The crises of climate warming and wildlife loss have one thing at their heart: the failing relationship between people and nature. Our pathways to nature connectedness strongly suggest that artistic engagement with nature is key to building a new relationship with nature. So, it’s exciting to report that for many months I’ve been involved with a new project to create a national arts programme that creatively encourages people to explore their relationship with nature and connect to it.
The Oak Project is a partnership between Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the University of Derby and the Bronze Oak Project Ltd, a not-for-profit that promotes nature connection through art. The Oak Project is a programme that explores our relationship with the natural world and builds connection to nature through arts, culture and creativity. We believe an arts programme can:
- Increase connection to nature across society.
- Make nature more relevant to everyday lives.
- Increase public action on the environment.
Over the next five years, we will pioneer arts-participation to create kinship with nature and aim to inspire and motivate public action for nature and climate. It all starts on World Environment Day on Saturday 5 June 2021 when the Oak Project unveils its first artist commission, Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, hosted at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), by artists Heather and Ivan Morison from Studio Morison.
Informed by research evidence from the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby, the artists have developed a sculptural space – a ring, set within a stand of birch trees. It aims to create a place of solitary communion with the natural world, creating an area of calm contemplation. Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds will invite visitors to stop and connect, to consider and experience, and to listen to their natural surroundings. Over time, the work will become part of the landscape as the weather contributes to its decomposition, leaving only a slight indent and trace of a circle in the ground in years to come.
Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds taps into several aspects of research into the human-nature relationship. Its circular form and sense of calm reflects the contentment and connection circle of the three circles model of emotion regulation. A model used in our research to demonstrate how nature helps manage our moods, bringing balance to the circles of drive and threat.
At times the modern world can feel like a constant pursuit of goals and avoidance of threat. We can also find ourselves at the centre of a battle for our attention. When we do pause an advert or our phone often demands attention. Silence creates a space free of those distractions. Where nature can come to the fore. Where we can retune – after all our senses evolved to make sense of the natural world. Seeing the leaves of the birch, hearing their movement in the breeze, touching the bark and tuning into nature returns us to our origins. No wonder that noticing nature is essential to forming a close relationship with nature. Noticing nature can also improve our mental wellbeing and explains the actions we take for nature.
Silence is also a place for reflection on our relationships with nature – both good and bad. Those five types of relationship that lead to a closer relationship with nature – noticing nature, its beauty, the joy and calm it brings and what it means in your life such that you’ll consider what can you do for nature.
Perhaps people will also reflect on the wounds inflicted by our (utilitarian and dominionistic) relationships with nature that do harm. Our desire to use and control nature has left scars. Holes dug deep into the earth have fuelled the warming of the atmosphere, cloaking the natural world. Ancient woodlands are felled as new lines are drawn across the landscape. Concrete walls span our valleys, drowning lands. The land itself always managed, rarely wild. The wildlife that brings joy, beauty and meaning to our world is diminished and lost. A failing relationship with nature that saps our own wellbeing as a nation as we fall out of love with nature.
That is why Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, and the work of the Oak Project to come, aims to build a new relationship with nature. Prompting reflection on the wounds, but a celebration of nature, because a close connection with nature is fundamental to both feeling well and a sustainable future.