Wild structures of the land

Outcrop, 2001
Outcrop, 2001. Sycamore and wheat, Ditchling Southdowns

Brighton based Red Earth, are known for their performances in and on the land. Since the turn of the century, they've also been integrating sculptural structures into these performances, both centre stage and part of the larger performance moments

Here Red Earth's Simon Pascoe and Caitlin Easterby discuss these structural-sculptural elements of their work

First Simon, reflects on working with greenwood, and below, Caitlin, on how Red Earth weave the Southdowns landscape

Our work in greenwood began in earnest with OUTCROP (2001). I can't remember now which came first, the material or the drawing, but , the series of waveforms created between 2001 and 2008, OUTCROP (2001), Vanishing Point (Geograph, 2005) and Storm Surge (Long Shore Drift, 2008) were effectively three-dimensional renditions of linear drawings. For me working with lengths of greenwood is an extension of the drawing process, and one I can understand: I consider myself a linear artist rather than a sculptor, but in 3D, the strong lines of the young trees are like powerful, physicalised brush strokes.

Working with greenwood, playing tension off against force, is a very strenuous activity, and the whole process demands a good deal of physical effort. I love these qualities of tension and flexibility you only find in greenwood and which, when applied well, lead to a real expression of energy. We try to keep lengths to a maximum, allowing the wood itself to find expression as part of a form, which, in its totality, strengthens the impression of vigour, movement and growth inherent in living wood.

Making Outcrop
Making Outcrop
The construction style is by default of a traditional bent, ie. interwoven greenwood lengths to make stable structures. We didn’t, I think, make any original conscious decision to use ‘traditional’ methods, it was more a desire to use a natural resource close to hand. I think it was simply the most obvious material to use, the closest to hand, and the best way to use it; which is effectively the thinking behind all original vernacular architectural styles.

Once conscious of the nice play our work created between traditional practice and contemporary art, we extended this use of craft in Vanishing Point, with the addition of a traditional lime-washed wattle and daub section to the structures.
The two installations in CHALK (2011)  

River and Fold, were our first significant greenwood installations since 2008. Built very much as a response to place – Harting Down - we used our understanding of traditional building to explore both the meaning of place and the materials we were using. In River two hazel fences were distorted, stretched and extended, built with a focus on manifesting a sense of movement, muscularity and freedom, beginning with tight-knit integrated weaving, ending with a wide open and fast flowing structural form. Fold, in effect a 9m wide woven bowl, pushed the dimensionality of the craft to create a solid yet sweeping circular wall of running greenwood.

Simon Pascoe July 2012



Storm Surge
Storm Surge
CHALK installation
CHALK installation
CHALK installation
CHALK installation and 2011, Harting Down and
Wolstonbury Hill National Trust



Weaving the South Country – The Sculpture Installations of Red Earth

We made our first waveform sculptures whilst researching The Field, a project with Common Ground to celebrate the distinctive nature of the English agricultural landscape. Sitting in a crop filled barn hand-stitching lengths of ripe golden wheat onto a coppiced hazel frame I was struck by the synergy between the rhythms of the agricultural year and our artistic process. For practical reasons ten of us had to hand scythe the wheat as a combine would have yielded only short mangled lengths. The scything had something of the communal harvest about it: hard work, camaraderie and celebration on a hot summer’s day. Could this energy - a lost connection to land, communal celebration with work at its centre and the slow rhythms of making things by hand – be harnessed into a Red Earth project on the Downs? As I spent my days hand stitching thousands of wheat stems together with a sail needle, ideas for OUTCROP germinated. In 2001 I was stitching again in one of the hottest summers on record, this time using huge needles specially made by a blacksmith to transform half an acre of Sussex barley into a sweeping dynamic thatch for the three twelve foot high greenwood wave forms which comprised our highly visible OUTCROP installation perched on a South Downs chalk ridge above Ditchling.

CHALK
CHALK
GEOGRAPH 2005
GEOGRAPH 2005: Vanishing Point. Sycamore, hazel, chalk,dung,
straw. Birling Gap National Trust
Seasonal processes and working out of the land remain at the heart of Red Earth’s work. We always start with the site and what is available to use – wheat, barley, reeds or grass, hazel, ash or birch greenwood, the chalk of the Downs itself. Gathering, harvesting or coppicing these materials with other people, marks the beginning of the making process and is not for mere convenience. It is how we draw people out into the landscape, to work with us for a common purpose. The thinning or coppicing of these materials is a necessary part of sustainably managing the land, be it woodland or reed bed. Our sculptures do no sit at odds with their site, they are created for and out of the place, where they emerge as temporary landmarks for six months, maybe a year, and then disappear. Some, like Outcrop, are burned – three greenwood and barley waveforms astride Ditchling Beacon blazing on the Autumn Equinox. Others like Fold, a woven bowl of hazel and ash below Wolstonbury Hill, will sit quietly in the bowl of a chalk valley until they naturally disappear. Our techniques frequently employ an unorthodox take on traditional craft methods – basketry in Fold, hurdle fencing in River, wattle and daub in Vanishing Point - but do not aim at absolute precision or replica. Rather they articulate an essence of the craft and attempt to take it in a new direction – it was a challenge for the local green woodworkers employed on River to leave their professional tight hurdling behind and weave freely with us so the lengths of hazel and ash created flowing lines of energy and shadow.

Red Earth’s work is informed by the processes, some dying and others undergoing a current welcome revival, of woodland and agricultural life. We employ them for a contemporary sculptural purpose, installations are firmly rooted in the Land Art tradition. Sculptures evoke the techniques of rural craft and vernacular building but are not attempts at historical authenticity just as our performance journeys through the landscapes in which structures are sited are not in any way historical re-enactments or ‘authentic’ ritual. We will use a tractor, an auger, a crane lift or a chain saw if necessary – they are the tools of modern agriculture and forestry, they get the work made.
Long Shore Drift Storm Surge installation
Long Shore Drift Storm Surge installation
Making Long Shore Drift Storm Surge installation
Making Long Shore Drift Storm Surge installation
Our performances may evoke the ritual deer hunt of hunter gatherers in a prehistoric valley or the pastoral life of Neolithic shepherds on an ancient earthwork but we are creating cross cultural contemporary landscape performance where music from the South Downs, Russian steppe and Mongolian grassland is free to collide with modern Japanese Butoh dance, soundscapes of animal horns, gas cylinder bells and bronze gongs. The South Downs landscape is stratified with stories, of ancient seas and hidden rivers, human hardship and celebration. In our contemporary sculpture installations and site specific performance we re-animate this living landscape and generate a multiplicity of new meanings - our work becomes part of its history, it’s future archaeology.

Caitlin Easterby July 2012

Simon and Caitlin can be contacted here contact@redearth.co.uk


All images: Red Earth