Coming soon: Bonds / Ripples

29 May - 9 June 2024

Events

European Poetry Festival : Liverpool Camarade

6 July 2024

Events

Webinar: Socially Engaged Photography

22 May 2024

Exhibitions

JOURNEY TO EDEN @ DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY

6 May - 12 May 2024

Past Events

MARRIAGE (IN)EQUALITY IN UKRAINE. Screening and a panel discussion

9 May 2024

Past Events

Casey Orr artist talk and SEPN North West meet-up

18 May 2024

Past Events

Poetry reading: Coast to Coast to Coast

11 May 2024

Exhibitions

National Pavilion of Ukraine @ Venice Biennale

20 April - 24 November 2024

Exhibitions

Open Source 28: Sam Patton – Room to Breathe @ Digital Window Gallery

10 April - 18 May 2024

Exhibitions

Forward, Together @ Wigan & Leigh Archives, Leigh Town Hall

23 March - 28 September 2024

Exhibitions

As She Likes It: Christine Beckett @ The Rainbow Tea Rooms, Chester

1 March - 30 June 2024

Exhibitions

Shifting Horizons @ Digital Window Gallery

27 March - 31 March 2024

PLATFORM: ISSUE 6

26 March 2024

Past Events

Saturday Town: Launch Event

10 April 2024

Exhibitions

Saturday Town

11 April - 19 May 2024

Past Events

PLATFORM: ZINE LAUNCH EVENT

21 March 2024

Home. Ukrainian Photography, UK Words: Tour

4 March - 28 February 2025

Exhibitions

Home: Ukrainian Photography, UK Words @ New Adelphi

4 March - 8 March 2024

Past Events

CREATIVE SOCIAL: IN THE ABSENCE OF FORMAL GROUND

2 March 2024

Exhibitions

We Feed The UK @ Exterior Walls

8 February - 31 March 2024

Past Events

Contrail Cirrus: the impact of aviation on climate change

7 March 2024

Exhibitions

Tree Story @ Liverpool ONE

16 February - 31 May 2024

Open Source #27: Saffron Lily – In The Absence of Formal Ground @ Digital Window Gallery

6 February - 31 March 2024

Past Events

Contemporary Photography from Ukraine: Symposium @University of Salford

4 March - 5 March 2024

Past Events

Is Anybody Listening? Symposium: Commissioning and Collecting Socially Engaged Photography

29 February 2024

Past Events

Different approaches: Artists working with scientists

15 February 2024

Past Events

LOOK Climate Lab 2024: All Events

18 January 2024

Exhibitions

Diesel & Dust @ Digital Window Gallery

18 January - 31 March 2024

Past Events

Tree Walks Of Sefton Park with Andrea Ku

21 January 2024

Past Events

Artists Remake the World by Vid Simoniti: Book Launch

31 January 2024

Past Events

Shift Liverpool Open Meeting

6 February 2024

Past Events

We Feed The UK Launch and LOOK Climate Lab 2024 Celebration

8 February 2024

Past Events

Cyanotype workshop with Melanie King

17 February 2024

Past Events

End of Empire: artist talk and discussion

22 February 2024

Past Events

Book Launch: What The Mine Gives, The Mine Takes

24 February 2024

Past Events

Local ecology in the post-industrial era: open discussion

14 March 2024

Past Events

Waterlands: creative writing workshop

23 March 2024

Past Events

Plant a seed. Seed sow and in conversation with Plot2Plate

16 March 2024

Past Events

Erosion: panel discussion

9 March 2024

Past Events

Waterlands: an evening of poetry and photographs

23 March 2024

Past Events

Force For Nature Exhibition

27 March - 28 March 2024

Voices of Nature: Interactive Performances

28 March 2024

Past Events

Sum of All Parts: Symposium

27 February 2024

Exhibitions Main Exhibition

LOOK Climate Lab 2024

18 January - 31 March 2024

Past Events

MA Socially engaged photography Open Day event

1 February 2023

Past Events

Tish: Special screening and Q&A

13 December 2023

Past Events

Book Launch: A Look At A New Perspective

23 November 2023

Past Events

Community workshops @ Ellesmere Port Library

6 November - 5 February 2024

Past Events

Book Launch: ‘544m’ By Kevin Crooks

30 November 2023

Past Exhibitions

Bernice Mulenga @ Open Eye Gallery Atrium Space

17 November - 17 December 2023

Close
Close
Lizzie King, Work in Progress: Snail on paper. Digital documentation 2023.
Lizzie King, Slug Drawings 2. Lumen 2023
Lizzie King, Buried Universe (Log). C-Type  2023


