The Lucombe Oak, Dartington Hall.
In June 2016, I was privileged to attend Schumacher College at Dartington Hall near Totnes in Devon, England. It is the centre of the Dartington Hall Trust, a charity specialising in the arts, social justice and sustainability. Inspired by founders, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhurst, the Dartington Trust is currently working towards their vision to be a pioneer of deep personal and societal change. This is influenced by the Elmhirsts’ original concept of “…expressing a ‘many-sided life’ and an ethos of openness, creativity and ‘learning by doing’.” (See Dartington Hall and Schumacher College websites for more information).
The gardens at Dartington have a magical beauty and shifting atmospheric moods, texture, form, light and shade. Many of the trees are very old. Pathways with flights of rhythmic steps guide visitors through the terraced gardens. Tacit, aesthetic ideology and metaphors are present in the garden’s landscaping, re-enforced by considered placements of lyrical sculptures and the use of materials.
Just over a year ago, I began a new project with the intention of refreshing and extending my approach to art practice. A synchronistic encounter in October 2015 with an oak tree and its mast year of seed production, led me to collect and plant around 300 acorns. I anticipated that new directions for my work would emerge from the simple, mindful activity of nurturing the acorns and observing them grow. I aimed to be as open as possible to this process and to how a meditative focus might trigger intuitive responses. I undertook further research as topics arose.
The project’s title is a reference to the ancient hypothesis of an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet: Anima Mundi, the Earth’s soul. Anthropological studies of indigenous peoples have used the term ‘animism’ to encompass beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in other animals, in plants, rocks, landscape features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, trees and shadows.
By taking up this focus, I’ve been able to learn of the growing understanding throughout the world that ecological renewal and sustainability depend upon spiritual awareness and an attitude of responsibility towards the Earth. I’ve been making artworks that aim to engage audiences via authentic sensory experiences, and explore the potential of rediscovering a symbiotic relationship with animate nature: for myself as well as for others.
An aspect of this work resulted in making a connection to Dartington, to be able to experiment and trial techniques on the estate. ‘Lucombe’ is a hybrid form of oak that keeps its leaves in winter, and a magnificent specimen grows at the edge of the Tiltyard in the grounds of Dartington Hall (pictured left, in daytime, June 2016).
I projected digital imagery at night onto the trunk and into the canopy of the Lucombe oak. The aim being to use light projection and anthropomorphic imagery to stimulate empathy for the energy and spirit of a living tree, and to question our limiting interpretation of the sentience and agency of non-human entities. Both video and still imagery were trialled.
Above: Dartington Hall around midnight on 23.06.16., viewed from the oak. Below: setting up simple equipment for the trial – a data projector and laptop.
Many thanks to Anna Goodchild for her generous, creative support and night photography skills. See more of Anna’s work here.
Thanks also to the staff at Dartington for their assistance. Here is a small selection of photographic moments that record some of the qualities of our activity. In this context, the photographs are an additional outcome. My primary purpose was to trial relevant techniques for working in the outdoors that have the potential to augment multi-sensory aesthetic experiences for audiences, in real time, in-situ. As well as to learn about the world and have fun of course, through art practice.
The female imagery was re-purposed from ‘Gaze’ (March 2016), which used digital collage to visualise ideas about time. You can learn more about Gaze and the development stages of the Anima Mundi project, here on my AA2A profile.
Inside and outside Dartington Hall:
For more information about the location of the Lucombe oak tree, a Dartington Estate map is here.