Art Therapy and Ecology 4

January 17, 2018

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Photos from Top to Bottom: Anya Gallaccio ‘That Open Space Within”, herman de vries ‘Forest Collage’ and David Nash ‘Ash Dome Drawing’

“Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the life-blood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave these processes continue.” (Andy Goldsworthy)

Why Art in Nature? The purpose of art making in nature is to experience the natural environment as an outdoor studio and to work with living art materials. It’s an opportunity to explore working with both found natural materials that make marks (i.e. mud, grass, berries, flowers, and charcoal) and to also investigate working with larger sculptural forms that evoke the idea of shelter within forest habitats. Equally, the acts of walking and collecting can be understood as important artistic practices.

Collected objects from nature can be assembled into displays where textures, colours and patterns are highlighted. Since natural materials gradually decompose photography, sketching and writing can be used to document artworks made in the forest. The nature studio offers many experiences to perceive ecology, and to structure these perspectives into a variety of artworks that will explore lines, shapes, dimensions, and patterns found in the natural world. Land Art is an intriguing form of contemporary art which works within a variety of natural environments, transforming living materials into distinct compositions. Nature is unpredictable and constantly changing – these are also the features of environmental art made outdoors within different kinds of habitats.

“I use the world as I find it…A sculpture I’ve made along the way is a sort of celebration of that place, of me being there at that time in that state of mind. It’s a record of that moment in my life.” (Richard Long)

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Photos: Andy Goldsworthy, ‘Sticks in River’ (Top) David Nash ‘Ash, Branch, Cube’ (Below)

What is Land Art? Land art is usually made in relation to a specific landscape or location, using collections of natural materials found on site. Land art can be left within the landscape, to be affected by the elements, or it can be transported into a studio space or gallery. This form of art is subject to change, it is ephemeral subject to decay and the impact of ecological processes including the effects of weather. Land Art can also incorporate walking, as a way of drawing upon the landscape. Walking artists consider forest paths to be like lines of drawing, a way of making one’s mark by foot, or taking a line for a walk. Walking artists Richard Long and Hamish Fulton use collections of words to illustrate their journeys through landscapes. Long uses the term textworks to describe the way individual words can encapsulate the essence of nature walks.

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Photos from top to bottom: Andy Goldsworthy ‘Rowan Leaves with Hole’, Hamish Fulton ‘Rock, Fall, Echo, Dust”, Chris Drury ‘Shimanto River Sphere’, and Richard Long ‘A Line Made By Walking’

I want an intimate physical connection with the earth. I must touch. I take nothing out with me in the way of tools, glue or rope, preferring to explore the natural bonds and tensions that exist within the earth. The season and weather conditions determine to a large extent what I make. I enjoy relying on the seasons to provide new materials. (Andy Goldsworthy)

What Kinds of Natural Materials can be used for Land Art? Charcoal (collected from abandoned campfires), Berries, Grass, Mud, Seed Heads, Leaves, Moss. Pine Cones, Pine Needles, Roots, Weeds, Flowers, Stones, Logs, Bark and Branches

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Photos: A Textwork by Richard Long ‘Day to Day’ (Top) and Patrick Dougherty ‘Childhood Dreams’  (Bottom)

I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and “found” tools – a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. (Andy Goldsworthy)


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Photos of Art Therapy Bundles, Made from Branches, Felt, Fibre Materials



Top Photo: Miguel Angel Blanco, ‘Library of the Forest’, nature collections in wooden “book” boxes that are journals of his walking journeys.

The idea of a book being a collection of objects that are ideas, moments of time, a landscape, and movements held within a box vessel, can be a vital medium of artistic practice within art therapy. A walk can be taken alone or accompanied by others, either can become documented as an art therapy journey that involves the surrounding habitat as living studio.  The words of thought and feeling held within the significance of objects selected, illustrate and enact a psychological quest. This is a language of wandering and finding significance in what is close at hand. The book is an installation that can be handled and read in many ways. Time is contained within the dimensions of the book’s architecture. The composition of the book, reveals itself as a structural building, a home place for an ephemeral story.

Websites for Inspiration 

  1. Green Museum The Online Museum of Environmental Art
  2. Women’s Eco Artist’s Dialog
  3. Chris Drury
  4. herman de vries 
  5. Richard Long 
  6. Hamish Fulton 
  7. Patrick Dougherty 
  8. Also Search online for Artist Anya Gallaccio

Materials and Preparation List 

Fully charged camera phone or camera for photography

Sketch book or notebook for drawing, for imprints of natural materials, creative writing, and ideas you wish to take away from the workshop

Pencils and pens, graphite, charcoal or pastels for drawing and writing in sketchbook

Tape for attaching foraged items into sketchbook

Containers or bags for foraged items. These materials can be used for artworks after the workshop.



