2.5: Text in art


In a similar manner to Richard Long’s ‘textworks’ (see www.richardlong.org), write down 12 – 24 brief observations during a short walk or journey by some means of transport. This may be the journey you intend to make for Assignment Two, or it may be a different one. You don’t need to take any photographs.

Consider how you might present your observations. For some more inspiration on text-based artwork, see:

This exercise is designed to help you think about text as an alternative or additional means of expression, and to provide an opportunity to experiment with presenting text creatively.


For this project I decided to focus on fenland in Lincolnshire on our way back from Barnsley. The Fens near Cambridge have interested me for a long time because of their very distinctive flatness, winter flooding to marshland and the huge skies. I also knew Mary Chamberlain at Cambridge when she was writing ‘Fenwomen’. It is an area easily accessible to me for further in-depth work in future.

In this project I just wanted to explore some possibilities a bit further afield and was interested in finding out what the interesting road pattern on the map (see below) actually looked like on the ground. It was a dull and quite cold day in September – grey and brooding. No mists or spectacular sunsets. But definitely moody. I did some initial research on the area from Wikipedia. My notes as I went through the area are also below – they do not necessarily correspond to any of the photos as it was not possible to write notes and take photos at the same time. The captions on the images were done the following day, based on my overall impressions of the area. I kept the captions minimalist and repetitive like the landscape.

I like the dark desaturated aesthetic. The fens are renowned for their open skies (as there is little else?) and usually sharp. The lack of sharpness, or difference in sharpness in some of the images because of the car movement and some panning gives the sense of passing through as an outsider, glimpsing the surface. Prompting questions about what it might be like to live there?

An alternative approach would have been handwritten on prints or with a graphics tablet in Photoshop. Ideally I would have liked to have spent longer and had time to talk to people as in the documentary work by Wendy Ewald. There could then have been a title, or a quote from local people to help interprete better what I was seeing.

High resolution images on Zemni Images website

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Holbeach Fens Map


My travel notes

  1. Coming out of Holbeach: lots of petunias in window boxes. New town houses with railings. Lots of For Sale signs. Who is moving where and why? There is a lot of traffic on the main road, but is this an area of economic expansion? Population seem to have a lot of bikers and young mothers. But maybe because it if Friday?
  2. At the end of the town are a couple of allotments with a rickety old barn.
  3. Outside Holbeach it is completely flat with pylons over rows of cabbages.
  4. Next set of fields are wheat fields just harvested or about to be. Yet more pylons and combine harvester throwing up dust.
  5. A very long straight road at first with maize fields (for cattle? large cobs nearly ripe) and drain ditch on the left. Then it becomes more windy – maybe it has to follow the seems of limestone under the ground (from the Ordnance Survey Guide to Fens)
  6. The road winds past isolated brick farmhouses with large cars outside. Seem quite wealthy.
  7. Holbeach St John is a dull red brick village. Union Jack in drive – UKIP territory?? Some have caravans in the drive. A few are quite posh detached houses. Most are smaller bungalows, some quite dilapidated.
  8. Coming out of Holbeach St John the soil turns darker brownmore clay-like and recently ploughed over. I assume this is richer – is this where the flowers are grown in the Spring? Or is everything double-cropped?
  9. There is one very large farm with large hay barns and haystacks. There are also rows of horse fields with one horse each. For breeding, racing or riding?
  10. In the distance are the occasional church with pointed spires. Unlike the Norman towers of Norfolk.
  11. Gedney Hill is another redbrick village. Quite a large place with a Saxon tower church. Lots of houses for sale – 5 within 100 yards. Derelict Red Lion pub. OId wind turbine tower.
  12. After Gedney Hill the soil turns even blacker. Industrial looking warehouse barns. The road is now well above the fields – more horses in individual fields by rich farmhouses with several large cars. One also has a very large transit lorry with a sign saying fresh farm produce.
  13. The road goes on and on with just a few trees on the horizon, sometimes straight, sometimes winding and often bumpy.
  14. Finally Parson’s Drove – a somewhat deserted place ‘Best Kept Village’. Tightly manicured but sterile with a few children with their parents at the Swan pub. It really is quite a gloomy and forbidding place. At least as seen from the outside – maybe inside is different if you know people???
  15. Then the same straight road with some poplars along the far horizon – to stop the ‘fen blows’ . Trees were planted in the 1980s or so to stop the serious soild erosion and blows of topsoil. The windpumps are turning.
  16. As we approach Murrow the fields get a bit more lush with more trees and what look like small set-aside meadows – quite green though no flowers at this time of year.
  17. The main road from Wisbech to March is now very busy at 5.30 on a Friday evening. But I am still wondering where all these people are going to and from? We are too far from major cities for commuting.

