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Earthwork Artist Makes Whimsical Installations by Learning as She Goes

Estelle Chrétien makes land art inspired by life in the French countryside.

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.

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'Ground Operation' being installed

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.

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'Feet Dry to The Limit,' a daub installation depicting a large boot on a tree, made in collaboration with Miguel Costa

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.

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'Hopscotch' is a metal and concrete sculpture that mimics the chalk outline of the popular children’s game

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.”

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'Blue Agricultural Twine' installed in a barley field

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'Blue Agricultural Twine' being crocheted at Chrétien’s home

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.”

'Terra Preta' illustrates Chrétien’s ability to create whimsical earthworks from few materials

Check out more of Estelle Chrétien’s work on her website.

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