Photos: Collections of nature by artist herman de vries



Photo: A print of a tree trunk and a drawing of a forest walk

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Photos: Ecole du cloitre Vic sur Seille, Les Photos de Marc Pouyet


Photo: Kriss MacDonald, “My Botanical Desk – Winter Nature Diary” 

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Photos: Shelters Made in a Ravensdale Forest, County Louth


Photo: Nils-Udo ‘The Nest’


Photo: Chris Drury ‘Pine Circle, Cone Sphere’

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Photo: Derek Jarman photographed by Terry O’Neill (The Guardian)

Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film director, artist, writer, stage designer and gardener. His garden journals, reflections and nature based artworks are profiled in his book Derek Jarman’s GardenWritten before his death the book crusades the proliferation of personality in every garden, rather than codification and regulation. Out of a shore composed of flint and shingle, and near a nuclear power station in Dungeness, Kent, Jarman created a gardening legacy that acts as a stage for not only his own personal experiences, but a catalyst for the pursuits of others who follow his example. An activist opposed to lawns, garden chemicals and the dictation of order, Jarman encouraged a garden’s anarchy and wild abandon. His garden was without borders and conventions, extending in all directions and inwards to meet the realities of landscapes both human and natural. His home, a restored fishing cottage, became his sanctuary and studio for forays into various forms of contemplation and artistic enterprise. The garden is still today infused with the magic of surprise. “I saw it as a therapy and a pharmacopoeia” (Derek Jarman), its essential nature to assist with the experiencing of life cycles.


Photo: Derek Jarman’s Garden

“Derek Jarman gave his garden a certain narrative; perhaps he treated it a bit like a film or theatre set. His films were visionary, eccentric, romantic and rebellious, all of which could also be said about his garden. The plants were distinct players in the action…He put wild with cultivated, made art out of rubbish and declared the garden a gallery where nature played the most important part. He sought refuge in his garden, but chose a setting with no boundaries, where everything is an edge: shingle, sea, sun, wind all shifting and changing…It is a weird and wonderful place, but in many ways humble: a small house, a tiny garden, yet the maker showed us all how wild and brilliant our own spaces can be if we’re prepared to look sympathetically at the landscape around us, to make room for the flotsam and weeds in life as much as the jewels.” (Alys Fowler, “Gardens: Planting on the Edge in Derek Jarman’s Garden”, The Guardian, September, 24, 2014


Photo Source: Gardenista


Photo Source: Kriss MacDonald, Derek Jarman’s Garden


Photo Credit: Sandra Noeth

Sandra Noeth is a dramaturge, cultural scholar and curator based in Berlin.

Her research interests include “integrity and protest in relation to the human body,” the connection between aesthetics and politics, and “bodies in bordering situations” (CREATE Ireland + Dublin Dance Festival).


Photo Credit: Siobhan Davies Dance and Dublin Dance Festival

As part of her residency with Dance Limerick and Dublin Dance Festival Sandra Noeth showcased her ideas involving movement and environments. She asked these questions: “How might physical and choreographic strategies represent, implement, legitimise and rehearse social and political action?” and “How do empathy, presence, improvisation or compositions inform the experience of borders?” (Dublin Dance Festival Programme)

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Photo Credit: The World Atlas of Street Art by Rafael Schacter. Artists: David Renault and Mathieu Tremblin

Movement is integral to art production, the making of place and composing identity in relation to social and political environments. Art therapy involves the art of movement, and can contribute to an understanding of aesthetics and politics. An examination of borders is part of art therapy – making lines demarcating personal distinctions and demonstrating the crossing-over into new areas of discernment. Art therapy can also inform protests that are both personal and socially informed.

Art therapy marks out routes of passage within a designated space, it can design sequences of movement and denote a body in motion. Compositions on the move, explorations of environment, and art influenced by context that simultaneously re-imagines space according to somatic knowledge.

The art therapy studio can also include the world-at-large.

Art therapy contributes to civic dialogue – art therapy asking complicated questions about expression and representation in civil society.


“I am currently working both as a curator as well as an academic researcher on understanding the role, status and agency of the body in bordering processes. I am looking at different experiences of borders and boundaries – national and geopolitical, architectural, material and built borders, as well as more symbolic, imagined, social, gender-related ones. They are very often negotiated through the body, through movement, physicality and performativity. And I question how the body, how movement-based strategies can inform us about these processes. How for example practical and theoretical knowledge from dance and choreography, how composition and improvisation, embodiment or somatic modes of attention, rhythm and affects might help us understand the experience of bordering but also how borders are staged, aestheticized, rehearsed, represented, and ultimately legitimised maintained or challenged”

(Sandra Noeth Quotations, from CREATE (National Development Agency for Collaborative Arts, Ireland), News/May 2017, Sandra Noeth on “Bodies, Borders and Movement” an interview with Deirdre Mulrooney)

Hands On

October 25, 2015

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IMG_1657_2 IMG_1658_2 Hand in hand, a duet of movement and an improvised collaboration prior to marking impressions upon paper. The beginning of art therapy as physical contact between service users with physical disabilities and their carers. The emphasis is upon co-creation and expressive impulses that are not pre-determined, but rather spontaneous occasions of connection. Hands that explore, caress, and evoke a silent companionship between two people who usually know each other ‘professionally’.

