Ed Herring

Tea-bag Piece


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Not on display

Ed Herring 1945–2003
6 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper
Overall dimensions variable
Purchased 2012


Tea-bag Piece 1968–9 consists of a documentation board and five black and white gelatin silver prints. It documents one of Herring’s ‘environmental statements’, for which he nailed twelve polythene bags measuring eight by twelve inches to a tree in Belmont, Lancashire. Each bag contained one tea-bag and a measured quantity of water from a local stream. The bags were subject to progressive colour change, condensation, evaporation and extremes of temperature over several weeks. The five photographs, some of which are close-ups, show the tree immediately after being set up with the bags and then periodically throughout the winter of 1968–9. As such, as well as documenting the changes undergone by the liquid in the bags, the photographs also show the tree in different weather conditions, including snow, capturing the simple passing of time.

Alongside works such as Float 1969 (Tate T13816), Oiled Earth 1969 (Tate T13817), Tie-Up 1969 (Tate T13820) and Zinc-Plated Wood 1969 (Tate T13818), Tea-bag Piece 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 made by him in primarily unpopulated areas. Zinc-Plated Wood was also made near Belmont in Lancashire, while Float and Oiled Earth were made in Yorkshire. The emphasis on recording and documenting his findings during these interventions preoccupied his work for decades: here, measuring the rate of condensation and evaporation of filled plastic bags of water with teabags nailed to a tree; or measuring the quantities of oil absorbed by the earth via an array of implanted tubes (Oiled Earth 1969, Tate T13817). Photography enabled Herring to develop new enquiries into duration: here, the duration of time it took for the tea-water within the plastic bags to progressively change colour, condense, and evaporate over the winter period. 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.

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 fellow artist Keith 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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