In addition to the first workshop, I wanted to create something for the children to take home for the 2 week spring break. For the 5 week-long workshop, we will be working with cedar as a natural material. I wanted to the children to return to the workshop after spring break with the idea that this natural material is gifted from a living non-human collaborator.
I created these packages for them to discover who this non-living collaborator is by filling them with: cedar back (we will use for dyeing, paper-making), cedar inner bark (we will be using for weaving, cedar paper), cedar wood and cedar essential oil that was gifted to me from someone that made it from the western red cedars of BC. These were all clues for the children to discover what we will be working with, and they were instructed to come back to the next class with something to share from this tree.
“Today many of us live indoor lives, disconnected from the natural world as never before. And yet nature remains deeply ingrained in our language, culture and consciousness” Jones (Losing Eden 2020)
As I immersed myself in the planning of this workshop, the idea of working with natural materiality took on a much higher level of importance. If I am to be using the materials found in nature, I want to do so in a way that acknowledges that taking, and that I in turn need to be giving back. When I began to explore nature as a way to connect to place, or a way to use the materials found around me for my practice, the idea of reciprocity was not high on my list. It was present, but I had no fixed method for transferring these ideas into a method of teaching others. Now that I am working with the children on Saltspring Island, I find myself needing to educate myself while simultaneously teaching others.
Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of Indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
As I read Article 29, sections both (d) and (e) I am reminded of the importance of these concepts when developing the workshop. Especially here on the west coast, and in Canada, where a discrimination and tension exists among different groups, I feel that my design practice can assist in a small way through the methods of workshop and play. Through this workshop and play, I can create an environment of appreciation for nature and Indigenous ways of knowing through the explorations of natural materiality and design. As I did deeper in my own practice alongside these guides, I am influenced and informed by the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer.
If our first response is gratitude, then our second is reciprocity: to give a gift in return. What could I give these plants in return for their generosity? It could be a direct response, like weeding or water or a song of thanks that sends appreciation out on the wind. Or indirect, like donating to my local land trust so that more habitat for the gift givers will be saved, or making art that invites others into the web of reciprocity. Kimmerer (2020)
Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity
For my workshop, I am exploring the use of natural materiality with children. Because we are focusing on the cedar, it was important for me to go into this process with the concept of co-collaboration with nature versus extracting resources for use from nature. In a timely way, after I had been examining this on my own, I was informed by a reading by Robin Wall Kimmerer, ‘The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance’. In this article Kimmerer discusses the shift that can take place when we begin to think of things from nature as gifts rather than resource.
The children’s school is situated on 55 acres of land, and their outdoor play is in a forest. They know this forest well, and I wanted to take this opportunity of learning from them in place-based approach. Did they already have relationships with the trees around them? Were there trees that we more special to them than the rest? If so, could I use these relationships to inform the workshop (and myself) to the natural materials that we would be using?
For me, I wanted to incorporate the act of gifting in a way that fits the age-groups I am working with. I wanted to explore the possibility of a shift in thinking that could take place, and see if the we would start to see the forest around us not as resource, not as plant, but as a non-human living collaborator. In many Indigenous cultures, tobacco is gifted as an act of gratitude when using a plant or animal. But I am not Indigenous, and it is not my role as a settler to pass on this knowledge. Instead, I want to find a way of expressing a similar passage of thought to the kids. Would this simple act of giving change the way a child looks at the chosen tree? Would this shift then be put forward in the workshop with the materials gifted by the cedar tree and used in our workshop of craft and design?
I began the conversation about how in my practice I work with natural materiality and opened the space for the children to share other examples of natural materials. I then talked about how I see these materials (and nature) as a co-designer and that I see the materials I use as gifts, and therefore want to gift back. We then talked about the land, and the trees at the school. Each child then picked a tree that they were grateful for and sat with it.
“Gratitude is so much more than a polite thank you. It is the thread that connects us in a deep relationship, simultaneously physical and spiritual.” Kimmerer (2020)
They were then given ceramics dishes to circle the tree that they had chosen. Once the tree had been circled with these dishes, the children walked through the forest gathering ‘gifts’ for the tree and placed them in each dish. By the end, there were over 200 bowls circling trees, filled with gifts. The older group was then given journals, and they sat with their tree and wrote down why they chose it. The younger group painted a map of their trees, and also sat with their trees while I poured them bowls of tea. At the end we came back together and each group shared our thoughts. The forest was a magical space to walk through after the workshop, and as you walked, you came upon trees circled with gifts.
“I found a tree that has long been special to me. I’ve hidden behind it, I’ve climbed it, etc, etc. Too many people take from nature without paying tribute so I formed bowls around the tree base and put things of nature them to give back rather than take.”– collaborator
I picked this tree because it’s small and I feel like people or things get judged for it. It’s twisty and turny like a mind. It’s still growing so it still has a long life. It has many branches so it could be a good home (for) animals and plants. It’s tall tuching (sp) the sky, that is why I picked it.” -collaborator
Can I design in a way that fosters connection with natural materiality in a collaborative space of gratitude and reciprocity? As I set out to begin this workshop of working with cedar in a variety of ways, it is important to address this question first and foremost. Can doing initial activities such as these inform the children in this way? How can I also develop my practice to honour the ties with our non-human living co-designers?
