Five Verses on Six Sacks of Earth is a mobile micro-opera in five parts by Nastassja Simensky and Rebecca Lee, made in response to an archaeological dig at Malkin Tower Farm, Pendle.
In June and July 2018, Nastassja Simensky and Rebecca Lee were invited by In-Situ and Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership to be artists-in-residence for an archaeological dig at Malkin Tower farm.
Drawing on field recordings, archival material and landscape mapping technologies, they created a work that is a creative response to archaeological excavation with themes of material and social stratification and changing land use.
Five Verses on Six Sacks of Earth was performed at four unique venues in Pendle in November 2018, each followed by a conversation with the artists and others involved in the project including archaeologists and historians.
The work comprised a musical score in five parts, performed by local female vocalists and musicians. It featured bassoon, trombone and viol, a seventeenth century stringed instrument resembling a small cello, whose tuning is incredibly sensitive to the humidity of a place. The cast wore costumes in simple forms, resembling clothing from the period, sewn from fabrics selected or dyed in a colour palette taken from the archeologists soil identification chart. The set was a cloth backdrop with an overlaid image from Malkin Tower Farm, and on the floor, large polystyrene sculptures based on fragments unearthed in the dig, each fitted with speakers to emit field recordings from the site.
The work in five parts begins with the Curlew, surveying the land from an aerial perspective, moving onto the Hawthorn tree close to the site, which predated the period, Catherine, an archaeologist working on the dig whose circumstances would have led her to be deemed a witch in the seventeenth century, fragments of a milk bowl unearthed, and finally, to Greg – the foundation stone of a structure, beneath the ground and the central object of exploration. As the performers work through the verses, we are steadily brought closer to the tactile object, as sound moves from being melodic and vocal to textured and fragmented, whereby material culture is rendered in sound.
A short film about the project will be released in early 2019 and shown in March in Pendle. Nastassja Simensky and Rebecca Lee will then tour the performances to UK venues and plan to create an artist film.
The project has now been developed as a full scale touring performance, Sherds: Five Verses on Six Sacks of Earth which will be shown at The Harris, Preston and Nottingham Contemporary in December 2019 and January 2020.
Commissioned by In-Situ for The Gatherings, part of Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership, with funding from Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund
Cover and images 3, 4, Courtesy Reece Straw
Image 2, Courtesy Nastassja Simensky