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