The Land in five objects: place artists at Timber Festival

How can art dream, reimagine and help shape the future …

Here’s a quick blog to share some smiles and reflections from the recent Timber Festival where a crew of five from the PLACE Collective took to the stage to share a conversation with the audience. The threads that ran through the session touched on ways that art can ignite an ever greater love for the natural world, how artists are part of discussions about critical issues, and the value of art to help us all dream, reimagine and shape the future.

6 people are on a stage at a festival with a colourful backdrop
From left to right: Harriet Fraser, Rob Fraser, Sarah Smout, Charlie Whinney, Kate Brundrett, Charlotte (signing). Image credit: Alex Johnston-Seymour

Our conversations followed on from many thought-provoking discussions and performances during the weekend. There were poets, musicians, writers, dancers, DJs, as well as open conversations held both on the Field Notes stage and around the campfire to explore pressing issues around environmental change.

We weren’t the only ones to come to the Field Notes stage from Cumbria. Earlier in the weekend, specialists in forests, biodiversity and ecology, including Ian Convery, took to the stage to talk about the expansion of woodlands and forests across the UK. This theme of expansion was picked up later in a panel discussion where Harriet from the PLACE Collective joined the CEO of the National Forest, a woodland creation specialist from Defra and member of the Youth Landscapers Collective to discuss the vision for a new Midlands Forest Network.

In the spirit of the festival, there was a strong sense of working together for positive change. This is in no small part ignited by the story of the National Forest, which covers 200 square miles across parts of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The area was previously dominated by coal mines and clay pits, and after these industries closed down, the idea for a new forest emerged: the first trees were planted in the late 1980s. Since then, almost 9 million trees have been planted, the landscape has been transformed, and the forest has become a rich, and highly valued part of daily life for so many of the people who live there. Timber Festival is part of the National Forest’s ethos of involving communities, and bringing people and trees together.

So, back to the PLACE Collective conversation … each person on the panel brought an object with them (listed below*), and introduced their practice and personal reflections while sharing the story behind their piece.

Questions and observations from the audience included an affirmation that scientists and artists should work together more in research and in communities, as we collectively devise ways to inspire, affect and enact change. This fits really nicely with the ethos behind the PLACE Collective where we’re always seeking ways to bring together people with different knowledge sets, and from many different backgrounds.

One question came from a young person wanting to pursue their own art practice, and looking for advice. Each person on the panel had much to share, but perhaps what was most memorable was the advice to ‘stay on your bus’ … don’t get off at other stops, or follow routes just because others are. Keep going, keep following what feels right. This relates to the Helsinki Bus Station theory outlined by photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen in 2006, but could be relevant whatever field of work you’re in – if you’re curious, read about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory here. It might inspire you!

When the panel session was over, people from the audience came up to look at the objects and talk to the artists, and the chat continued into the sunshine and the beer tents, becoming part of the gentle and colourful interweave of the festival.

Talking about young people, among the many inspirations from the festival what really stood out for us was the Youth Landscapers Collective. This group of young people from the local area has been growing over the years, taking part in forest-based activities, developing creative work and leading important conversations. Their installation for this year’s Timber Festival was all about fungal networks – and a reflection not just on what grows in the soil, but perhaps about the value of more entangled, rhizomatic thinking about all of us humans …

If you haven’t been to Timber, which is run by Wild Rumpus, find out more here:   https://timberfestival.org.uk/ 

And to find out more about the National Forest, check out the website here: https://www.nationalforest.org/

And to finish, a word from Kate Brundrett, who joined the panel. Kate is on the Advisory Board of the PLACE Collective. She’s also an artist and a wellbeing coach, and founded Studio Morland, a community-arts and wellness centre in the Eden Valley, in Cumbria.

“How can art and artists make impact? Presenting ideas that are outside of our day to day framework, to stretch our imaginations into other worldly possibilities. Allowing us to feel, to connect, to reconnect and come home to ourselves. And if the process challenges people out of their comfort zones then all the better.”


*Maker Charlie Whinney arrived with a huge heart-shaped sculpture, steam-bent oak from an off-cut of a fallen tree. Sarah Smout brought her cello, Bernard. Rob Fraser carried a tiny oak tree onto the stage, which was rescued from a woodland cut down to make way for HS2. Kate Brundrett shared a piece called SOTWO (State of the World Overwhelm). And Harriet Fraser shared a segment of poetry, stitched around a heavy rock borrowed from beneath a sycamore tree in central Cumbria.

A short glimpse of the video installation by the Youth Landscapers Collective

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