With the Anthropocene, our relationship with nature has shifted in an irreversible way. Local activities now have a global impact. Rapid climate change, the irreversible dwindling of species and habitats threaten everyone, including the well-being of all humans, without any adequate management of the limited resources having been achieved so far.
The foundation AlltagForschungKunst has developed the Inventive Expeditions to enable the collaboration of civil society, art and science on issues of species extinction and climate catastrophe, to open up new fields of research and practical action and to initiate transformation. As a specific Citizen Science approach, it is an impulse into action.
With the format of the Inventive Expeditions, people from civil society, science and art are invited to embark on small independent expeditions into their supposedly familiar environment and to experience it with a new, curious, roving – focused perception. In doing so, they take with them “in the back of their minds” the questions of climate catastrophe, species extinction, biodiversity, and – as a focal point – what trees and woody plants have to say about it.
This direct, physical-movement-oriented format is intended – in keeping with Alexander von Humboldt-, i.e. co-creative, work on strategies and designs for the future of city districts as living spaces.
In this way, the approach makes use of the insight, which has been dealt with for a long, long time, especially in philosophy, sociology and literature, that walking as a rhythmic movement can promote intuitive insight, cognition, empathy, transformation and ideas.
A cultural laboratory of the future, located in the tree nursery district in Berlin Treptow in collaboration with the Späth Arboretum begins with these expeditions.
The coronavirus prevented the process, which was conceived in this way. Instead, the first step was a digitally formulated invitation to physically carry out the expeditions in real life and to record and communicate the experiences textually and possibly in sketches. A difficult undertaking to translate a profoundly immediate physical approach. But it succeeded and had some advantages of its own.
60 participants made the expeditions in very different parts of Germany and in different countries and reported on them.
Questions and uncertainties are the most striking thread running through the expedition reports. The contributions are peppered with questions. Participantsask themselves questions about the nature of trees, their importance to the ecosystem, and their significance to humans. They wonder about the impact humans have on trees and how that impact is visible. In spring, you wonder if climate change is already causing visible damage, how it can be distinguished from the ordinary ravages of time, and how it can be counteracted. Later in the summer, the questions become more urgent.
Many participants acknowledge their uncertainty, about trees in general and about the effects of climate change and how to recognize its effects on trees and further more how to deal with uncertainty.
Participants describe the condition of trees and relate it to given environmental factors, they describe the presence and absence of species, they note traces of human impact and the interaction of humans and trees. Some of the participants make poetic descriptions of the trees, forests and of the atmosphere. They notice their feelings, there are childhood memories, events, euphoric moments, surprises, thoughts about weather, seasons or about other people.
The participants observe the trees closely and record them in drawings and photographs. Some meticulously document damage, others depict atmospheres and beauty of particular situations; often the participants’ questions arise from this documentation. The representations transform from a purpose to a means. It was only through the graphic (sometimes photographic) recording, which demands focused attention on specific details, that unexpected insights emerged for the participants:
“I’ve never actually looked up before, when I was walking along here it occurred to me that …” 46 Some drawings are precise documentations in the tradition of botanists. At the same time, a delight in beauty runs through the depictions, and for all the drama, there is a pointing beyond what is being depicted.
People express themselves very emotionally, describing their affection for trees and their concern and sadness about the consequences of climate change. Trees are a topic of the heart!
Few ideas are expressed, while many participants wonder how trees can be helped. Some findings raise questions about ideas.
For children, it seems clearer: Invent new trees and build tree houses high up in the trees.
Participants provide feedback on what effect the task and approach has had on them. Some note a lasting awareness of the topic, thoughtfulness, and a desire to delve deeper into the topic. Some repeat their expeditions. There is feedback such as “I can’t help looking at trees now” or “my view has completely changed.” It becomes clear that the approach provides a framework in which participants can become co-players. A group of students of biology of the Humboldt University Berlin (Prof. Dr. Susann Wicke) made prototypical the imagined course. Beginning with an inventive expedition through the Späth Arboretum, a lively exchange followed with many questions. With astonishment they noticed how they could perceive much more in the following, now guided expedition, and how their relationship to nature and joy in observing increased.