Made from this Land

From Censorpedia


Artist: Emma Edmondson

Year: 2023

Date of Action: May 2023

Region: Europe

Location: Southend, Essex, England

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art, Sculpture

Confronting Bodies: Southend local government, Place Scrutiny Committee

Description of Artwork: "Made from this Land" is an interactive art project built with the engagement of the Southend community in Essex, England. The final installation will include three pillars made of orange brick. As an artwork that is intentional about its localism, the brick will be sourced from Southend's own clay underfoot and made by hand with the help of community members.

In summer 2022, residents of Southend received red-inked prints of bricks on light blue paper. Visually arresting, the fliers portrayed a handmade brick by artist Emma Edmondson on one side, and a centuries-old rule governing the use of earth in Southend on the other. The rule printed on the back said: “No bricks or tiles shall be made (nor any clay or lime burnt on the land and no excavation of gravel sand clay or soil should be made with thereon so as to deprive any adjoining property of lateral support or for any purpose other than for building on the land).”

Southend's environment is ideal for extracting clay, which is plentiful underfoot. However, this rule had long prevented residents from taking advantage of their land's natural resources. Edmondson's art project aimed to empower residents to use the earth they lived upon, a right which had historically been reserved for industrialists. “The work, on the surface, isn’t very political, but there are disruptive elements to it,” Edmondson said.

Edmondson's project began by learning how to cast bricks from natural clay. The public phase began with the artist’s blue postcards, which invited locals to join her in reviving the art of brick-making. Almost 100 residents responded to Edmondson's invitation and have helped to craft bricks for the sculpture's three pillars, which will map out a walk of the historical brick fields in Essex in summer 2023.

The Incident: Local councillors opposed the project based on the objections of a wealthy mansion-owner whose property lay across the street from the intended installation site for Edmondson's sculpture. Councillors also objected to the content of Edmondson's art, misleadingly claiming her bricks were phallic objects and then attempting to cut funding and deny approval on those grounds. When councillors made negative references to the appropriateness of her project, it affirmed Edmondson's suspicion that their resistance may have been driven by political objections to a work with a clear political subtext — highlighting the socioeconomic barriers to local resources faced by working-class people in Southend.

Edmondson makes the message behind her work clear: “There are a lot of memorials for the ordermen and estate agents who put these covenants in place – you can see their names all over town – but I want to celebrate all these people who worked the land, dug up this earth, made these bricks that literally built Southend,” she says.

Results of Incident: Despite the difficulties posed by local government officials, who continuously threatened to revoke funding and planning permissions, Edmondson's project is moving ahead with its final installation. In late March, Edmondson was finally able to announce the project’s approval. “I powered through, and I think I only noticed how much it had affected me when we found out that the project could actually go ahead,” Edmondson says.