“Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t–and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
In 2012, still fairly new in Sweden, I volunteered in a nature connection project called Ut i Malmö. I wanted to find out more about where I was living, the lie of the land, listen to the sounds of nature, even if I didn’t know the name of anything much. I had the good fortune to host a creative workshop with nature educator Kajsa Öberg.
We focused on the different senses, like eating nettle soup or being led blindfolded to a tree, and then finding the same tree again with our eyes open. I introduced the group to Land Art and artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Miha Brinovec.
We finished up by creating some inspiring works of art.
Feeling empowered by this new and positive way of being in nature, I continued to feel the need to learn more about the place I was living in. So in 2013 and 2014 I took a course in outdoor learning, run by the National Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education, at Linköping University and taught by educational experts from Miljöverkstaden, an environmental learning centre and Fredriksdal Museums and Gardens, both in Helsingborg, Sweden.
The course and challenged me in many ways: I am not a native speaker of Swedish. I am not a teacher in a Swedish school. I am not any kind of “nature expert”.
But I do have a sense of wonder.
The course ran for a year and we learnt about learning outside, about stretching out over our own boundaries and trying out unexpected things – like making a rope, acting a play about photosynthesis with lots of running and fetching, mixing up paints from plants, playing some old-fashioned playground games, putting on waders to look at marine life, learning about soil composition by panning it like Gold Rush miners of old.
I received a great deal of encouragement to develop my own ideas about art, nature and the specific practices of land art, which I developed into a series of workshops in Malmö. Some of the themes I investigated with my group were shapes and life forms. I started a journey through art and nature that I continue to document in my Swedish-language blog Konst i naturen.
In February 2015 it was time to catch up with former classmates and meet other students from earlier courses. Nature educators Ingemar Nyman and Klas Nyberg organised a class reunion at the Miljöverkstaden environmental centre, with a few added extras. We got to know Inger Edforss Fuchs, who is project manager of the VASS research project at the Västra Ramlösa school in Helsingborg. VASS stands for “The Virtual World Meets the Authentic World in Sensuous and Integrated Learning” and is financed by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation.
The project’s aim is to research and test ways of combining outdoor educational practices with ICT technology. Similar work is being carried out in other countries, here is an informative blog about outdoor ICT from teachers in my hometown of Falkirk in Scotland. And another one about using QR codes for outdoor learning.
So what did we do during our class reunion? We went outside of course, to learn and to play. Our activity was a kind of ICT-aided treasure hunt. Before we arrived we had all received an image – to be used on a smartphone or tablet – of a map showing a trail through the park. Working in small groups, we found our way to the five different points on the map.
There we had to choose one of the five tasks on our list that most suited that particular place. We were to find and photograph, for example:
– a cloud that looks like an animal.
Each group was free to choose the task that they thought most suited that particular place. Finally we sent the photographs by email to Ingemar and returned Miljöverkstaden. There he presented the images to the whole group and we had to guess which task the image represented.
Here are a few more examples.
To be honest, I had been rather sceptical about using ICT in outdoor learning. I find it very restful – and liberating – to get outside and switch everything off. Yet I realised that in this activity, the ICT element was guiding us, not leading. A digital map is not so different from a paper one.
I regularly take photographs of outside learning projects, and this is fact the only way to document land art projects, which are, in their very essence, transient. So again, my boundaries were stretched, and again, I was inspired by a group of interested and interesting people. I’m looking forward to the next class reunion.
I’ll be writing more blog posts on my land art projects. Watch this space!