Making Sense of Things by Making Things
Updated: Jun 2
Sometimes in life, it can feel that there are so many issues to 'get stuck into' that if you care deeply, your ability to see a brighter future gets obscured. Eco-distress and 'activism burnout' are shadows that often haunt my life. Sometimes it feels that no matter how much you care and 'do', it is never enough... Over the last few years, it feels as though we have been living in a 'Crisis of Crises'; Climate Crisis, Biodiversity Crisis, Cost of Living Crisis, Housing Crisis, Mental Health Crisis, and the list goes on... all of these are on top of a (hopefully) 'once in a lifetime pandemic;' as well as multiple injustices, it can be hard to feel much hope.
"Politics is extremely draining to me and nothing I ever enjoyed. But I enjoy living on this green planet, so therefore I felt like I had no choice other than taking on some responsibility for protecting her. But I don’t think it is healthy to stay there too long. Rather, I would love to see more people go that path so that we could all take turns in fighting the front lines of the earth. Our activism needs to be as sustainable as the world we are trying to create."
As well as spending time in nature one of my main joys and ways of sustaining my activism is by getting creative and using Craftivism. Wikipedia defines Craftivism as:
"... a form of activism... that is centred on practices of craft - or what has traditionally been referred to as "domestic arts". Craftivism includes but is not limited to, various forms of needlework including yarn-bombing or cross-stitch. Craftivism is a social process of collective empowerment, action, expression and negotiation. In craftivism, engaging in the social and critical discourse around the work is central to its production and dissemination."
I find Craftivism a particularly effective tool in my activism. Craftivism requires you to slow down... Sarah Corbett (the founder of the Craftivist Collective) talks about gentle protest as a way to mindfully engage with an issue, create a deeper understanding, visualise a brighter future and create a work that will engage and portray 'the message' in the most effective way.
There is a fine line between art activism and craftivism. I've been lucky that my local community have engaged with my creative communications, whether that be by using craft in my role as Parish Councillor/Parish Nature Warden or in the wider Devon Wildland Initiative.
I tend to use needlecraft and woodcraft in my projects as well as recycled materials which can in themselves tell a story. My favourite craft is Pyrography where wielding a pen that is heated to 400-550 degrees C requires me to really 'be in the moment', as well as having an intimate observation of the grain of the wood and how the species of tree, really influences the process and the finished result. The process of reflection and creation is now something I'm hoping to use in my academic studies where the process is becoming as important as the end result.
Here are some examples of the use of craft in my activism and communications in the last couple of years.
Inspired by a project in Dorset, every hedgehog killed on the parish's roads was marked using a Ghost Hedgehog. The wood was reused from a previous building project. The Ghost Hedgehogs really created a conversation about how our hedgehogs are in decline and how people can help them. It also alarmed people about the sheer number of hedgehogs killed in one 'season'.
As well as placing a Ghost Hedgehog, each casualty was logged on the Big Hedgehog Map.
I have to admit I was beginning to get a bit depressed at the prospect of making yet another Ghost Hedgehog, but it was a really fascinating way of logging where the hedgehogs were crossing.
People have started noticing the plight of the parish hedgehogs and together with the Ghost Hedgehog campaign as well as articles in the local parish news, Facebook and newsletters residents are taking action to help this beloved species.
Using the template for the Ghost Hedgehogs I decided to make some Hedgehog Highway holes. The hole needed to be a minimum 13cm x 13cm As you can see 5 Hedgehog Highway holes initially went out (followed by several more) which helped create space for hedgehogs to move through the local village. This was a much more uplifting project!
Monsty- The Monster Drink Can Monster
Doing litter picks throughout the parish it became very obvious that Monster Drink cans were a particular problem, with 76 being collected in just 2 months. I decided to save a few and make the Monster Drink Can Monster which one of the local kids named 'Monsty'. I was particularly keen for people to start noticing litter and as a rural parish with a very fast B-road litter picking is pretty hazardous! But thanks to Stella (see below) and our local residents picking up litter near their properties, the culprit has seemingly got the message and litter has reduced (for the moment, at least)!
Stella- The Beer Can Fairy
Milk Shed Nature Signs
Amphibians and Reptiles
School Sensory Garden
A space at the local school was revamped and a sensory garden was created for the children to use as an outside space for learning and a place to relax for the teachers. The theme was based on the book 'A Song of Gladness' by Michael Morpurpgo and Emily Gravett which reflects on the Covid19 pandemic and how a greater connection to nature can foster new hope for a brighter future. The wildlife-friendly planting was inspired by advice from the RHS, Thrive and the Sensory Trust who also had a great resource of signage. As Monsty had become a bit of a local celebrity one of the teachers asked me to co-create a new 'Rubbish Pupil' with the children and they were encouraged to bring in some plastic bottles and together with an old hanging basket and some bubble wrap; Violet the Rubbish Pupil was born. Spending time with the children and talking about the need to take action to reduce litter and connect to nature was really good fun and rewarding.
A slice of a wind-blown birch tree was pyrographed with the Ego/Eco diagrams. I use this piece in my nature connection sessions.
Hopefully, by sharing these examples, others might be inspired to use creative methods.