Clare Hewitt, Pheasant carcass at The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research
2021
Clare Hewitt, Oak leaf lumen prints, made at The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research
2022
Clare Hewitt, Oak bark and letter extract
2021

Snail, soil, oak: Towards sustainable collaboration with nonhumans by Anneka French

In Rebecca Tamás’s impactful book Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman (2020), she begins with considering equality in a broad range of terms. She writes: ‘Equality means the same opportunities for life and liberty for people of every race, nationality, sexuality, gender, physicality, age and place. It might also come to mean a radical equality that includes the nonhuman, the animals and beings, the trees and rivers.’

Lizzie King and Clare Hewitt are among a growing number of artists who are investigating and collaborating with nonhuman species, co-creating with the inhabitants of green spaces local to them in Salford and Birmingham respectively. Central to both their practices is a deep understanding of the importance of sustainable and care-informed social collaborations in their artistic interactions with plants, creatures and other nonhuman beings.

The commission I did for The University of Salford Art Collection You Belong Here (2021) was an exploration of green spaces in Salford, in particular Peel Park, one of the first public parks in the UK and which was paid for by public subscription,’ Lizzie King explains. ‘Through doing that work and through lockdown, I spent a lot more time outside because I was extremely clinically vulnerable.’ King reflects: ‘I became excited to think more about sustainable processes because of the toxicity of a lot of chemicals involved in photography. I was working a lot with trees and thinking about them as beings in relation to Professor Suzanne Simard’s research [Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest (2021)], as well as fungi and all the multi-species creatures that we really need to coexist with rather than having a separation from them or a dominion over them. I acknowledge that nonhumans are living creatures in their own right, having their own complex thinking and community networks.’

King, a disabled artist who uses a wheelchair, has used her lap as a surface on which to hold photographic paper. On the paper she has placed for short periods of time snails found on an invasive Himalayan Balsam in Peel Park. The secretions made by the snails create curving traces of their activity on the paper under their bodies. The proximity of the snails to King’s own body allows her to carefully observe the creature’s movements and their health, ensuring that these snails, and the slugs and worms who she also co-creates with, remain well. King is mindful of minimising any human impact upon the ecosystems with whom she collaborates.

In a series of work titled Buried Universes (2023), King has been working with soil bacteria. In this, she has placed photographic paper beneath leaf litter and buried other sheets of paper within the soil layer close to a ‘wilder’ group of trees in the manicured park. Carefully extracted 4-6 weeks later, the results are reminiscent of images of galaxies taken with powerful telescopes, making connections between macro and micro, and between the cyclical processes of growth and decay. King notes that there is silver nitrate in the gelatin on the paper she uses but has observed that the bacteria seems to break this down through a variety of chemical reactions that change the surface and physical texture of the paper. Ambitions for the future of her work include collaborations with ecological experts to examine any impacts on the soil in more detail.

As well as cameraless photography, King has produced sound works that record the movement of bats in Peel Park. ‘I was interested to think about worms underneath, working to aerate the soil and map out this underground space in their way by creating tunnels as ways of getting around.’ King continues, ‘Above are the bats who fly every night and use their calls to map the space from a different perspective.’

Human impact and human access to nature are important to King’s thinking in several ways. ‘I come from a working-class background that has quite a separation between people and nature. Green space is not where people spend time due to worries about safety. My current research questions  what this coexistence looks like. I am also thinking about this in relation to green areas and my wheels. How far can I go, for instance, before I damage things and leave a trace upon the ground?’

In her book Twelve Words for Moss (2023), the poet and academic Elizabeth-Jane Burnett seeks solace in grief through a close examination of nature, specifically of different varieties of moss across locations in the UK. In an early section of the book, she describes removing moss specimens – ones she names ‘Marilyn’ and ‘Kind Spears’ – from their habitat to line her shoes. What initially provides her with physical and spiritual comfort, in keeping the moss in contact with her body, gradually becomes metaphorically painful at the realisation that she has damaged the organisms by displacing them from their ecosystem.

