Earthwork Artist Makes Whimsical Installations by Learning as She Goes
Estelle Chrétien makes land art inspired by life in the French countryside.
'Ground Operation,' an earthwork by Estelle Chrétien, consists of a small trench and electrical cable. All images courtesy the artist
Childlike wonder imbues the whimsical earthworks of French artist Estelle Chrétien. Her work illustrates how collaborating with the landscape, picking up new skills along the way, can be a reward in itself. “I think learning is the most wonderful part of living. I don't want to be a specialist of something, I just want to learn what I can in all directions,” Chrétien tells The Creators Project.
Chrétien’s interest in earthworks began in childhood. “I grew up in a rural and agricultural environment. The material of the ground, the earth, the soil, what it contains, conveys, and supports is my first interest,” she says. Ground Operation is a recent earthwork that consists of a small trench that Chrétien dug and then stitched together with electrical cable.
Her use of industrial wire is significant, not only because Chrétien creatively uses it to mimic medical stitches, but also because construction for the sake of installing utilities like electrical cables is such a common sight. “This ground intervention questions our relationship to natural resources,” she says.
Growing up in the countryside influenced Chrétien’s work in many ways. Much of her work marries traditional crafts with agricultural processes. Chrétien is constantly experimenting, like merging concrete and rebar with schoolyard games, combining unlikely materials in ways that reveal the artist’s ferocious curiosity.
One of Chrétien’s works, Blue Agricultural Twine, consists of a cylindrical hay bale tucked into a knit blanket of cerulean twine. “While in Portugal, I learned how to crochet, and I had this piece of blue agricultural baler twine in a box and the idea of [making a hay bale wrap] came to me,” she says. “When I went back to France, I made it and put it in a field just before farmers stored their bales. I liked working in the middle of a barley field, but most of the work was made at home, so I decided to work outside with my hands more often after that.”
Teaching herself new skills is at the crux of Chrétien’s work. As she explains, the ideas themselves arise spontaneously, through learning and working with new materials. “This phase of learning is a part of my practice, and in the course of free association, the idea also arises,” Chrétien says. “The project builds itself, step by step, always in-between work and leisure, pleasure and labor.”
Check out more of Estelle Chrétien’s work on her website.