The poet Harriet Tarlo and painter Judith Tucker have been working together since 2011, responding to places in the British landscape where the human and more-than-human world are interconnected and entwined, places that invites questions about what is natural, unnatural or “naturalcultural.” In 2013, thanks to the invitation of curator and artist, Linda Ingham, they discovered the North East Lincolnshire coast and began to respond in words and images to its stunning beaches, marshes, and birds, as well as exploring the energy politics of this coast which hosts ever-multiplying wind turbines and the Tetney monobuoy, run by Phillips 66, an American multinational energy company, constantly pumping crude oil under the land.
That year, Tarlo and Tucker also discovered the Humberston Fitties Chalet Park for the first time, and have been visiting, staying on site, and working there ever since. Situated near the seaside town of Cleethorpes, where Northern British working people have stayed for their holidays since the Industrial Revolution, the Fitties is a quirky domestication of land that was, like much of the low-lying land around the mouth of the Humber estuary, carved out of saltmarsh. The word the “Fitties” actually originally meant saltmarsh. The often self- built chalets, houses, and sheds of the Fitties lie low behind marshy beach and dunes, always liable to flood, to return to their former state. Here, since between the wars, local people and visitors have erected their diverse dwellings with individualistic names and styles, in order to enjoy the simple, restorative pleasures of seaside life.
Tarlo and Tucker found themselves drawn to the equally individualistic inhabitants of the Fitties as well as the place and began to get to know some of the people behind the chalets. Their conversations and interviews with Fitties people about what the place means to them were to reach a peak in a 2016 project working with Annabel McCourt , an artist from Grimsby, who exhibits at a national and international level who had always dreamed of owning a chalet on the Fitties- and now she does! This work between the three artists was exhibited at the Cleethorpes Discovery Centre.
Tarlo and Tucker have continued their contact with Fitties people and were recently involved in creating a new Fitties Festival, led by the Fitties Community Interest Company. Their work on the Fitties includes: large-scale paintings and poems which contextualise the Fitties in the wider marsh and beach land around Humberston; smaller paintings of individual chalets and an extensive series of the site at night; “name game” poems based on the names inhabitants give their beloved chalets and which evoke seaside associations past and present, and “people poems” based on extended interviews with people who live on and visit the Fitties. When viewed together both poems and paintings speak of the relationship between people and place and speculate on whether and how the practices of painting and poetry might be employed in an affective understanding of place as well as a greater understanding of the natural environment.
Why is the Fitties important? The Fitties’ heritage, legacy and future are key as it is one of the last remaining functioning plotlands in a country where many once flourished. Over the years there have been many changes at the Fitties and inevitably there are many concerns, both social and environmental: which we are concerned to bring to the fore in our work with local people and in discussing the Fitties elsewhere. What will happen to the Fitties? Will the ideas and ideals of locals about community and the natural resources of marshland and beach be encouraged or ignored? Will its SSI status be enhanced or diminished? Will it lose its individuality, becoming homogenized, modernised and over-managed or will its conservation status mean that the ad-hoc and idiosyncratic architecture of the chalets will be developed for future generations to enjoy? How will wider outside factors such as Climate Change and Brexit affect all this? These are questions which are mirrored locally and globally as we have found when discussing the Fitties with audiences at home and abroad all of whom are drawn in by this place and its story.
We should like to thank the people of the Humberston Fitties for their collaboration in this work.
Tarlo and Tucker’s work on the Fitties has been shown and discussed widely in the U.K. and abroad:
• 2014 Behind Land Muriel Barker Gallery, Fishing Heritage Centre, Grimsby culmination of an 18-month Arts Council funded commission curated by Linda Ingham
• 2015 Work from the Fitties series of poems and paintings was first shown at Contemporary British Painting, Marylebone Crypt, London and in the group exhibition In the open New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge and Behind Land: poems and paintings Bank Street Arts, Sheffield, Behind Land: Excavations & Estuaries Hull School of Art and Design
• 2016 we worked with the artist, Annabel McCourt, on extensive public engagement with people who live on and visit the Fitties for a project entitled “Image, Text. Memory in Place”. The three of us presented a Fitties Exhibition at Cleethorpes Discovery Centre including saltmarsh and chalet paintings with open form poems; photographic portraits and community memory cards and poems taken from interviews with Fitties folk.
