UnEarthed: Sue Shields

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UnEarthed: Sue Shields.

Sue Shields is one of the artists who has taken part in a residency based at John Clare Cottage in Helpston, UnEarthed. UnEarthed is a partnership between five artists and the John Clare Trust to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the poet’s death in May 2014. The five artists involved researched the life and work of Clare. This has culminated into a contemporary art exhibition, which was held at John Clare Cottage between July and September 2014. The exhibition is currently on show at Peterborough City Gallery until Sunday 30th November.

I was lucky enough to have interviewed each artist whist their installation was up at John Clare Cottage. Here is a taster of Sue Shields work whist in residence at Clare Cottage, be sure not to miss the exhibit at Peterborough City Gallery.


(Ruth) Last time I saw you, you were in the museum showing your textile pieces but you were telling me about your golden clods! How has your piece developed, how do you feel about the final outcome? Have you achieved what you wanted too?

(Sue) Yes, good question, last year was very hectic and this year I just decided that I was going to go with doing something experimental, in particular three-dimensional work because that’s something I have put on the back burner for a long time.

(Out in the John Clare Cottage garden Sue has a sculpture on display. At the top of the sculpture nails are embedded and hanging from these are golden embossed clods, please see pictures above)

I like surface, texture and pattern. The Golden Clods are embossed they have patterns that are taken from the floor of Swordy well pit in particular (one of the many places John Clare would walk). In that respect I achieved the over all texture. The clods are part of a story and my work always relates to a narrative in whichever form it takes. Along with the clods I have a print, this is not on show at the cottage because there was very little wall space, but in Peterborough and Northampton this will be exhibited.

Basically the narrative is the idea of John Clare wandering around the fields and talking to himself, as that’s what I imagined that he did. I am reinventing this sort of archeological history of Helpston. There were roman remains found here and precious things found from previous occupants of the area. John Clare is just part of that history.

Consequently the clods are like John Clare’s ossified voice. Clare described kicking the clods clean of rhyme in fields of natural poetry he just transcribed nature. My clods are the embodiment of this.

The print accompanying the ‘Poetry Glomerates” shows John Clare’s journey through the countryside. His path strewn with golden clods of verbal poetry later to become fossilized and excavated. It’s all to do with the shape of the land, walking of the land and the marks left in the land of which these clods are part of it.


(Ruth) Its almost as if they (the clods) are waiting to be discovered as well, nuggets of gold, of poetry or of art.

(Sue) Yes that really was the whole idea, I am walking in the countryside and I am discovering things. There is that pilgrimage to the cottage, to his shrine, which is his grave in the churchyard. We read his words like people read something precious and prophetic. What I have done with the installation in the garden is create a shine, I wouldn’t say its tongue in check exactly but it’s my take on people coming here. I go out for a walk in the countryside and I rarely find anyone, but when I do, more often than not it’s people walking John Clare’s paths. I quite like that idea of pilgrims; the prints I have created are a bit like John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim Progress’ a book I particularly like.


(Ruth) With your installation in the garden have you considered how it may weather and change as the exhibition continues?

(Sue) Yes, originally I wanted to do something way out in the countryside but that became impractical. The plinth itself is oak and I’ve noticed that even today it’s started to crack more because it’s been outside, but I’m cool with that. It does have a journey to go as a piece of art (as its being exhibited in three places), so you can’t just have it completely disintegrate. It would be quite nice to put it somewhere in Helpston and let it just rot down.

I worked a lot in plastic and resin last year and it seriously disturbed me that I was, as I just felt that I was contributing to the mass of stuff that’s never going to disappear. I very consciously chose materials that I felt were not going to make any foot print. Even the nails they’re going to rust down, they are hand made nails.


(Ruth) I was going to ask about the nails, someone mentioned that they were hand made, so what was the idea behind them and using them in the sculpture?

(Sue) Well I have been working with metal for quite a while now, and I wanted to include metal in this piece. I was reading about gypsies, some of the people that John Clare associated with, one of their jobs were to produce things like these handmade nails. So I quite liked the idea of having that little connection, that these were the sort of materials that John Clare would have come across.

(Ruth) If John Clare was around now, what do you think he would think of your work?

(Sue) I’m not a disciple of John Clare, I’m not sure if John Clare and myself would get on that well actually! Mainly because of his attitudes to women, which were perhaps typical of the time. I don’t know how he would react to in terms of ascetically looking at it, but he would probably quite like the story behind it.

What’s really interested me since the beginning of this project, is that people do look at him as being wiser than he actually was. I like a lot of his work, I like a lot of his poetry especially the stuff that doesn’t have women in it actually and I love his descriptions. There are some utterly marvelous lines that you just feel nailed what he was trying to say or what I have experienced but am not articulate enough to say. I think he would probably be amazed that he is getting the type of accolades that he is.



A short video clip of Sue at Peterborough Museum prior to the finished exhibit at John Clare Cottage.


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