Land Body Ecologies Festival at Wellcome Collection: the UK’s first festival exploring Solastalgia
Press release 15 May 2023
A major festival exploring the relationship between mental health and environmental change takes place at Wellcome Collection in June 2023. Over four days the festival fills five floors of Wellcome Collection with free art installations, workshops, talks, films, and performances. This sensory, communal, and reflective sharing is the culmination of two years of exploration by Land Body Ecologies, a collective of human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists, academics, and artists. The festival is produced by Unbox Cultural Futures and Invisible Flock.
Wellcome Collection is a free museum exploring health and human experience. Land Body Ecologies is a global transdisciplinary research network and the first international residents of The Wellcome Hub. Land Body Ecologies developed their two-year residency to explore the relationship between mental health and ecosystem health, and understand experiences of Solastalgia.
Solastalgia is an emerging concept developed to give greater meaning to the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment. Through the lens of Solastalgia, the project aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma of marginalised, Indigenous or land-dependent communities.
At the heart of the project are Indigenous and land-dependent communities including the Ogiek in Kenya, the Batwa in Uganda, the Pgak’yau (Karen) in Northern Thailand, the Sámi across the wider Arctic region, as well as communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National Park in India, communities affected by the damming of rivers in Northern Finland.
Sylvia Kokunda, CEO of Action for Batwa Empowerment Group (ABEG) and a member of the Batwa community in Uganda said: “Storytelling keeps one focused on one’s culture and leaves us with lived memories. It is also a tool for transferring the knowledge to the coming generation and can work as an advocacy tool when shared with people. Sharing Batwa cultural practices like weaving materials we used in the forest is an indication of how one's culture is and should be part and parcel of an individual. It makes us proud of our culture as Batwa.”
Land Body Ecologies Festival is an ambitious and collaborative event encompassing sound, touch, taste, and vision over four days. The festival probes the deep interconnections of the health of the earth and our wellbeing, connecting global local communities, thought leaders, and artists, disseminating 'the language of place.’ Stories from people and communities experiencing and processing Solastalgia are shared, with the hope for a collective and mindful exploration into the environment and mental health.
Babitha George, Director of Quicksand said: “For the last two years we listened to people and their experiences, and we also listened to the place and the landscape and the ecologies around ourselves. We hope to co-create a vibrant space to immerse in this complex tapestry of entanglements through the festival.”
The festival includes multiple sound and art installations. Sámi artists Outi Pieski and Jenni Laiti present ‘Ovdavázzit - Forewalkers’ an ancient and futuristic portal and path of thirty freestanding body-height Sámi walking sticks at the main entrance to Wellcome Collection. The artwork is about indigenous knowledge, ancestral technology, traditional crafts, and sovereignty. The work signals how life and mobility are based on a sustainable co-existence with the needs of the land.
Site-specific installation ‘Boalno - May - 2022’ in the Wellcome Collection Reading Room is a 3D sonic work creating the impression of being surrounded by three thousand Reindeer circling together.
Artist collective Invisible Flock with master potter Allah Jurriro and Faqir Zulfiqar, the only known artist to play the borindo, presents ‘Microtonal.’ This interactive sound installation and sculpture comprises over two hundred borindos, which are ancient hand thrown pots. Microtonal is an off-site installation at The Crypt Gallery, capturing sounds and recreating them in soothing soundscapes. It won the Karachi Biennale Jury Prize in 2022 and is presented in the UK for the first time. Zulfiqar will perform with the borindo alongside a Q&A with artist Ben Eaton.
‘Virran Mukana’ by award-winning sound artist Chris Watson invites audiences to follow the current of Finland’s longest river the Kemi, as its sound travels through Wellcome Collection’s stairways. From ice fracturing under the river’s surface to the growl of hydroelectric turbines, the work uses the sound of the landscape to evoke our changing ecosystem.
Communal activities and workshops provide conversation spaces for uncovering histories through traditional Batwa and Ogiek storytelling, and weaving, food knowledge and cooking. Members of the Pgak’yau (Karen) in Northern Thailand host workshops on making traditional snacks like Meitau, recreating a Thai coffee ceremony, and preparing a meal together while sharing the seven stages of the Pgak’yau rotational farming practices.
‘Stories of Entanglement’ is a multi-layered exhibition that provides an opportunity to deep dive into the transdisciplinary research framework of the Land Body Ecologies project. Stories, sounds, objects, images, and expressions collected over the course of the project examine the impact of environmental change on the participating Indigenous and land-dependent communities.
A series of films explores the experiences of marginalised communities in different parts of the world and includes ‘The Road to Kuthriyar’ (2021) directed by Bharat Mirle. It tells the story of Dhruv, a wildlife researcher from the city whose worldview is transformed when he enlists the help of Dorai, a tribe member guide to help him map a remote wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu.
Performances include 'The End of This World' by Jenni Laiti who asks what we should take with us to the next world. Based on the artist’s ‘End of The World’ diary the performance explores the importance of coming together to process and grieve collective trauma and loss, set against a film of the Arctic landscape.
Conversations, panel talks and breakout spaces create opportunities for deeper exchanges within the festival following multiple thematics across Land Body Ecologies work, from newly named ‘Land-Based Violence’ to understandings of intergenerational trauma centred around stories from communities who are living these experiences. Dialogues include Biologist Nishant Srinivasaiah’s ‘Elephant Diaries’ which shares compelling stories from years of studying the behaviour of elephants in the forests of South India, expanding the reflections about environmental change and wellbeing onto animals.
Victoria Pratt, Director of Invisible Flock said: “This entanglement between land, humans, changing environments, mental health and land use is marked throughout this festival by the artists’ works alongside exceptional thinkers and makers and by bringing in people to share this with. All of us are looking forward to a sensory, soulful, and shared experience in those four days.”
Melanie Keen, Director of Wellcome Collection said: "At Wellcome Collection, everyone's experience of health matters. Land Body Ecologies is showing us how when the land is sick, then we get sick. This project and the festival give us an opportunity to hear from Indigenous or land-dependent communities experiencing the deeply impactful effects of land trauma, land justice and climate change through participation and sharing. We can’t wait to welcome everyone to Wellcome Collection, for this unique and timely gathering.”
Land Body Ecologies Festival is at Wellcome Collection from 22 – 25 June and is free to visit and attend events. For more information and to book specific events visit www.wellcomecollection.org.
Wellcome Collection’s exhibitions Being Human, Milk, and Genetic Automata will also be open to visit and are free.
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Editor's notes available on request.