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Woollenline: Weaving Threads of Solidarity and Transformation with Pip Woolf

Amidst the rugged beauty of the Black Mountains in Wales, UK, Pip Woolf's land art project, "Woollenline," emerges as a collaborative testament to the intersection of nature, community, and art. Situated 700m above sea level and spanning from 2010 to 2014, this monumental endeavor seeks to reclaim a scarred landscape left by a devastating fire in 1976, igniting conversations about ecological restoration and reducing carbon footprints.

6 May 2024

Joana Alarcão

A material can have a multitude of dimensions and interpretations, depending on its context and presentation. Through a symbiosis of different experiences, atmospheres, and sensorial stimulations, an artist elaborates a universe of meaning and realities that falls on the shoulders of the material itself. Its meaning stretches and expands as it embodies the fragments of the artist's vision and realities. Pip Woolf, the artivist I am exploring today, exemplifies this multifaceted approach to material interpretation with a land art project, Woollenline, which explores the intersection of nature, community, and art.


drone image of a mountain with a scar from a fire
Woollenline First line. Image courtesy of Robbie Robertson

Situated 700m above sea level amidst the rugged beauty of the Black Mountains in Wales, UK, "Woollenline" emerges as a collaborative project between the landscape, the material, the collective efforts of over 1,000 volunteers, and the farmers who inhabit that landscape. Inspired by the scar left by a devastating fire in 1976, which burned deep into an area of 70,000 square metres of cold wet bog vegetation, this monumental project seeks to reclaim the scarred landscape by drawing a textural line of wool and, at the same time, revitalising it by igniting conversations about ecological restoration and reducing the carbon footprint caused by the fire. "Woollenline, a land art, is essentially a landscape drawing. The work sits in the institutional thinking about social practice, collaboration, and land art," the artist explains.

 



Running from 2010 to 2014, one of the aspects that strongly pulled me to this project was the intricate and intentional use of material as a means of communication. Using the sheep's wool to cover the eroded land enriches the artwork with its texture contrasting against the bare landscape below, as well as through its symbolic and practical applications. The artist's approach acknowledges the power of this material to bring people together, and its history by intentionally using sheep wool sourced from local farmers. Its symbolic significance as a traditional material becomes an active participant in conservation. As a native inhabitant of the landscape it protects, it provides a potential alternative to more commonly used materials that often have fewer pesticide regulations and are transported from thousands of miles away. By using naturally sourced wool, this conservation process inevitably has a smaller carbon footprint and helps restore lost flora and fauna.

 

Image of a wool path
First line.

"As a visual artist, I wanted to make a landscape drawing working with local material and with the people that live, work, and play in this particular landscape. I imagined the blackened scar covered with white wool that might, in time, as vegetation regrew, turn green, a living painting."

 

Woolf's artistic journey began with an early curiosity for materials, and this curiosity grew into working in conservation and environmental interpretation for 20 years, followed by over 30 years dedicated to artistic exploration. This clear preoccupation with the landscape and its inhabitants can be strongly seen as a conductor line throughout her practice. Moreover, the artist has expressed how residing in Wales, with its diverse landscapes, has inspired her to connect more deeply with the local community and environment through her social art practice.


three images of people gathering, eating and driking at a rustic restaurant
Harvesting the Woollenline community, 2015. Image courtesy of Pip Woolf.

"A further formative influence occurred at an event in Somerset back in 1993. I was inspired by an artist who spoke about how they developed a relationship with a farmer, exchanging effort and techniques and learning the value of experimentation, a practice shared equally by many farmers and artists.” the artist told me. “This exchange of very different cultures and, often, different politics is at the heart of my work. Learning to be who I am alongside whoever you are, allowing and embracing differences."

 

Image of people carrying wool on their backs
Carrying wool with Gurkhas. Image courtesy of Pip Woolf.

Central to the ethos of "Woollenline" also transpire the artist's methodologies and challenges faced. As the project shows the ability to transcend traditional boundaries between art and activism, it also shows the remarkable creativity and resourcefulness of the artist. Not only by transporting 3,000 kilos of wool 2 miles up a very steep mountain using people and ponies, but also by raising funding while at the same time being aware of conservation and bureaucratic crossroads. This initiative shows the potential of collaborative work and the delicate balance Woolf navigates between aesthetic innovation and environmental stewardship. The process of laying felted wool over the scar has become a ritual of reverence, a testament to the power of collective action in confronting ecological challenges.

 

satelite image of a green area
Growing woollenlines PW. Image courtesy of Pip Woolf.

"It is important to do something, however crazy it seems, however difficult it is to find support when there is no clear outcome; effectively, it was a creative risk. The energy of action creates more energy and drives enquiry; it has a certain magic in it. It is about commitment. Although I may not have known it when I started Woollenline, somehow it became a demonstration of the power of commitment that caught the imagination and contemporary concerns about climate and action."

 

Through its intricate web of threads, Woolf weaves a narrative of solidarity and transformation, reminding us of the profound interconnectedness between humanity and the natural world. As "Woollenline" continues to unfurl across the landscape, it beckons us to reimagine our role as custodians of the earth, inspiring us to tread lightly and dream boldly in the pursuit of a more sustainable future.

 

Find out more about the artist here.


Cover image:

Grass and milk. Image courtesy of Pip Woolf.

Actions change thinking. Sharing ideas and processes can reroute behaviours. Through conversations that are led by materials, tools and questions, working both in my studio and alongside others I have developed projects that offer alternative ways of engaging with the world.
Materials capture my attention offering a way to explore. I use them to manifest meaning particular to their physical nature and help me understand the focus of my attention. Each subject may demand its own particular materials to convey my experiences.
I start with a line, a mark and follow it: whether through listening, looking, tasting, touching or even smelling, a sensory engagement leads the way. The world of work, sheep farming, music making, political debate, care, landscape management, food production have created unlikely and rich collaborations to inform my work.

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