Cultural Reforesting: How can we (in the west) renew our relationship with nature?

Dr. Sarah Edwards (GB), Andrew Franzkowiak (GB), Dr Kim Salmon (GB), Arji Manuelpillai (GB), Adam Kammerling (GB), Jess Ihetojeh (GB), Dr Will Pearse (GB), Dr Tilly Collins (GB), Stephanie Hot (GB), Heather Ackroyd (GB), Dan Harvey (GB), Eloise Moody (GB), Vicky Long (GB), Abigail Hunt (GB), Finn Chatwyn-Ross (GB), Kinship Workshop (GB), Harun Morrison (GB), Kim Coleman (GB), Connor Butler (GB), Dawn Stevens (GB), Andrew Merritt (GB), Bryony Benge-Abbott (GB), Nestor Pestana (VE)

Cultural Reforesting, stewarded by the London Local Authority of Richmond, comprises of exhibitions, artist commissions, scientific research and integrated participation exploring the ecological crisis from biodiversity loss and climate to environmental justice and wellbeing. Responding to the provocation - how can we renew our relationship with nature?

Much of Cultural Reforesting has focused on Orleans House Gallery, a remarkable ecosystem of contemporary art, riverside woodland, and colonial building; a ground zero for applied research on the ecological crisis. Artists and scientists engage with diverse participants and a variety of experimental experiences from working with children in care to learning about indigenous knowledge immersed in a range of urban spaces and therefore ecosystems. An imperative is the requirement of our culture(s) in the west to evolve, returning to nature, collaborating with the more-than-human world, centring upon Ethnobotany led by Dr. Sarah Edwards, author of ‘The Ethnobotanical: A world tour of Indigenous plant knowledge’ (2023).

The wider programme has supported 15 projects since 2020, some of these include:

Andrew Merritt’s, SupermarketForest, challenges the idea of the supermarket, and where food comes from through sculpture and interactive design. Participants, including schools, gathered data about their own ecosystems, with the project imagining what might grow to transform the ecosystems into revered forests.

Bryony Ella’s art/science practice works with drawing and storytelling as powerful tools to centre us as part of nature. Her project develops ‘wild drawings’ to emotionally connect with the more-than-human across our local woodland.

Nestor Pestana’s, in collaboration with bat expert Stephanie Holt, explores how empathy with bats might offer us new ways to tackle the ecological crisis. Amongst others Nestor collaborated with Liisa Holmberg, Sámi leader, comprehending First Nation storytelling as important knowledge transition.

Through participation we have empowered participants to co-create imaginative responses to global climate crisis. We bring our policy makers into the programme with other public services such as Parks, Planning and Climate, these collaborations are making an impact Borough-wide. The project has prioritised working with vulnerable young people – those who are economically disadvantaged and those in care.

Richmond Arts Service and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames would like to thank; the team at Richmond Arts Service, the teams across the Local Authority, particularly Parks, Planning, Climate and Community Engagement, Achieving for Children, the more-than-human world, Kew Gardens, Richmond upon Thames College, Orange Tree Theatre, Royal College of Art, London College of Communication, Royal Holloway, St. Mary’s University.  

Funding from Natural Environment Research Council, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, St. Mary’s University and all the in-kind support from 1000’s of others.

Dr. Sarah Edwards (GB) is an ethnobotanist with an interdisciplinary background. Sarah is based at the University of Oxford, teaching ethnobiology and biological conservation. Much of Sarah’s teaching is based on insights gleaned from working on collaborative ethnobiology projects with First Nations communities in northern Australia. Of Romani and Irish Traveller heritage, Sarah is also a Trustee of the charity London Gypsies and Travellers. Sarah is lead author of the book Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products (2015) and The Ethnobotanical (2023).

Andy Franzkowiak (GB) is an award-winning creative producer and curator who specialises in science/art projects and site-specific works. He has delivered a range of programmes exploring our relationship with nature, with participation and collaboration across disciplines and with the more-than-human world foundational to his work. His work includes the critically acclaimed Enlightenment Café, a series of multidisciplinary art and science collaborations. He has presented work at Barbican, Tate Modern, Somerset House and in site specific locations, including Wakehurst, Kew Gardens.

Andrew Merritt (GB) work explores social and environmental issues via everyday scenarios criss-crossing the boundaries between the visual arts, architecture and activism. Through permanent installations, functional sculptures and public performances, projects provide a framework or foundation for communities and ecologies to build upon. Works mimic the everyday to act as familiar starting point and then take the subject into new realms. Merritt is one half of Something & Son. He has exhibited at Tate Britain; Tate Modern; Manchester International Festival; Gwangju Biennale, South Korea.

Bryony Ella (GB) is a British-Trinidadian artist, curator and producer working at intersection of art and science, focusing on nature connection. Her practice spans street art to oil paintings, textile design to drawing, playing with pattern, scale and composition, and moving between symbolism, abstraction and expressionism in the search for immersive encounters with nature. She also brings a strong community engagement and participatory focus to her public realm-based work. Bryony has 15 years’ experience of curating and producing social history and science exhibitions, most recently leading the inaugural public engagement strategy for exhibitions at the UK’s largest lab, The Francis Crick Institute.

Nestor Pestana (VE) is an educator, art director and digital designer, whilst developing a new media arts and research practice. My interest lies on the creative possibilities of new and emerging technologies - in how they can be used as storytelling tools to communicate ideas, concepts and create new interactions. Projects are research based, focusing on the necessity for critical engagement with contemporary and emerging issues, mainly related to technology and ecology. To facilitate this Nestor uses worldbuilding and design fiction frameworks, combined with storytelling methodologies.

This UK-based initiative, Cultural Reforesting, offers a holistic approach to addressing the ecological crisis by engaging citizens in reconnecting with nature. Through collaborations with artists, scientists, and diverse communities, the project fosters awareness and understanding of our impact on ecosystems. By integrating participatory citizen-led programs, including exhibitions, artist commissions, and scientific research, Cultural Reforesting empowers citizens to take action in combating climate change. The initiative's emphasis on cross-generational engagement and partnerships including academia, arts organisations and  local government agencies demonstrates its commitment to fostering social capital and influencing policy.