• 2016onference paper on the Fitties work Place as Pause: the value of collaborative, cross-disciplinary practices in place Landscape values: place and praxis, Centre for Landscape Studies, NUI Galway
• 2016 Conference paper “Threadings, Bendings, Tanglings: Poetry, Painting and Place” plus poetry reading and banner exhibition at “Wildness without Wilderness”: The Poiesis of Energy and Instability”: The European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and Environment (EASLCE): 7th Biennial Conference, Brussels, Belgium,
• 2017 Conference paper “Poetry, Painting and Change on the Edge of England” at the XXVIIth ESRS conference – Uneven processes of rural change: On diversity, knowledge and justice, Krakow, Poland.
• 2017 The Fitties was discussed at Painting; Writing Painting; Painting and Drawing with Professor Griselda Pollock and Dr Catherine Ferguson Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts, London
• 2017 Work was included in several group exhibitions including Anything Goes? Contemporary British Painting: An Exhibition of Works by Members of Contemporary British Painting selected by Anna McNay, Bermondsey Art Project Space, London and 2017 Contemporary Masters from Britain: 80 British Painters of the 21st Century Yantai Art Museum, Artall Gallery, Nanjing, Jiangsu Art Gallery, Nanjing and the Tianjin Academy of Fine Art, Tianjin. China
• 2018 the work was shown in several group shows all of which considered the relationship of people to place: Paint North, Ladybeck, Leeds, More in Common APT Gallery, London, 2018; Trespass! Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, 2018 and The Case for Place, Steel Rooms, Brigg, Lincolnshire. This was accompanied with a catalogue and was curated by Linda Ingham, who originally commissioned us to work in the area. Getting Away ArtHouse1, Bermondsey, London and Quay Arts, Isle of Wight curator Day Bowman and Rules of Freedom Collyer Bristow Gallery. No Through Road shortlisted Jackson’s Open Painting Prize exhibited at Hampstead Art Fair.
• 2018 Harriet Tarlo spoke about PROJECT Fitties at the “Art as a Catalyst for Change” strand of the Creating Knowledge Conference and the Human Rights and Humanities Day at the Human Rights Futures Conference, December, both at Sheffield Hallam University.
• 2018 Tarlo and Tucker publish Neverends artists’ book with Wild Pansy Press.
• 2019 Judith Tucker presents the work as an invited speaker at Institute of Contemporary Art London. Frames of Representation. Symposium
• 2019 Harriet Tarlo and nature writer Richard Kerridge convene a panel on CROSS MULTI INTER TRANS artistic work around place at which Tarlo and Tucker present Fitties material and chair discussion of collaborative work with communities and between artists.
• 2019 Tarlo and Tucker publish “Poetry, Painting and Change on the Edge of England” in the journal Sociologia Ruralis.
• 2019 Further group shows including New Painting, CPB exhibition, the Crypt Marylebone, London, 2019 We’d have a part and everyone would go Shortlisted for Jackson’s Open Painting Prize, A sense of the familiar curated by Cavaliero Finn as part of the Dulwich Festival, Radical Landscapes The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington, Devon, Disposition: British Painting curated by Marguerite Horner Bermondsey Project Space, London.
• 2019 Judith Tucker’s new Night Fitties paintings appeared at the inaugural Fitties Festival where Tarlo and Tucker invited Fitties folk to fill in new memory cards for the archive and presented the artists book to the Fitties for the first time.
• 2020 Exhibition at Westminster Reference Library and Visual Art and Poetry at Arthouse 1, London