Clare Hewitt’s multi-layered, long-term project Everything in the forest is the forest (2019-ongoing) operates within similar ethical parameters to Burnett’s and deals with many of the same subjects as King’s. Each artist’s work demonstrates the utmost respect for the ecosystem it is concerned with. Unlike King’s public park, however, Hewitt’s work is rooted within a circle of twelve oak trees located at The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR), a closely controlled environment of scientific importance which requires particular access for humans. The project comprises a series of highly sensitive collaborations, not only with people that nurture the area and a few that live locally to it but with the oak trees and other organic life there.

Shed oak leaves, for instance, have been made into lumen prints, in tones of aubergine, smoke, violet and gold. These are all produced on the forest floor, with each leaf placed back afterwards and Hewitt only removing the print she has made. Despite producing hundreds of these prints, Hewitt’s work records only a tiny part of the forest’s many, sustained processes.

Twenty-four pin hole cameras mounted on to the twelve oaks, with year-long exposures, capture the activities of the forest slowly, modifying the timeline of production to something akin to the slowness of the trees’ own growth. The pin holes become home to spiders, moths and other organic life. In a process that mirrors another of Hewitt’s projects in which she is engaged in a long-term private letter exchange with a person incarcerated in the USA, Hewitt has also written to the trees.

The project has further incorporated the participation of fourteen people from twelve households in the locality of the forest, who met with Hewitt online during lockdown in a year-long series of 
conversations and photography workshops centred upon sustainable photographic processes. The human community has taken inspiration from the forest’s community and continue to engage with it beyond the scope of Hewitt’s initial facilitation. 

It is clear Hewitt has a deep love for the forest: ‘I can’t imagine not working in the forest to be honest,’ she admits. That said, she is currently preparing for a major solo exhibition of Everything in the forest is the forest at Impressions Gallery opening in summer 2025, and therefore her physical work within the forest has had to take a short pause.

Hewitt’s time in the forest has permeated every aspect of her life, as well as the production and dissemination of her art practice. Hewitt shares: ‘I am making a photobook out of mushrooms, after learning how to infuse fallen oaks [in a separate location] with fungi spores.’ Hewitt’s exhibition aims to be sustainably staged and will tour throughout 2026: ‘For the duration of the exhibition, the book, part-funded by an Arts Council England Project Grant, and printed with botanical inks, will be available to borrow and share rather than buying to keep. The book will start with me. It’s more of a gift economy. It will go out to schools and libraries and institutions to be shared and shown. In that way, it will almost form a mycelial network. You’ll be able to track it online and in the gallery. People will take part in a shared experience and maybe they’ll send something else on with the book.

I imagine that as it’s passed on, the book will degrade,’ Hewitt notes. She is comfortable with this. She explains, ‘I just couldn’t come to terms with making a book about these twelve beautiful trees and then knowing that other trees have been cut down to make it. I had to think of an alternative and this is probably the extreme end of that alternative.’

At the end of the first chapter of Strangers, Tamás describes polar bears drowning in melting ice and polecats dying in brushfires, making uncomfortable and provocative statements to assert that ‘pity is not enough, when the rights of those living things to live are being destroyed. If we were to imagine them as equal – their pain equal, their rights equal, their agency equal; what other visions of living might become possible for us?’ While the answers to such considerations remain unclear, King and Hewitt, through their practices, are both very clearly asking the same vital question.

One definition of socially engaged practice refers to co-produced or co-authored work that is the result of individuals who come together with others as groups or individuals, often in community contexts. It aims towards equity of exchange and this definition, as well as many slightly different definitions, usually assume that the collaborative partner is human. As King and Hewitt’s works testify, however, there is not only enormous creative potential in expanding this definition to be inclusive of other organic life such as soil ecosystems, molluscs, trees and other beings, but also the increasing urgency to do so. This will allow us to gather experience, knowledge and learn lessons from beings who know far better than our human selves. 

Images: Lizzie King, Clare Hewitt. Text: Anneka French. Commissioned as part of the Re-framing Culture programme, a training programme by members of Socially Engaged Photography Network to develop socially engaged photographic commissioning, thanks to the re-imagine grants by Art Fund

 

 

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