Background Notes from Wikipedia

Holbeach is a fenland market town in the South Holland district of southern Lincolnshire, England. The town lies 8 miles (13 km) from Spalding; 17 miles (27 km) from Boston; 20 miles (32 km) from King’s Lynn; 23 miles (37 km) from Peterborough; and 43 miles (69 km) by road from the county town of Lincoln. It is on the junction of the A151 and A17. The main High Street is the B1515. In a sense it is at the centre of the world as the Prime Meridian  passes through the west of Holbeach.

The name “Holbeach” also applies to the civil parish of Holbeach. The parish is one of the largest by area in England, and extends from Cambridgeshire to the Wash, measuring 16 miles (26 km) north to south, and about 4 miles (6.4 km) east to west. The total population of the parish is almost 24,000 with approximately 5,000 in Holbeach town.

A number of Roman and Romano-British pottery finds have been made in and about the town. The town’s market charter was awarded in 1252 to Thomas de Moulton, a local baron. All Saints’ Church was built in the 14th century and the porch, which was built around 1700, probably incorporated parts of de Moulton’s ruined castle. (It has rows and rows of very old gravestones whose writing has completely disappeared.)

Until the beginning of the 17th century, the sea came to within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the town and there were severe floods recorded in the 13th and 16th centuries. The land drainage programmes that followed moved the coastline of the Wash to 9 miles (14 km) away, leaving Holbeach surrounded by more than 23,000 acres (93 km2) of reclaimedfertile agricultural land. In 1615, nominees of the Earl of Argyll were entitled to land which was reclaimed from the sea in Wigtoft, Moulton, Whaplode, Holbeach and Tydd St Mary. The Earl paid for the work, but differences of opinion stalled the project after 1634. Further enclosure of marshes were recorded in 1660, in Gedney, Whaplode, Holbeach and Moulton. The work included the building of an embankment, and resulted in 9,798 acres (39.65 km2) being added to Holbeach parish. A second embankment was built under the provisions of the South Holland Embankment Act (1793), and added another 2,059 acres (8.33 km2). Following unsuccessful attempts in the 1830s, the rest of Holbeach Marsh was enclosed in 1840. The project was directed by Mr Millington, and the total area added to the parish by all these enclosures was 12,390 acres (50.1 km2).

With the town of Holbeach proper, the name is found in a number of villages in the Lincolnshire Fens: Holbeach Bank, Holbeach Clough, Holbeach Drove, Holbeach Fen, Holbeach Hurn,Holbeach St Johns, Holbeach St Marks and Holbeach St Matthew. This repetition of a name for a collection of close-lying villages is not unknown in the Fens: Gedney, Tydd, and Walpole are other examples. Holbeach itself has the most inhabitants and services compared to the villages surrounding it which incorporate its name.

The drainage of land around Holbeach is now the responsibility of the South Holland Internal Drainage Board, part of the Water Management Alliance, formerly known as the King’s Lynn Consortium of Internal Drainage Boards.

Much of the economy has been based on food processing and bulb growing. The United Kingdom’s largest supplier of tulip and daffodil bulbs is situated to the north of the town and flour milling continues at Barrington Mill.

The Royal Air Force maintains a bombing range, known officially as RAF Holbeach, on salt marshland at the coast of Holbeach parish, near the village of Gedney Drove End. The RAF station is situated approximately 11 miles (18 km) north west of Holbeach town centre.

The town is served by the local South Holland radio station Tulip Radio from nearby Spalding.

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