Tree of Life.

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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 extremely old. Pathways with flights of rhythmic steps guide visitors through the terraced gardens. Tacit, aesthetic metaphors are present in the garden’s landscaping, re-enforced by considered placements of lyrical sculptures and materials.

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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, shadows – and trees. 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 can engage audiences via authentic sensory experiences, and  rediscover a symbiotic relationship with animate nature. Both for myself as well as for others.

Lucombe oak1Dartington brought opportunities 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 above, in daytime, June 2016). For more information about the location of the Lucombe oak tree, a Dartington Estate map is here.

To explore possibilities and trial techniques, digital imagery was projected onto the trunk and into the canopy of the Lucombe oak, at night. This included anthropomorphic imagery, aiming to stimulate empathy for the energy and spirit of a living tree, and to question limiting interpretations of the sentience and agency of non-human entities.  Both video and still imagery were trialled.

Many thanks to Anna Goodchild for her generous, creative support and night photography skills. See more of Anna’s work here.

I’ve included a small selection of photographic moments from this 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. Thanks also to the staff at Dartington for their assistance.

The female imagery was re-purposed from ‘Gaze’ (March 2016), which used digital collage to visualise some ideas about time. You can learn more about Gaze and the development stages of the Anima Mundi project, here on my AA2A profile.

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