Ask Somerset’s Plants, 2019
Ask Somerset’s Plants brought the knowledge of local flora to bear on everyday human problems and dilemmas. The project was steered by the questions that Somerset audiences posed. Not questions about nature or plants, as you might expect, but about people’s own lives and human society, questions that varied from the political and societal to the deeply personal.
Fieldwork was conducted and audio recordings were made in sites across Somerset, representing the diversity of habitats in the county. In each site, artists Feral Practice and Marcus Coates were working with local plant experts to identify species and relationships between plants that would illuminate and address people’s questions.
In Shapwick Heath and West Sedgemoor, on the Somerset Levels, the artists worked with plant scientist Dr Nigel Chaffey and local wildlife guide Deon Warner. Woodland and wet heathland plants including sundew, reed mace and oak trees informed answers to problems including the impossibility of knowing the whole truth, how to stay tender in a competitive and precarious career, and how to manage your weight.
The artists explored the temperate rainforest habitat of the Quantock Hills in conversation with the charity Plantlife’s ecologist Dr Alison Smith. Here lichens, mosses, birches and ferns offered examples and inspiration for questions about how people might work together for mutual benefit despite their polarized views and entrenched positions; and how the plants might help us choose better leaders.
Among the woodlands and dramatic limestone scarps of Cheddar Gorge, the artists worked with field botanist Liz McDonnell. They discussed issues of uniqueness by talking about the ‘strange’ Autumn Crocus and the very rare Cheddar Whitebeam, and how to capture fleeting ideas via the inspiration of the hooked fruit of the Wood Avens.
IMAGES (from top)
1. Quantock Hills temperate rainforest
2. Witches Whiskers lichen
3. Barnacle Lichen
4. Shapwick Heath, Feral Practice recording with Marcus Coates, Dr Nigel Chaffey and Deon Warner
5. Shapwick Heath, Deon Warner
6. Sundew plant with dragonfly prey
7. Reedmace Plant
8. Cheddar Gorge, Marcus Coates audio recording ambient sound
9. Cheddar Whitebeams growing among other Whitebeams in Cheddar
Images by Feral Practice and Shannon Watson