Common Ground

Discover, Define and Design Your Heritage

Speaking with the Artist: Beeny Harwood-Purkiss

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m Beeny. I’m a textile and ecological artist looking to build connections between workers’ rights and the environmental impact of extreme textile consumption.

I was born and raised in a rural area in the Northeast of England. At 16, I begged my parents to let me go to art college and skipped over A levels, completing a BTEC in Fashion and Textiles at Cleveland College of Art and Design in Middlesbrough. When I was 19, I moved to start a degree in Illustration and Animation at Cambridge School of Art. Following my degree, I completed a masters in Marketing, which led me into a career in the textiles industry. When the pandemic hit I decided to take the leap to leave my 9 till 5 and started as a studio artist at Wysing Art Centre. 

What region of Norfolk inspired your piece?

The Fens. I was first inspired by the fens when investigating trials of wet farming in relation to the protection of the landscape against more extreme weather conditions as climate change worsens. As I dug deep, I began to find out more regarding the history of agriculture. In the fens, there was a stark comparison between the traditional farming methods I read about in the book Fen Woman and modern-day mono-cropping/agriculture.

We need an artist that has multiple interests. I think it’s the spaces between subjects when you can be the most creative and bring ideas together to push perceptions of your audience.

Can you take us through your piece and what it means?

The History of The Soil: Formed over thousands of years, the landscape of the fens has a historical connection with the sea as the sea went through a succession of advances and retreats contributing to the fertility of the soil. The first section of the wall hanging will figuratively show soil microbes and “bog oaks” typically found in the “Black Fens”. [In] this initial layer I will be reflecting on the book Fen Women, written by Mary Chamberlain in 1975, and work to acknowledge the interviews Chamberlain had with the fen women over the course of two years. 

Current Agriculture: The Fens produce one third of Britain’s fresh vegetables and holds around half of the grade 1 agriculture land of Britain, with its rich soil producing many grains and vegetables. This includes potatoes, flowers, sugar beat, bulbs and cereals which account for a 3.1 billion pound value in the food chain (NFU East Anglia). The staggering value that the fens currently contribute will be represented in the [second] area [of the piece].

Future Focused Farming Techniques: The third and final layer will represent the crops sown in a wet farming experiment, including sphagnum moss and bulrush. These crops are thought to protect the landscape against more extreme weather as climate change takes hold and rain arrives in a deluge. Not only will the crops be used for food and healthcare, but they are also known to lock in vast amounts of carbon. 

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