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A hands-on relationship that extends range and dimensions of communication, when words are not the primary means of conversation. The evocation of identities that examine each other through a range of shapes and effort qualities. The photographs along with the artworks are displayed as a way to highlight moving moments. Bringing together the sensations and fascination of touch, moving together, coming apart, and holding as experiences that allow two people to get to know each other differently. Particularly moving dimensions of relationship and coordinates possible within close proximity. The resulting documentation of the improvised hand dances are exhibited as a starting point for the next collaboration between staff and service users. The intimacy of each encounter, and the artistry of each moment is welcomed within the schedules and duties of care.

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Forest Rubbings with Wind, Charcoal Trees After a Forest Fire, Torres del Paine, Chile 

“All language proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move” (Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia)

Patagonia finds its place within endings and beginnings, it encompasses borders and edges of land that draw lines not only on maps, but within the imagination. A place where travelling to an end point evokes a new sense of beginning. In his classic book In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin pioneered digression within travel writing, as a way to entangle fact, fiction and biography. Chatwin’s travelogue meanders through different time frames, acts of conversation, and journeys through Patagonia’s geographies. Chatwin succeeded in immersing his own psychology within travelled landscapes. A kind of psychogeography where significance is gained through unknowingness, happenstance and surprise. Patagonia is both distinct and vague, ‘a theatre for restlessness’, a landscape where people are not neutral, where bleakness seizes the imagination with a “nothingness that forces the mind in on itself” (Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia).

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Forest Rubbings with Wind, Charcoal Trees After a Forest Fire, Torres del Paine, Chile

Whereas the term psychogeography originated as an urban construction (or situation), Chatwin implements the discursive meaning of the term within his travels to remoteness. Patagonia was a journey into Chatwin’s own form of fiction, an exile into lost identity and undetermined meaning. Chatwin’s journals document spontaneous encounters with displacement, the language of changing scenery and perspectives about oneself. His book is mostly about ‘interiors that are elsewheres’ a symbolic voyage where language becomes a means of navigation (Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia).

Travel journals are useful resources for art therapy, recording the circumstances of being in between known locations. These suspended times away from fixed references are impromptu negotiations with unfamiliarity. They are spontaneous chartings of endings and beginnings found within travelled landscapes. Travel diaries record passages, situations and chance encounters. Written on the move they draw on the geography of change as a psychological stimulus. The travelling journeys of restlessness, the elsewheres that beckon and manifest as marks on a page, become navigational routes between borders of experience.


Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Nicholas Shakespeare, An Introduction to In Patagonia

Merlin Coverly, Psychogeography



Miguel Angel Blanco has developed a collection of wooden boxes as a forest library, containing the findings from intentionally symbolic walks. These collections are his journals imprinted with journeys taken from the past thirty years. The Biblioteca del Bosque (Library of the Forest) is housed in the basement of his home in Madrid. Miguel’s walks are primarily taken within the Guadarrama Mountains outside of Madrid. The library as a whole is an evolving sculpture, it is also an ecology of life, documenting Miguel’s communications with nature.

His library comprises more than a thousand wooden “book-boxes” each of which is a reliquary or cabinet containing the objects and substances (snakeskin, quartz crystals, resin, elm leaf) gathered along the course of a particular walk. Each of these micro-terrains represents a completed journey; but the library itself – ever growing – is a compound pilgrimage without visible end (Robert Mcfarlane, ‘Rites of Way: Behind the Pilgrimage Revival’, The Guardian, June, 2012).




