Where the Beings Are
In June 2023, Lauren Saunders co-created a temporary, site-specific, biodegradable public art installation with local refugee and asylum seeker children within the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Tangle HQ/Wildlife Garden at Pearson Park.
This nature-based artwork (which has been funded by Rights Community Action and commissioned by Hull Friends of the Earth as part of the Shorelines: A Perfect Storm project) hopes to communicate how protecting green spaces helps mitigate the impacts of flooding whilst creating an intimate, inhabitable space for nature connectedness and appreciation. This is especially pertinent down Princes Avenue – where the installation is – as it should technically be underwater by 2030 (according to flood projection maps).
The 6-13 year-old children – who are accessing alternative education provision through the National Initiative for Creative Education – were told of a story “found in all the old books” about the benevolent ‘Unseen Beings’ that once roamed the area. These Beings were very good at protecting Hull from the worst of the floods. Sadly, they have lost a lot of their power because we have forgotten how to see or live thoughtfully alongside them… BUT if we remember to notice them again and offer the attention, respect and kindness they deserve then they may get their strength back and help to negotiate Hull’s floor risk once more!
The story – and artwork – is a metaphor for how the human species has largely forgotten how to ‘see’ the intrinsic value, agency and inter-connectivity of the more-than-human (whether physical or magickal). Whereas we may show care to the well-loved creatures we see often – birds and butterflies for example – why doesn’t that always extend to the wildlife we know are there but don’t ‘see’ much, or ‘see’ in a negative light? To foxes, badgers and mice? We also often fail to ‘see’ the being-ness of plants, rocks, trees, bugs, fungi, soils, waters and microbes. And despite living with serious flood risk, we devastate absorbent green spaces to build concrete jungles as we also fail to ‘see’ the consequences of our actions.
Over six sessions, the children were encouraged to explore and ‘get to know’ the site, connecting to and imagining what Beings could be living in a place like this. We discussed what was meant by the climate crisis and how they felt about it. And together we made plans about what things we could make to put in the den (a willow-and-tree woven ‘cave’ where the Beings supposedly live) to empower them, care for them, make them feel safer, or that might help facilitate human:non-human relationships… before making them from twine and natural materials found on site.
Erik Jampa Andersson, Author of ‘Unseen Beings: How We Forgot the World is More Than Human’ had this to say: “Since Hull is at very high risk of catastrophic flooding in the very near future, this installation is designed to inspire new ways of grappling with the changing climate through relational enchantment and creative mythopoeia…[Lauren helped] the kids to cultivate a deeper sense of relationship with non-human beings and to de-centre the human in discussions of climate change. Through storytelling, art, and simple acts of offering, many of the kids have come to more deeply understand that our world is full of countless kinds of beings – and to genuinely care for their welfare… To me it really epitomises the heart of what I hope to be able to inspire in my own work. The experience of enchantment is an invaluable gateway to relational care, and we really shouldn’t underestimate the value of storytelling and so-called “nature spirit” paradigms in reorienting our approach to the more-than-human world.”
The Making of the Den
Artist Lauren Saunders identified the site in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Nature Garden/Tangle HQ in December 2022. It was originally a semi-natural clearing.
Lauren returned in March 2023 with her technician to build the frame, using natural existing growth, planting willow saplings and coppicing trees found elsewhere on site.
The children from the school were invited to explore and make in response to the ‘Beings’ living in the den (which was now rich with growth) over six sessions in June 2023.
The signage for the site was then developed using reclaimed pallet wood and laser cutting processes.