The Commons: Re-Enchanting The World
The commons defines the natural capital that we all share: land, air, and water. It is a social system that cares for and preserves these resources. When the commons are made inaccessible, the effects are devastating.
As part of our project The Commons: Re-Enchanting The World, six artists with different responses to the commons have made installations for The MERL galleries. These focus on the challenges we face today, and how these link to complex histories of ownership and land enclosure.
This map locates these responses in our galleries. In the past, mapping was a mechanism of enclosure. By marking these interventions in this way we seek to reclaim maps as a positive force. If you are in the museum, please accompany us on our journey. If you are joining from elsewhere, these resources offer insight into artists and their work.
KELECHI ANUCHA AND CARL GENT
KELECHI ANUCHA AND CARL GENT
Three sonic sculptures
Kelechi Anucha and Carl Gent first met as plot-holders on an allotment in New Cross, SE London. Since 2020, they have been exploring English folk music, its relationship to church song, its slippery place within the English imaginary, and its subversive potential as a sonic commons.
After exploring items held in The MERL collection and elsewhere, they have been working intensively as part of a parallel residency at Wysing Arts Centre to produce work for this intervention. Utilising a very personal collection of technology and instrumentation, they have recorded new renditions of a range of songs to be hosted inside different sculptural installations and shared in the museum space.
You can read full details of each sculpture on show in The MERL’s Year on The Farm gallery, including information about each new song, and the story of how one piece was inspired by a mysterious bottle of salt held in The MERL collection.
Kelechi Anucha and Carl Gent / The MERL
‘Reclaim the Commons’ banner (168cm x 118 cm)
Sam Wallman is a cartoonist, comic-journalist, and labour organiser. He was commissioned to make a poster on the theme of the commons, which is currently displayed in The MERL’s Town and Country gallery. Commenting on this piece of work he notes:
‘The enclosure of the Commons could be seen as one of the ruling class’s original sins—a bad seed of so many of our crises, all crashing together and intertwining. The enclosures are a form of primitive accumulation, which Marx described as “those moments when great masses of (people) are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and “unattached” proletarians on the labour-market.” The colonial project of Australia, from where I write this, began as a nation through a process of enclosure. A bad seed indeed. But we have to believe that all weeds can be pulled. And that we may yet see a return to the Commons’.
Sam Wallman / The MERL
Untitled (three vessels and a ball)
Catherine Morland uses her work to explore feminist themes, domesticity, the reclamation of materials, and processes of making and remaking. Commenting on this series of interventions she writes:
‘I have used basketry and cordage, weaving and knots, some of the earliest domestic collaborative activities, to make my installations. I see basketwork as a form of commons. Most materials used for basketry originate from plants. There is a relationship between the maker and materials (especially if you grow your own materials), an interaction between different species. I learnt that there are advantages to knowing about the lifecycle and habitat of the plants that I use and their potential to be transformed, plaited, or twisted into shape’.
This work comprises three basketwork vessels— coiled or plaited—and ball of cordage made from plastic bags. Catherine’s pieces also incorporate collected dried garden flowers. Her basketry materials include rush, cotton twine, raffia, crocosmia, and daffodil leaves.
Catherine Morland / The MERL
Becoming with Wheat (and Other More-Than-Human Others)
Amanda Couch is an artist and researcher who works across a range of media. Her work responds to the idea of an ecological commons, where the wheat plant, its histories, mythology, biology, and relationships with humans and more-than-human others are seen as interdependent and entangled.
The pieces shown here include recordings of performance, masks and an apron worn in these contexts, anthotypes of this activity, and materials used in creating these images. One of the masks appears here, displayed in front of a case containing the plant materials and other equipment used to make anthotypes.
Amanda Couch / The MERL
The Gathering (three sculptures)
As well as larger sculptural pieces like these, Catherine Morland also creates smaller objects. In both contexts She writes:
“There is care embedded in this kind of making, ecological and dextrous. Much of the plant material I have used for this work has been collected by me in my immediate environment, local parks and my own garden. In planning for this project before lockdown I foraged for the plants at the end of the summer and left the stems and flowers to dry in my studio over the winter until ready for use. But with Covid I had a whole growing season of extra time ahead of me. I was able to collect the seeds from the harvest, plant them, look after them and watch them grow in the garden outside my studio before using them in the work. I became completely immersed in the lifecycle of my plant companions.”
Catherine Morland / The MERL
Dyed calicos and dye-plant heritage
Sigrid Holmwood expands on the material resonance of her work by tracing the colonial histories of the plants that she uses to make her pigments and dyes. She plays with the contrast between images of peasants used to construct national romanticisms, and paintings by peasants using hybrid mixtures of local, imported, and migrated plant life. Thereby, highlighting the entangled histories between the rural European proletariat and colonised indigenous peoples.
In this set of work, she explores the history of printed calicos from India. Textiles using plant dyes and mordants on cotton fabric were a particularly popular colonial commodity in Europe from the seventeenth century, until many countries introduced import bans to support local industries during the eighteenth century. Here, Sigrid’s printed calicos grapple with these violent and entwined global histories.
Sigrid Holmwood / The MERL