Miguel Angel Blanco, Artist Statement

The Library as sculpturing life project, is a work open to nature’s vastness, carried out with the same slowness and steadiness with which a tree grows, a symbiosis between the right angle and the biologic form. I share with oriental art the wish to achieve an organic composition, in which fullness represents substance and emptiness the circulation of vital breaths, joining in this way the finite and the infinite, like creation itself. Maybe the goal of the work could be to understand the universe’s secret language, to create a great mystery from the starting point of a piece of fern or a drop of resin. To be an echo of the ephemeral. To establish communication with the universe and receive an answer from it…

Art is experience. The simple action of walking about the forest’s paths opens the eyes to the essential, increases receptivity and tunes the senses. The walker is on the watch, on a constant alert, trying to see in the landscape more than the usual, expanding reality. The forest creates an inner state of serenity, pureness and optimism (Miguel Angel Blanco, The Forest’s Library,


The idea of a book being a collection of objects that are ideas, moments of time, landscape, and movements held within a box vessel, can be a vital medium of artistic practice within art therapy. A walk can be taken alone on accompanied by others within an art therapy journey that involves the surrounding habitat within a rite of discovery. The words of thought and feeling held within the significance of objects selected, illustrate and enact a psychological quest. This is a language of wandering and finding significance in what is close at hand. The book is an installation that can be handled and read in many ways. Time is contained within the dimensions of the book’s architecture. The composition of the book, reveals itself as a structural building, a home place for an ephemeral story.

Miguel Angel Blanco, Artist Statement

The book, ultimate tool for the transmission of knowledge, is not composed of words in my case. The language spoken is another. It is the fragment of nature capable of communicating a whole world, which words can only approach. Silent invocations. All components of my books originate in nature’s realms, even the wood of the boxes and the different papers – subtle transformation of wooden hearts – of the pages on which I draw. In fact, books have an important relationship with trees, even etymologically, for the Latin word liber (= book) also means the living part of the tree’s bark….

The box is a small recondite sanctuary, a sancta sanctorum. Sealed with glass, hermetic, to preserve its contents, it is at the same time ark, essence-container, shrine and crucible. Moss, lichen, barks, needles, pine cones, pollen, brambles, fungi, wax, roots, earth, minerals or resins are some of the materials I have collected. Materials that liberate secret images. Unfathomable abysses, deep lakes, infinite spaces, storms, creeks, fires… may open inside a small box. One may even contemplate the creation of the universe in a drop of resin. Microlandscapes. The box-book is the memory of the immemorial. But we will never be able to span the infinity of the inner dimension (Miguel Angel Blanco, The Forest’s Library,



Miguel Angel Blanco, Biblioteca del Bosque

Robert Mcfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.

The Drawing of a Journey

February 22, 2014


Photo: The Walking Piece, Matthias Sperling and Siobhan Davies Studios, London


Photo: Practice Ireland, Day Away for Artists Working with Children, Masking Tape Workshop, Map of Encounters

map = picture, sketch, design, plan, print, drawing, tracing, portrayal, depiction, projection, delineation, diagram, arrangement

Drawing upon a journey documents passages across both familiar and unfamiliar places, encountering geography, landmarks and people along the way. Tracking and marking one’s travels can become a record of activity and a personal reflection.  A map can depict investigations of personal and social spaces meeting and implicating each other. The act of mapping can also sketch out the performative aspect of walking, the interrogation of mind, body and situation through intentional rites and rituals.


Illustration: Finding a Way Around, Poetry Map, Ravensdale Forest, County Louth, Ireland

Sketches of geography can become a personal archive of walks. Combined with words they become examples of visual poetry that transcribe experiences into drawn lines of travel. The depiction of a path does not map out a destination, but portrays what you think about as you trace over a byway. Words accompany steps, and paths are the accumulation of many people’s routes through landscapes that define walking trails and a history of footsteps.


Photo: Katie Holten, It Started On the C Train

Usually I’m on the move, and I started to crochet on the subway making circular shapes that were like a drawing accompanying my journey. I collected a bundle of crochet doodles, all made from a simple chain stitch and connected them together. The bundles of crocheted ‘maps’ can be displayed and assembled in different ways (Katie Holten, It Started on the C Train, Irish Museum of Modern Art)


Photo: Letter from Poland, Photo by Clare Moloney

A pedestrian’s language can speaks about rights of way, getting lost, and finding something by chance.

Making one’s way through streets and landscape can mark time and map lines of encounter. It can involve familiarity, deviation, and wandering around in circles. The drawing of a map can be instinctual, not so much a fact, but a kind of imaginative possibility. Mapping is plotting lines of habit and discovering new situations.

Getting lost is not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind who you are, who others think you are. (Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost)


Photo: Nobutaka Aozaki, Here to There, Hand Drawn Maps of New York

Mapping journeys and drawing upon space can be an evocative way of sharing stories in art therapy. Lines marking land or noting the surfaces of pavement and urban spaces represent the meeting of identity and context. Personal maps, as part of a journal, record ordinary life and departures from the everyday. They mark out patterns of movement and spur of the moment impulses, together encompassing the diversity of an individual trying to find their way in life.


Photo: Fiona Robinson, Mapping Space


Photo: Kathy Prendergast, City Drawings, London


Katie Holten,

Walking and Art: A Blog About the Uses of Walking in Art

Walk of the Week: Walking Through Modern and Contemporary Art Practice

Karen O’Rourke, Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers

Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost