'Darning the Land: Seam'
Installation in Maurice Lea Park, Swadlincote
Philippa Lawrence says, "Understanding how land is used is vital to unlocking an experience and deeper understanding of place - questions of how we identify and relate to place, to space and to site is embedded in my practice. In Derbyshire, I examined how industrialisation dominated the landscape, how geography determined work and how work and working conditions shaped community and created hierarchies within. I was concerned with the Land Act and movements of the C16th-C19th, which brought enclosure, and with it the loss of much common land in England and Wales. Enclosure as the shutting off of a piece of land with a hedge, fence or wall involves the removal of communal rights, access and controls and can be seen as an imposition - the changed boundaries becoming a charged issue."
The site, Maurice Lea Memorial Park, Church Gresley near Swadlincote, had been common land. Here coal was publicly accessible to be picked during pit strikes in the late C19th. Before its recreation as a public park in 1930, it was deeply scarred. I wanted to reference its history, and to connect people to the past when the land supported people on a fundamental level, through the metaphor of darning. The work also references the lineage of civic planting, reflected in towns across the UK where public gardens were for the exercise and release of the workingman, a tradition upheld within Swadlincote at both Maurice Lea and Eureka Park.
Physically, the piece is a double running stitch of 59 flowerbeds each 1.7m x 0.5m wide, spanning an area 80m x 2m across a section of the park, planted with 700 individual native grasses. The piece references a seam: a seam of fabric and a seam of coal. It uses the language of textiles to mend and creates a form that the individual can weave himself or herself through – hence Darning the Land: Seam’.
The work planted in September 2011 will be at its best after 12-18 months when the plants have reached maturity.
Research for the project relied upon walking. I walked to access and to connect to the history of the places visited and walking informs the work. Walking, connection, thread and time meet beautifully in a sentence from Wanderlust. Solnit (2002, pXV) offers that ‘past and present are brought together when you walk…and each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience…’
In Darning the Land: Seam the work invites and is activated by human presence and activity. The artist Robert Smithson was a key figure in defining the development of the idea of an artwork as an environment, which should include the spectator and this work seeks to include and connect the public directly.
The work carries the metaphor of the land being a textile surface, the fabric of the land the skin of the earth’s body.