Seeing The Forest Through The Trees, Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre

Imagine over 2000 hectares of forest and natural woodland. Deep valleys and vertiginous peaks decorated with conifer, larch and spruce. Imagine the air fresh, fungal and peaty, a buzzard’s cry, the distant bleating of angry sheep. Imagine the space to breathe and the sky above you.

This was the latest setting for the recent Abandon Normal Devices arts festival in the heart of Grizedale Forest in Cumbria. For the duration of a weekend, art, nature, science and technology merged and romped together in a funfest of exploration and provocation. Describing itself as a catalyst for new approaches to cinema, digital culture and art, AND provides a platform for artists to be playful, inventive and ‘hijack imaginations’. The result is an arts festival of its time. As artists continue to probe the far reaches of our understanding to create works that provoke and question, conserving global ecology grows ever more urgent. Our attention is drawn to the infinitely small, the infinity of space, the autonomy of plants, the algorithms that define our very existence. We’re reminded of our own (in)significance within the system and the mysterious complexities of nature.

In the gallery space ‘Seeing The Forest Through The Trees’ technology and nature share a harmonious affinity. PSX Consultancy creates sex aids to assist plant species that have previously suffered impotency as a result of human interference – by relocating plants to an alien domestic environment they are deprived of the insects necessary to re-pollinate. In the film ‘Dream of Flying’ by Chiara Esposita, we see a succulent hovering above the ground using electrical activity emitted by the plant to navigate a drone or amplified into sound, as in Karl Heinz Jeron’s greenhouse installation ‘When Plants Sing.’ As our planet enters the age of Anthropocene we’re encouraged to imagine a future where creative thinking has a significant and beneficial influence on the development of technology. In a green valley below the forest, kites flutter in the breeze. As part of a project supported by Lancaster University, artist Jen Southern investigates the Ambleside Mountain Rescue and the relationship between the tracker dog with his nose to the ground and the global positioning satellite used to track their position. The kite, representing an aerial point of reference, tugs on the hand like a dog on a leash.

Overhead, origami paper planes drift slowly back down to earth from a helium balloon, launched via a small motor and a mobile phone. Saso Sedlacek’s installation ‘Origami Space Race’ focuses the mind on the practice of precise folding whilst drawing attention to the sky and the ever expanding space junk yard orbiting the earth.

Located off grid, in this bucolic environment where time moves at nature’s pace the cultural juxtaposition is surprisingly ambiguous. Technology inspiring art inspired by nature inspiring technology, spiralling on like a fractal pattern, a recursive algorithm.

The emphasis of the festival is on creative enquiry. Whether it’s sitting on a log wearing a marshmallow helmet experiencing virtual reality or following a trail at dusk to see an ultraviolet love motel for insects or considering the natural processes of decomposition and regeneration, AND’s message is clear – technology is the final frontier and these are the trailblazers, boldly going where no artist has gone before.

Sam Pickett is an artist based in Preston.

Image courtesy of Sam Pickett.

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees, Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre, Cumbria.

18 September – 06 December 2015.

Published 05.10.2015 by James Schofield in Reviews

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