Refugium WA: crafting connection through plant-relating arts-science experiences of urban ecology

  • Tanja Beer University of Melbourne
  • Cristina Hernandez Santin Melbourne School of Design University of Melbourne
Keywords: craft, sustainability, arts-science communication, flow, vegetal being


Various platforms have demonstrated the value of hands-on activities – such as community gardening and crafting – in making meaningful connections and collective identities for a sustainable and resilient future. In his seminal book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how these activities can be an opportunity to engage with ‘flow’ – a highly focused mental state that increases awareness, connectivity and well-being. In Through Vegetal Being (2016), philosophers Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder also argue that it is through ‘vegetal’ (or plant relating) activities in particular (e.g. touching and smelling plants), that our relations with the more-than-human world can be reignited. Drawing upon these publications and others, this paper explores how combining these two modes of thought – to enable ‘flow’ through shared ‘vegetal’ or plant-based activities – may assist communities in gaining a greater awareness of and connection to sustainability. The potential of plant-based creative activities are examined through a recent, practice-led, arts-science research project (Refugium WA, Australia 2017), which used scientific knowledge and ‘vegetal’ or ‘botanical’ crafting as a way of engaging people in biodiversity issues. The project employed the community in creating mini native plant- sculptures which were temporally installed at the State Library of Western Australia. Indication of flow, increased nature-connection and biodiversity understanding were explored through gathering observations of the participants, pre- and post-activity surveys and discussions. The research sought to examine the capacity for vegetal- crafting activities to lead to new modes of arts-science communication that connect people to the importance of biodiversity in urban spaces.

Author Biographies

Tanja Beer, University of Melbourne

Dr Tanja Beer is an award winning ecological designer, community artist and Academic Fellow in Performance Design and Sustainability (Ecoscenography) at the Melbourne School of Design (University of Melbourne, Australia). She has more than 15 years professional experience, including creating designs for a variety of theatre companies, venues and festivals across the globe. Since 2011, Tanja has been focused on the development of transdisciplinary ecological arts practices. Her most significant work is The Living Stage, a global initiative that combines stage design, permaculture and community engagement to create recyclable, biodegradable and edible performance spaces. Also see:

Cris Hernandez Santin obtained her Master of Environment at the University of Melbourne, Australia and is a trained ecologist with a Bachelor of Biology, Universidad de las Americas (Mexico). She has extensive experience within Landscape and Participatory Design and has recently specialised in sustainable cities. She is currently researching the complexity of integrating design disciplines with ecological science through Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design – a project supported by design experts at The University of Melbourne, ecology experts of RMIT and the United Nations Global Compact–Cities Programme. She continues her journey in practice and research and continues to seek out strategies to integrate nature within cities.

Cristina Hernandez Santin, Melbourne School of Design University of Melbourne
Research Assistant Thrive Research HubMelbourne School of Design University of Melbourne


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