From July – November 2021, I was commissioned by Knowle West Media Centre as one of four commissioned artists for their Come Together programme. The hybrid project aimed to explore, as we move out of lockdowns, how we can create the shared spaces and experiences we need both in person and digitally in order to connect and come together.
As part of the programme, I worked closely with Knowle West community members to create hybrid experiences that connect local marginalised people with the already existing network of local outdoor groups, while illustratively sharing the stories of local residents who take part.
By collaborating with a local community walking guide, I facilitated nature-inspired workshops that used the mediums of mindful soundscapes, disposable photographs, reflective discussions and guided nature walks / dedicated pause times. It allowed people to find moments of joy and adventure in the everyday while also opening up the space for reflective discussions.
During my Come Together hybrid experiences, in-person and virtual attendees took film photographs of different things in their surroundings using prompts I had provided, where in between each photography prompt we would come back as a group and share stories and memories relating to nature.
The idea being that we didn’t want to focus too much on capturing the ‘perfect’ photo, but more about the act of looking closely, and visioning a space for ourselves to explore and go on our own mini adventures. With the questions allowing us to come together as a group and share stories and memories in a campfire conversation.
With the majority of virtual attendees identifying with a disability or experiencing heightened isolation, strong feedback praised these workshops for the opportunity to reimagine their homes in a playfully way while providing a much-needed escape and adventure.
Using the photographs captured by the participants, I later created collage designs that were presented at the final showcase. These were inspired by my ‘Naturtraits’ style, which distinctly illustrates the connection between humans and nature through collaging silhouettes. During this showcase, past and new attendees were invited to create their own collages while also sharing memories in nature and addressing the various barriers their community faces.
As with any community project I deliver, it’s paramount that the legacy is beyond me. By the end of the project, we were able to build local residents’ personal network of nature groups and like-minded individuals as well as their knowledge of their local outdoor areas, where even those who had lived in the area their whole lives were exposed to numerous local nature reserves and outdoor collectives unknown to them. My final showcase was the most attended by local people – a reflection of how much it resonated.
MAIA Group, a multidisciplinary arts production and development agency, was a partner organisation for the Come Together programme. I visited their artist residency house, The Yard, in Birmingham late November to share learnings from my nature-inspired hybrid experience project and explore how it could be expanded to their diverse community.
This is part of my desire to ongoingly use my creative practice to empower marginalised people to be more self-sustaining and expand their own personal relationships with the outdoors despite the ongoing barriers we face, as a way to embrace the multi-facet value it offers and how we can work together to protect it.
In need of some rest? Listen below to the mindfulness soundscape created by Emma Blake Morsi, which was played at the start of all her hybrid experiences and showcase.
Photography by Ibi Feher. Collages by Emma Blake Morsi.