In 2006 we sent seven artists to the village of Toge in North West of Japan as part of the Echigo Tsumari Triennial. Rather than go and make another giant splash alongside the Kabakovs, Turrells and Abramovics (such difficult neighbours) the idea was, with a heavy nod to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, to get the artists to live for a month with the village, to help them with where they wanted to go and the questions they had – How can we make our rice more profitable? How can we encourage young people to come and live in the village? How can we have a better relationship with the tourists? (see

This situation is different, but also similar. Toge, Nanling and our village of Coniston here in the Lake District, are all related, like the same village in a different time zone or alternative realm in the multiverse, where some things just changed ever so slightly and led to another path, or just at different stages in the story. The issues are the same: tourism, ecology, sustainability, globalisation, creativity, self determination, impact of technology, shifting populations, changing cultures and so on.

Toge was a farming village through and through, which was adjusting to the ageing of its population and the encroachment of mass tourism. But Nanling was effectively born in the 1950’s out of the need to supply a labour force for the hydro-electric power stations up in the mountains. Similarly Coniston’s growth has waxed and waned in relation to the industries that have come and gone – mining, sheep farming, tourisming and even dry stone walling which drew in thousands of labourers from across the country looking for a bit of wall to build. And not just skilled wallers but a whole range of disgraced bank managers and off the rails types, so not much change there then.

Conversely, Nanling has taken a step change in its aspirations in that it has been taken on, in totality, by a developer who is striving to re-present the whole social and natural ecology of the region as a destination eco-tourist resort. In effect, proposing a new model commensurate with the modernisation of China, whilst ensuring the preservation of the existing village culture and its socio-ecosystem.

It seems the rural issue is now bubbling faster and faster to the surface of the global agenda pond. What with all the super highways (real and information ones) it does appear that the biggest changes are now happening where once there were just fields. It’s pretty clear what cities do now and they will carry on doing that thing that they do for some time. It’s the green space that’s now calling for help or at elast attention. In some places it’s still emptying out, like Toge, or in others like ours, its filling up again but with not necessarily the right people. Farmers are turning into curators, curators are turning into farmers. In the UK the Jamie Oliver / Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall axis of offal is turning 300 years of industrialisation on its head and everyone wants to be a peasant farmer again.

So in this regard the magnificent seven for this adventure is made up as a portrait of New Britain, looking forward with a hangover from the past. Whereas the Seven Samurai of Toge were hardened Grizedale regulars with a long and reliable history of social engagement, these are at the younger and newer and greender end of the spectrum. (Read in the voice of Charlie’s Angel’s Bosley:) Bryan and Laura Davies are married. I recently described them in an article as the Robin and Lucienne Day of the footballers’ wives generation, which I still hold to be true. Bryan has a more than appropriate family history but I’ll let him elaborate on that. Kai-Oi Jay Yung has never worked with Grizedale before but came onboard with recommendations from local art glitterati. She, like my wife, is British Born Chinese, or a Banana, as I believe they’re known in the trade. Harold Offeh is originally from Ghana and his mum is building the most amazing house there. Guestroom are Maria Benjamin and Ruth Hoflich. Ruth has to stay at home this time because of it’s a bit too far to go with a young child right now but will be chipping in from the comfort of her own home. Adam Sutherland is. He just is. That sort of makes seven, but then we asked if Vitamin could find us a translator. This being a country in the ascendant, they not only got us a translator but the super-qualified Jiaying who can also do Japanese, video editing and anthropology.

The group will arrive in the village on April 28.


Pseudonyms welcome.

Will not be displayed or spammed.

Used to link to your website.