’s Cider Farm last year, from which this new Art Commission has been developed.

Academic collaborators in the project include Harry West from the Centre for Rural Policy Research, and researchers from Biosciences and the Food Studies Network at the University of Exeter, as well as Professor Nick Groom who is an authority on the seasons and folklore. University of Exeter students will have the opportunity to work directly with Pope, bringing a new and interdisciplinary dimension to their studies.

Sarah Campbell, Associate Director for Arts and Culture at the University of Exeter added: “Simon has such a deep understanding of the local cultural traditions around cider-making and wassailing, as well as holding an international outlook and a generous and open approach to collaborating with practitioners from other disciplines.

“We are also excited to be working with our talented partners at RAMM on our first joint Arts and Culture Art Commission and to benefit from the expertise and research of our University colleagues in the Centre for Rural Policy Research, Biosciences and the Food Studies Network.”

The RAMM partnership will be led by Lara Goodband, Contemporary Art Curator & Programmer, who will be curating presentation. Tom Cadbury will be providing expertise around the wassail tradition and communal drinking vessels displayed in permanent collection galleries.

Lara Goodband said: “This artwork develops and extends the work Simon began last year culminating in the January wassail when RAMM took visitors out to celebrate the micro biomes through that new wassail at Grays Farm Cider. We’re delighted to be working with our partners at Arts and Culture at the University of Exeter to support and curate Simon’s latest iteration.”

The Here’s to Thee project is supported by the University of Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Arts Council England, Canada Council for the Arts and Gray’s Devon Cider.

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Date: 7 October 2020

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