Today I joined a making workshop hosted by artist Pete Ward and Joanie Willet from Exeter University, with other artists and cross disciplinary practitioners taking part. The workshop was entitled ‘Making a Parish Future’. Part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science: Our Communities in Cornwall: Ecological Art and Creating Our Future.

We travelled in time and place to explore our different locales and develop a stronger sense of community. We came together with a shared interest in ecology, community and what our parish futures might look like. 

As part of my artistic practice I engage in regular ‘mappings’ of my local area which help me to become grounded and embedded in the place, and the community, of my surrounding area. I walk most days, rain or shine, and record my walks through written documentation, photography and video, drawing, and interventions. Though I have, for all of my adult life, undertaken these mappings, my practice as a professional artist has shifted between the built and natural environment throughout my career. In the last two years though I have concentrated solely on the natural environment, developing and exploring ways to communicate our deep connection with nature.

The workshop introductions revealed visual artists, teachers, documentary makers, ecologists, musicians, political scientists, foragers, and health & wellbeing professionals/advocates (to name a few of the cross disciplinary skills our small group held between us). All of us are connected to, or resident in, Cornwall.

After the introductions Pete Ward told us about the project our workshop was part of, about the idea behind the workshop: to develop an understanding/connection/community with the local ‘place’ (the geology, flora and fauna) and to imagine what we would want for our ‘parish’ in the future. He told us more about his own experiences of developing his practice as a visual artist: experimenting with local earth pigments and materials to make work and inspirational talks with aboriginal tribal elders.

Prior to the day we had been asked to gather materials whilst walking in our ‘parish’, to use in the workshop. I had gathered organic materials and plastics from local walks and nearby beaches. I also prepared some Oak Apple Ink (made from wasp galls found on oak trees) and home-made charcoal, to use in the workshop. We were going to be given about 5 minutes for each part of our making journey, so we had to keep our ideas quick to execute. 

First we were asked to consider the deep geology of our local area, and to use our materials to communicate this. I employed some animal bones found in field and woodland nearby. I bound them together with copper wire to represent the geological strata and rich mineral and metal deposits in the region.

Deep Geology by Victoria Burton-Davey

Secondly we were asked about the flora and fauna in our local area. We were asked to draw, paint, make objects showing our natural environments. We could build upon what we had made so far, or make a fresh piece. As I selected pieces from my found materials trove, I felt my way to making a totemic, bound collection of natural objects and earth pigment from my daily walks in the parish. 

Parish Flora Fauna by Victoria Burton-Davey

Third we were asked to think about the historical impact of human activity in the region: which I chose to depict through older flotsam and jetsam from the nearby beaches (remnants from fishing and sailing but older materials). I included a rusting metal circle to bring to mind the Neolithic heritage of the area (such as the Men an Tol) and the rich artistic history in Cornwall (for which the circle motif has become a sort of shorthand). I used some old bailer twine, from a crumbling farm on my regular walk, to bind this bundle together to make a three dimensional ‘holding’ object.

Parish Past by Victoria Burton-Davey

Next we had to think about more up to date human impact on our local environment. Again, I used my store of beach found materials. This time I made a small, l sculptural object out of plastics found on local beaches which bound with fishing line. Even the contrast between the older flotsam and jetsam and these newer found materials was startling; the plastics hold together remarkably well in the ocean and the colours are harsher, like the environmental impact of such materials.

Parish Present by Victoria Burton-Davey

Finally, we we asked to imagine a future for our parish. What would we hope to be collecting in years to come? I imagined a future where we had unearthed or used all the deposits and carbon rich materials we could. But somehow we had managed not to kill off all life, and nature had recovered. I made another totemic bundle. This bundle was not bound but free: consisting of plant material, feathers, and wasp gall ink (to represent insect life and flight paths). 

Parish Future by Victoria Burton-Davey

I really enjoyed the quick pace of the making process in the workshop. No time to procrastinate or over think things. There was a lovely arc to the story which we all felt unfolding through the process. It was rewarding and exciting to meet other practitioners working in similar veins. And I feel we have made a start in developing a community of makers who want a deeper connection with ‘place’.

I imagine a ‘parish future’ where we have come to understand that we do not exist in nature but that we are of nature. A future where we understand that we are nature’s children, not nature’s masters. 

What future do you imagine?