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Earthworkers | Polly Bennett

Polly Bennett is a landscape artist “portraying the land, with the land” through traditional craftsmanship, using locally sourced materials in a process likened to alchemy. Combining a museological approach to materials with immediate observational responses, she collaborates with, and investigates the surrounding rural environment to re-visualise an experience of her own, and create one for the viewer. The concluding work in this interview recollects the explored environment as a memorialised snapshot, producing abstract and deconstructed results.

A little backstory: How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments, or what are your primal experiences with the natural world?

My art practice was drawn to the natural environment during my second year of university, where previously I had been a figurative artist. In hindsight, I am surprised this did not happen earlier, as I grew up in the countryside and travelled a lot as a youngster. Moving to London for university was a big shift from the rural to the urban and I began seeking out the green open spaces I had once taken for granted. As a result I began making my own little natural worlds and representations of my surroundings.

In order to represent the natural world I incorporate natural matter. This was an organic development from my personal life where I have picked up found objects for as long as I can remember, from skeletons, to beads, to earth, etc., subsequently archived or displaying them. Finding uses for these objects in my artwork grew into deconstructing the objects into the matter that makes them, colour being a particularly prominent property.

The moment I knew I wanted to take my pigment journey further was whist my mum and I were trekking brown bears in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia. One of the staple foods in the bear’s diet is the wild blueberry, affluent in the mountains. I felt compelled to collect them so as to recall the time I spent there. I took them home and turned them into a rich purple/violet-coloured ink, which to this day, is my most cherished ink and an object that symbolises beginnings.

A love: Share one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.

For a group exhibition at Take Courage in New Cross, my fellow artists and I chose to make individual works responding to the word "preservation."

When thinking of the theme as an artist, creation is my way of preserving and caring for myself, and as an environmental artist, it is a way in which to prolong a sense of life, or give life back. This is why when deciding how I wanted to respond to our theme I knew I wanted to explore how I give life back to myself, not just the materials within my practice.

I have taken the same walk in my hometown since the age of 15 and throughout the year the landscape and its foliage changes, just as I have, now a lot older. The walk, and the field in which my journey takes me to, is a safe-space, and a metaphor for time to think, reflect, and reach a conclusion.

Intuitively collecting found organic matter, I extracted and ground the colours of flowers, leaves, earth, bone, etc. to create a visual map of my journey through the colours encountered while on this walk. Giving an alternative second life to the chosen found-objects, and one which is everlasting yet tangible, just like my memories of, and associations with, the walk.

The resulting work consisted of 21 works on paper displaying naturally made inks and extracted pigments collected from my walk.

The colour swatches were shown in the order in which their relative object was found on the walk, and the coordinates (below) tell the viewer that exact spot. The smaller coloured squares on each piece of paper are mini versions of all the pieces of paper and show what has been added, or not added, to each object to create varying colours. The work was completed with an album of photographs taken on the walk.

A lesson: What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?

Treat the natural world the same way you would any human being you were collaborating with. Show the natural world respect and care; don’t take too much from it at any one time, and take time just to be in it’s space/presence.

My friend was telling me about a group of scientists who managed to prove that plants have feelings. They found plants emit ultrasonic sounds of distress when cut or in need of water. I now always think of this whenever I am in green spaces, and it reminds me I am simply a facilitator of my found materials, while the Earth is the creator and producer of such materials.


Visit Polly's website.  &  @polbens.pigment

Image info: 1: Untitled; 2: Soil Layers Malvern Pink; 3: My Walk; 4: My Walk (detail); 5: Remains.

Individual titles of Polly's My Walk:

Honesty: 51.09422, 0.5426697
Dandelions: 51.09412, 0.5438346
Moss: 51.09426, 0.5446340
Rusty metal: 51.09465, 0.5450490
Clay: 51.09461, 0.5451285
Nettles: 51.09497, 0.5453842
Blackberries: 51.09617, 0.5465406
Alder Catkins: 51.096709, 0.546986
White Chalk: 51.09685, 0.5471401
Common Orange Lichen / Yellow Scale: 51.09756, 0.5481907
Long Red Pine Cones: 51.097937, 0.550180
Bluebells: 51.098775, 0.551598
Grass: 51.09849, 0.5460669
Hooded Tube Lichen and Farinose Cartilage Lichen: 51.098412, 0.544766
Red Brick: 51.09951, 0.5437041
Acorns with Iron: 51.09973, 0.5431762
Oak Galls: 51.09973, 0.5431762
Bone: 51.09973, 0.5431762
Red & Green Bramble Leaves: 51.099228, 0.540823
Darwin’s Barberry: 51.09951, 0.5408116
Copper: 51.099389, 0.540346

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