The Commons
Re-Enchanting the World

The events and artistic interventions that will emerge during this project will be coordinated by artists Catherine Morland and Amanda Couch, UCA Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, and will stem from the following creative practitioners, as well as from the communities and audiences with whom they will be working.

Amanda Couch will form a community collective called ‘Becoming with Wheat’ (BwW). Together they will explore the collective act of ‘companioning’ with wheat, revealing how the human and non-human are interdependent. The BwW Community will work to grow wheat in specially-made raised beds in The MERL Garden and Amanda will exhibit films, anthotypes and sculptural masks in the galleries. This work is also supported by the University for the Creative Arts. She will partner with food designer Josefin Vargo to develop a Commons Feast for a Virtual Launch and an in-person event for the Heritage Open Day. The BwW Community will engage participants from local growing groups and audiences, including Reading Food Growing Network, the Mills Archive, and elsewhere.

The project, which launched in July, includes installations and interventions in The MERL galleries and gardens by Catherine Morland, Amanda Couch, Sigrid Holmwood, Kelechi Anucha and Carl Gent and Sam Wallman. 

As well as a chance to view the works in the galleries, the day will also include workshops, performances, demonstrations and family activities:

  • Carl Gent will play a mixtape of folk songs which influenced their and Kelechi Anucha’s sonic sculptures. They will explain the origins of each song and how the narratives relate to the wider theme of The Commons.
  • Sigrid Holmwood in her peasant-painter persona will demonstrate how to make turquoise pigment from woad grown in the MERL gardens and a process inspired by the Mayan technology for making Maya Blue.
  • Catherine Morland will demonstrate how to make cordage using the materials used in her installations including natural plant fibres and recycled plastic bags. Participants can learn how to make a piece of handmade string. She will also facilitate a seed swap.
  • Featuring The Mills Archive, Rise Bakehouse and the ‘Becoming with Wheat Companions’ of volunteer gardeners, Amanda Couch will present a series of everyday performances to process the wheat that has been cultivated in The MERL garden, focusing on dehulling, threshing, winnowing, milling, and caring for, and baking with a sourdough starter.

At the heart of the day is ‘The Commons Feast’, a gathering focussed on the sharing of ideas around local, seasonal, wild, and foraged fare. At the table we will provide bread made locally by Rise Bakehouse incorporating Levande Arkivet (Josefin Vargo’s collection of 80 sourdough cultures gifted by bakers around the world). The bread will be presented in a collection of bread baskets made especially by members of The Basketmakers’ Association and other practitioners. Catherine Morland will collaborate with Sara Trillo to make a display for the table using foraged clay and flowers grown in the MERL gardens, and the project designer, Kristin Fraser’s graphics will also form part of the table dressing. Beverages will be provided by Company Drinks (a community drinks production enterprise that links to the history of ‘going picking’).

This feast will serve as a chance to consider how we nourish ourselves, our families, our communities, and our environment. We hope to awaken food memories and encourage our guests to share food stories. In doing so we hope to ask questions of our food systems and consider how we can all bring the idea of the ‘commons’ to life in our mealtimes. There will also be recipe sharing acting as further enactments of Food Commons. 

Generously funded by Arts Council England and the University for the Creative Arts, The Commons: Re-Enchanting the World takes place at The MERL, from April 2021 to January 2022, with installations and interventions in The MERL galleries and gardens, workshops, and a symposium in January 2022, and accompanying publication. Learn more about the installation, the project, and the artworks featured in The Commons: Re-Enchanting the World online exhibition.


  • 18 September 2021 - 19 September 2021

    12:00 - 13:00 (GMT)

    The Museum of English Rural Life