Do you believe a person’s character can come from the soil he or she is born on? Two years later. Another letter, A. Another love. Another end. A comes from the North, a land of clay. Is sea clay saltier? I decide to collect clay from the Wadden sea, which I think can qualify as Northern earth. My former teacher has a pension in the area of Leens and is willing to accompany me in this peculiar clay hunt. I gather four plastic buckets with hermetic lids from 10 to 25L and I take the afternoon train to Groningen, with two bus connections to Hornhuizen. I miss the bus from Leens and the next one is an hour later. Asking for a ride with suspicious large buckets doesn’t seem to work in the North. I reach the pension and cook dinner for my host. Risotto and salmon. I walk alone towards the dijk at sunset. I pass a few potato fields and a few flocks of sheeps marked with a blue dot on their woolen flanks. Sheeps leap over the dijk or stay idle in the green grass. It is cold but the sky is clear and the last rays of sun lit the unshakably flat horizon. I am not extremely moved by the sea line but it is peaceful. I would cry for mountains and rocks. Later I treat myself with cognac and stars.
I wake up early to catch some clay. With boots, buckets and a spade, we go to the delta. My feet sink in the wet ground and my guide quickly seems annoyed by my slow steps. The sky is grey, the ground is clay. Cracked earth puddles are formed, surrounded by green algae. I dig. Layers of color, grey, blue, black, it smells rotten, fishy and earthy. I fill-up the larger bucket and I realize I cannot carry it myself. The man takes it and grunts, I thought you were much more independant ‘Marie Ilse’.
We go to an organic onion field and repeat the same operation. Here they mix the clay with sand, he explains, preventing the ground surface to hermetically close and suffocate the onion bulbs. The clay is brown, it feels more like earth. My guide wants to do a field interview but it is very windy and he forgot to take the manual of his newly acquired sound recorder. We move on to another field and finally to a small natural harbor. I hold the black and blue clay in my hands, it stinks like oil and bacterial growth. We have coffee over a table covered with a carpet next to the dijk. We talk on the record. The erotic charge of clay. Farewell to my lover A.
It is time to go back, my guide has other things to do. Sun starts shining, it is getting warmer. I feel I accomplished my mission, but it is much less emotional than I thought. It was practical, the buckets are filled.
The clay I got is full of worms. They wiggle on my skin when I wedge their disturbed habitat. I dry the clay in a pan over heat. It smells terrible. It becomes grey like concrete powder. Grinded and sieved. Mixed to make ink, compressed to make forms. Overnight, the worms have carved intricate paths over the sculpted clay. It is full of life, it is resilient. Did the worms escape through the cracks of the drying clay?
– text by Marie Ilse Bourlanges, contribution for Parking Lot #4, October 2018