artist's hands working with barbed wire

Barbed wire

Invented in France in 1860, barbed wire was further developed in the United States, where it was used to restrict cattle and secure territory. Barbed wire’s singular purpose – to keep in and to keep out – was first put to use on the Great Plains of the American West in the late 19th century to restrict cattle and, implicitly, to secure territory by expansionist settlers and demarcate possessions.

Barbed wire’s transformation into the mechanized landscape of modern warfare would transform its symbolic meanings forever while still retaining its original purpose to “keep in and keep out”. Widely used for the first time in South Africa by the British General Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850–1916) against the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (in the so-called Second Boer War, 11 October-31 May 1902)

The scale and complexity of trench fortifications in WWI, however, were unprecedented; and it was this that allowed barbed wire to play out its new and frightening role. More than a million miles of barbed wire was laid on the Western Front alone between 1914 and 1918 — and to some, that’s a conservative estimate.

As part of his research into materials and work development, Nick is currently experimenting with Barbed Wire as the main material in a piece to be part of the sculpture trail in Spurn Point.




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