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The Pond - Biophilia
THE POND Biophilia 2 draws its images from a small pool of water in a woodland in Somerset, in rural south-west England. This pond is modest enough to demand no attention from the passer-by. It's hardly thirty feet across in the wettest season, and in a dry summer it can even disappear altogether. But as I spend more and more time looking at this insignificant body of water, reflecting upon it and making images of it, it becomes to me an increasingly rich metaphor for what living organisms can offer up to us, if we choose to pay them attention.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau, philosopher, writer
The whole of THE POND project will follow many paths. It is inspired, in part, by Henry David Thoreau's celebrated encounter with Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau's Walden Pond was an altogether grander affair than my small pond, a fair-sized lake. And to this day, some 200 years later, his writings remain key texts in the increasingly intense discussion of humankind's relationship with the natural order. I have not committed myself to this simple process with anything like the life-changing commitment that Thoreau did to his yet, as I return to the unremarkable site on a regular basis, I can see how my relationship to it alters and intensifies. And I find that I can present the growing stock of images in many different contexts.
THE POND Biophilia 2 is a largescale, multi-image print created for an exhibition involving scientific researchers, from the University of Bath, and associate artists of the 44AD artspace, also in Bath. The use of the word Biophilia in the title is a reference to the propositions of the psychologist and philosopher Eric Fromm and the biologist and environmentalist E O Wilson, working independently in the 1970s and 80s. In their Biophilia Hypothosis they argued that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.
We are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted.
Edward O. Wilson, biologist, theorist, writer
Kara Rogers writes in Encylopadia Britannica: "Genes that influence biophilia have not been identified, and it is suspected that the increased dependence of the human species on technology has led to an attenuation in the human drive to connect with nature. Wilson and others have argued that such declines in biophilic behaviour could remove meaning from nature, translating into a loss of human respect for the natural world. In fact, the loss of desire to interact with the natural world, resulting in a decreased appreciation for the diversity of life-forms that support human survival, has been cited as a potential factor contributing to environmental destruction and the rapid rate of species extinction. Thus, reestablishing the human connection with nature has become an important theme in conservation.
"In Biophilia, Wilson introduced a conservation ethic based on multiple dimensions of the innate relationship humans share with nature. His notion of environmental stewardship drew on various concepts, including the practical dependence of humans on nature, which centres on the ecological services (e.g., clean water and soil) nature provides; the satisfaction derived from direct interaction with nature, such as through exploration and development of outdoor skills; the physical appeal of nature, evident in its role as a source of inspiration and peace; and the human attachment to nature in the form of emotional connections to landscapes and animals."
These ideas have influenced my approach to life in general and naturally, you could say, to my artmaking. I have contributed to another project under the title Biophilia, at Dorset County Hospital. This makes direct use of images from the surrounding natural world as a therapeutic tool, in the setting of palliative care. My contribution is Windscapes, a 40-minute video which follows the progress of the wind through its journey through the south-west. The material in this piece has itself been blown into many forms: a 360 degree projection in a geodesic dome as part of the 2012 Olympics; projection on big screens on the beech at Weymouth, Dorset; and reworked into a four movement structure for Conversations with the Wind, a live collaboration with the poet Alice Oswald and the musician Andy Sheppard.
To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents.
Edward O. Wilson
Further influenced by more recent academic work, I am reflecting on the the effect that the wider living world has on people's sense of wellbeing, and its opposites, such as anxiety, stress and pain. Much research has been published in recent years to suggest that exposure to living organisms and natural phenomena (sometimes even in pictorial form) can have a beneficial effect on people in many aspects of their lives.
Evidence suggests that children and adults benefit so much from contact with nature that land conservation can now be viewed as a public health strategy.
Howard Frumkin, environmental health campaigner and Richard Louv, writer
So today practical therapy, with measurable results, confirms the insights of Thoreau and his contemporaries, close to two centuries ago - the generations of American pioneer thinkers who created the first great national parks, and who shared a consciousness of the sacred bond with a land that demanded love and respect not conquest.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
John Muir, environmental philosopher, conservation pioneer (1834 - 1914)