Ponyskin rucksack highlights conflict of man and moor in new work by Alex Murdin

pony rucksack

A Devon moorland pony has been used to make an organic hiking rucksack, in a new artwork exploring issues around tourism, the landscape, and the management of wild areas used for recreation.

Artist Alex Murdin commissioned fine leather maker Tony Piper to make the original rucksack, complete with contemporary and functional features like webbing and pockets, out of ponyskin.

The pony was not killed in order to make the artwork. The skin came from Bristol-based dealers J J Wilson, who are licensed to trade in the skins. The skins come from ponies culled each year as part of the management of numbers.

The idea of the rucksack is to make people think about the impact of tourism on wild landscapes such as Dartmoor and Exmoor, as well as how such land is managed by man.

It also points to some of the contradictions around the Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies as iconic symbols.  On the one hand, they have huge cultural value, on the other they are financially virtually worthless.

The rucksack is going on show in the exhibition Art, Ecology and the Economy, which takes place simultaneously at the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World in Haldon Forest Park nr Exeter and the Duchy Square Centre for Creativity, Princetown from the Saturday, January 23 to Sunday, March 28.

Alex told Arts+Culture: “These ponies are mostly kept as pets or used for keeping vegetation under control for the benefit of walkers on the moor. However, over the past 15 years human use of the ponies, and hence their economic value, has declined. With little market demand farmers are forced to humanely cull older, infirm and unwanted animals in order to keep the whole population sustainable.

“By demonstrating how local craftsmanship can create beauty and utility out of what is considered a waste product, this work highlights the challenging relationship between the management of an ecology for its aesthetic or leisure value, and a purely market-led economy.”

Alex also says although the ponyskin rucksack on show is a unique item: the first of its type in the world it would be great to put it into production.

He said: “As far as I know there is no other rucksack like this. You’d pay thousands of pounds in Prada for an Italian bag of this type – why not both support the ponies and encourage people to buy Devon instead?”

Alex Murdin’s projects are featured on the Rural Creation website.

(from a press release)