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Saturday 22 April 2023

Earth Day 2023

You can’t learn anything unless you have the wind on your face” – Liisa Holmberg (whose voice you can hear in the woods at Orleans House Gallery in Voices of the Ecosystem)   

Earth Day 2023 comes 2 years into our Cultural Reforesting programme.  The programme has engaged with dozens of artists, scientists, further experts, young people, students, more than human species and thousands of visitors across our experiences. We have reached the very young to international collaborators. This Earth Day we celebrate the imagery, expanse and huge diversity of the stories and ideas artists and their collaborators have brought to us in the last 2 years.  We also share the joy in the vibrant ecosystem at Orleans House Gallery which is teaching us many things.  


In 2022 Christiana Figueres, who was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, stated that western culture needs an evolution of mindset if we are to realise a healthy future for us and our planet this century. A research group from Exeter’s Global Systems Institute suggested that hopeful societal tipping points will give communities energy in the ecological crisis, which may support wellbeing as well as flourishing local ecosystems. This is the global context for our decade-long Cultural Reforesting programme. We are not understating the hugeness of the ecological crises that will define this epoch, the Anthropocene needs to be a time when humanity absolutely returns to being a constructive part of all our ecosystems. Where we see the life of an oak or butterfly as equal to ourselves in all our daily routines. Where we see ourselves clearly and innately as part of nature.  

This gives a fascinating opportunity, and hence our use of the word renewal in our big provocation at the centre of all the artist led projects – how can we renew our relationship with nature?  

Breathing colourful life into our knowledge and everyday through this constantly shifting relationship is invigorating, rewarding and generous, selfish and selfless all at once.   


Right now, at Orleans House Gallery you will find SupermarketForest led by artist Andrew Merritt, in collaboration with ethnobotanist Dr Sarah Edwards, and an expanse of seeds that will grow forests across our part of the Thames. The exhibition subverts the supermarket and asks the question how can our food systems, from farm to mouth, regenerate ecosystems, create vibrant forests, and provide our nourishment? The wider programme collaborates with Orange Tree Theatre young people’s performance teams on a Summer Solstice procession and sees Sarah Edwards leading walks in the Orleans woods in Stories of the Forest. We’ve also been working with schools looking at ideas of overcoming plant blindness and giving a platform to young people. 


Abigail Hunt is exploring natural environments with 2-5 year olds in Play:Make:Art and their carers over a series of workshops open to all families. How might we comprehend love and respect of the natural world we are part of?  


Kinship Workshops – dance Artists Katye Coe and Thomas Goodwin bring their embodied relational experience to Orleans House Gallery and the Borough of Richmond. Through simply taking time and being mindful of movement in the woods and grounds, how might we be filled with the most profound relationships we have with other species? How might we express this relationship and find it filling us through all of our everyday experiences and routines? Katye and Tom will be carrying out workshops, fireside conversations, and further research with experts in psychology, art and botany to evolve the Kinship Workshop and Training, before carrying out full training programmes for groups from the Local Authority and more.   


Voices of the Ecosystem – The woodland at Orleans House Gallery is an expanding library of voices and sounds elaborating on the ideas surrounding Cultural Reforesting. Using the Echoes mobile app wanderers can access a range of ecosystem experts from Liisa Holmberg, a Saami elder, to Monica Gagliano and artists Ackroyd and Harvey. Hear soaring ideas whilst walking among cedars, oaks and parakeets. Included with these is music by film soundtrack composer Dimitri Scarlato, The Tale of the Cedar of Lebanon, and a sound work by Ana Heilbron featuring imagined memories of ecosystems around the world, Memory of Sound. Eden Spence’s Vigil convinces you to spend time with the remnants of a Black Poplar tree, slowly returning to the earth.   


We will continue projects working with other council departments, Borough-wide communities and partners, and national and international collaborators. Ultimately this programme is about all of us, our shared and personal cultures and how nature is an absolute, every day part of us – a fact we can celebrate, protect and consider for future generations.