Study event review: Arts & environment. Part 1. - The Open College of the Arts
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Study event review: Arts & environment. Part 1.

Recently we had our first Arts & Environment weekend of 2019. We ran two very different workshop / events, the first to Down House in Kent on Saturday and the other on Sunday to the South London Botanical Institute near Tulse Hill, South London. These events are open to students form any discipline who has an interest in place, ecology and climate change. Some students are ‘attending’ these events remotely by using a remote event resource pack (more on this below).

Saturday 27 April. Visit to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin.

Down house is the home of Charles Darwin where he lived with his family for over forty years, it has a unique place in the history of science and evolution. Darwin made his home a laboratory for the close observation of nature with many experiments taking place in the garden, glasshouse and often lasting years. We posed a question ‘What is a studio? We thought about about how Darwin used drawing as a thinking tool and how he made use of meticulous close observation. It was fascinating to see the drawing he made whilst working out the theory of evolution.

Zoomable version at Darwin-online here
We explored his use of the ‘Thinking Path’ (a circular walk in his garden) as a way to get creative ideas, and discussed how this related to our own practice.

Here we are looking at his Wormstone – a simple experiment that took place in the north-west corner of the lawn where a circular stone slab was laid onto the soil. Darwin’s son Horace developed the ‘Wormstone’ in order to measure the movement of soil displaced by the action of worms underneath. He eventually deduced that the stone sank two millimetres a year, the actual notebook showing meticulous data entries was on display in the house, Darwin’s commitment to these experiments is impressive and the last book he wrote with the fantastic title: ‘The Formation Of Vegetable Mould Through The Actions Of Worms,- with observations on their habits’ it was a best seller and out sold the Origin Of Species. In Darwin’s view, the “insignificant” was the foundation of much greater phenomena and how right he was given that today soils across the globe are degraded and once again we are looking to these insignificant creatures beneath our feet to help us to restore and heal the land.
Kristina the senior gardener, was very helpful and generous with her knowledge showing us round Darwin’s garden. Here she is explaining how Darwin observed heterostyled flowers. She sketched the Primula seed bearing pistil and stamen to illustrate how this worked.

If you want to get a sense of the space and venue of Darwin’s home, Down House you can watch this YouTube clip

In our discussions at Down House, student Stefan Schaffeld suggested we look at Ernst Haeckel’s prints.

Ernst Haeckel. Image Source:

In our discussion about trial and error and finding the right working conditions to be able to experiment as part of the creative process, OCA student Bernadette summed it up nicely, “Lets set out to make loads of mistakes.”
OCA student, Stefan Schaffeld has written up his experience of the study weekend in more detail on his log here.
(The next blog post covers South London Botanical Institute.)

Forthcoming E-meet (online group discussion) info:

These visits are part of a program of Art & Environment visits taking the context of climate change as a backdrop for explorations of art, design and ecology, environment and nature. If you would like to join us online for a 1 hour discussion at the end of May, to explore some of these ideas further and share individual responses, please follow the doodle link to register. A pilot resource pack is available to enable students who do not attend a chance to engage with the visit experience at a distance. Please request it from

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Posted by author: Dan Robinson
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3 thoughts on “Study event review: Arts & environment. Part 1.

  • Thanks Catherine. The time with the most votes for the E-meet is Wednesday 29th May 6-7pm GMT. We’ll be using Zoom. Joining instructions to follow – hope you can make it!

  • I look forward to the e-meet, particularly to hear what you decided a studio was. I love the work of Ernst Haeckel but sadly, the zoomable images don’t zoom. I have a flavour of what he did which is very inspiring.

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