Study event review: Art & environment weekend. Day 1.

Art and environment weekend, London. Day 1 Saturday 28 July 2018, Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, East London.

This study event  to Phytology was the first of a series devised for students, on any stage of their study and from any unit, who are interested in the natural environment and learning from nature.

Phytology is an artist‐led project exploring use, value, resilience and function of wildness within urban ecosystems and is located on the north‐west corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve ‐ probably one of the smallest nature reserves in the country, and a precious space where people and other living organisms come to connect in one of the most densely populated areas of London. On the day we visited the sun was shining and the gates were open, there were artists, herbalists, a geographer and writer resident on site openly sharing their thoughts and cross‐fertilising their experiences with us and with each other.

The aims of the day were:
• To meet other creative people and share ideas
• To think about nature’s influence on art and design whilst recording the experiences
• To Improve and experiment with drawing/photography
• To have fun with tools and materials, try alternative ways of using a tool
• To challenge creative thinking; generate ideas and new ways of working

Michael Smythe from Nomad and Creative Director of Phytology kick‐started the day with an inspiring talk and tour of the project and how it has developed over time engaging people with issues around urban green spaces, well being and sharing the planet with other loving organisms. Every year over the spring and summer season artists, researchers, volunteers and members of the public engage and respond to the place and its inhabitants.

OCA participants came from different subject disciplines including photography, drawing and creative writing and at different stages of their study, because of this we gave time to introduce ourselves and share some of our interests and working processes with the group. We sampled the soothing marshmallow tea made from Phytology’s medicinal field in preparation for a series of quick exercises to open our minds Each participant drew a card at random, written on the card was a prompt and time constraint to promote imaginative thinking in response to the nature reserve and phytology and to quickly bring ideas out into the world so that they can be shared and then developed further, examples are shown below.

After an hour of repeating this exercise with different cards we stopped and brought our contributions to the Phytology shared‐lunch, a regular Saturday activity and a feast of delicious offerings, sitting around a long table under the trees and listened to this week’s guest lecture by resident climate expert Nick Bridge on working at a slower pace and giving time to reflect. Questions were asked from the lunches and gentle conversation flowed. We shared with him a famous set of cards produced by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt called Oblique Strategies where each card is printed with a suggestion or a course of action to assist with creative thinking and acting as a prompt to move your thinking away from the obvious and inspiration.

After lunch Nick joined us for the last set of exercises and we ended the day discussing the work that was produced and conversations arose form these experiences. The multi‐disciplinary aspect of the group was a great catalyst for different ways of thinking about a subject in this case the wildness of urban spaces, and was found very useful by many of the OCA participants.

See OCA student Catherine Bank’s post about Phytology in her learning log here.

****Thank you to all participants and to Phytology for great day****

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