Ed Herring

Oiled Earth


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Not on display

Ed Herring 1945–2003
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Support: 170 × 237 mm
Purchased 2012


Oiled Earth 1969 is a black and white photograph mounted on board, documenting a conceptual work by the British artist Ed Herring. It shows several tubes sticking in the ground and partially filled with a dark liquid, spread over a small area of grass and mud. In the original intervention, Herring returned amounts of crude oil to the earth via tubes embedded into the ground to a minimum depth of three feet. The oil was allowed to find its own level according to the absorbency of the surrounding ground.

Alongside works such as Tea-bag Piece 1969 (Tate T13815), Float 1969 (Tate T13816), Tie-Up 1969 (Tate T13820) and Zinc-Plated Wood 1969 (Tate T13818), Oiled Earth is an early work which typifies Herring’s ‘environmental statements’, which were shown in two exhibitions in 1969: one at Manchester College of Art Gallery, where Herring was teaching; and in Survey 69. New Space at Camden Arts Centre, London, which can from October–November that year. His work in the late 1960s used photography and documentation to record interventions into the landscape he made in primarily unpopulated areas. Like Float 1969, Oiled Earth was made near the home of the artist Keith Arnatt in Yorkshire; Tea-bag Piece and Zinc-Plated Wood were made near Belmont in Lancashire. The emphasis on recording and documenting his findings during interventions preoccupied his work for decades: here, this took the form of measuring the quantities of oil absorbed by the earth via an array of implanted tubes. Photography enabled Herring to develop new enquiries into duration: the duration of time it took for the oil to level out; or the time it took for a strip of fabric to move around a pond and sink in Float. These subtle forms of intervention questioned consumption, creation and the cultural responsibilities involved in their making, and were deeply rooted in ecological and environmental concerns. Oiled Earth in particular was the artist’s response to discussions at the time regarding the pouring of oil into the San Andreas fault in California to reduce the impact of future earthquakes.

Herring studied at Manchester College of Art from 1963–6 and then at Central School of Art and Design from 1966–7. In the late 1960s Herring collaborated with Arnatt, most notably as the photographer for Arnatt’s Self Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 (Tate T01747).

Further reading
Idea Structures, exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre, London 1970.
‘Ed Herring: An Interview with Alistair Mackintosh’, Art and Artists, August 1972, pp.36–41.

Helen Delaney
May 2012
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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