“When we speak of these not as things or products or commodities, but as gifts, the whole relationship changes.” Kimmerer (2020)
As I said goodbye to the children for the afternoon, as they sprinted away towards parent pick-ups and bicycles, I was left with a space of reflection that surprised me as it caught my breath. Aside from the beautiful moments of reflection, the workshop held also a hectic energy within the tight time frame we had together. We live in a world that moves so fast and children, as they assimilate to this pace we have created for them, seem to be able to move even faster. For me, one of my favourite times of this workshop was the end, when I could wander through the forest, taking photographs and experiencing the creativity that the children had left in their wake. Trees circled with bowls, a pencil forgotten in the woods.
I was joined during this time by one of the children, and it was during this quiet walk, this quality time of simple conversation that I feel a true connection within the workshop was made. We talked about his music, my photography, and the tree that he has picked and why. He led me to another tree, the one that “he knew everyone would go to right away” and about the friendship he has with my daughter. It was in these moments of conversation, that I saw more clearly how connecting with nature can also connect us together. So beautiful, this energy of gratitude and reciprocity, and how it can continue to bounce back and forth, back and forth.
I want to live in a society where the currency of exchange is gratitude and the infinitely renewable resource of kindness, which multiplies every time it is shared rather than depreciating with use. Kimmerer (2020)
A personal investigation of object and artifact and its role in connecting to home and place.
There is a point to a design practice, when I think we all establish a boundary of how much we share of ourselves and our lives. Yet it is those very experiences, the ones where we become vulnerable to life, that make us strong designers. Whether that vulnerability it is to others, to ourselves, or to the ethereal workings of thought, that openness gives ways to a greater understanding of the world around us.
My brother has long suffered with addiction and mental health issues, and during an attempted visit at the beginning of this year, I ended up needing to take him the the hospital. This was his second time he needed hospitalization in three days. I witnessed active prejudice and stigma against him, and the treatment he received was rough and un-compassionate. I wasn’t able to gain access as a visitor, was having a difficult time getting information from staff, and was trying to find a way to bring him some peace and get him to stay where he was safe.
My brother is an avid bird-watcher and so I thought that bringing him a book of birds would ease some of his anxiety and he would also know I was thinking of him. Sadly, they never gave him the book and he was later transferred to a hospital in Victoria without informing me. I took the book back from the hospital, now with a stamp of the stigma and poor treatment of a vulnerable person I loved. My attempt of a small comfort was now labeled “patient transferred, unknown sender” in a brown paper bag.
I returned to my studio and began to dismantle the book. Carefully, deliberately removing bindings and glue, I took each page apart until I was surrounded by sheets of birds. The act of dismantling to begin again with something new, to redefine the object, and to exert some energy and emotions.
I began to fold the pages into birds, initially as an act of helplessness, then meditation, and as time went on, a series of small blessings for my brother to find his way home safely. The act of making became a form of healing and processing my emotions. It was a form of communication both to myself and to my brother.
I was reminded of the pigeons I used to watch from my balcony in Sweden. Grey iridescence, they moved through the sky, circling back and forth, back and forth until the found their way home. In a situation that felt out of my hands, each little pigeon I folded became a blessing for my brother, sick and lost within himself, to find his own way too.
It was within this act of making, these small transformations of shapes before me, that I began to realize that in my attempt to connect artifact to home, I had begun a conversation with the materials before me. That the act of making had become multifaceted. It had become an act of meditation, of conjuring up past memories, and as a way to connect both to myself and to my brother. There was a heightened significance to my material, and this connection, this communication was what gave this act meaning.
What began as an investigation of object and artifact and its role in connecting to home and place gradually developed into something much more. As a designer and artist, I took the act of something painful and personal and put my energy into the materials and act of making. It became a source of healing. By placing significance on the object and the act of care that was deemed insignificant by the healthcare system, I was able to process some pain and helplessness that I felt in the experience of being a sibling of someone with addiction navigating help and support.
I was born Angela Dione Narynski. When I was 20 I sought to change my name to honour my maternal ties.
At first I thought Angela Dione Noone, my mother’s maiden name, but that also was tied to the last name ofher father. Then I thought Angela Dione Devlin, a name that honoured my grandmother’s maiden name, her father’s name.
I quickly realized that as a patriarchal society, as far back as I could go, I would only receive the last name of the father. I then decided to instead drop the patriarchal namesake, and became Angela Dione.
As a study of my maternal ties, I read aloud a poem of my mother’s and wrote a response
The concept of home studio during the pandemic takes on a layered meaning. For many of us in this cohort, “home” is something that we are creating in our current space of transit. For myself, I moved into my home last month, and am adjusting to returning to a country, grounding a space for my child, and creating a productive studio environment during an online program.
I often have my studio practice separate from my home life, and finding the balance of creative drive and focus in a space that also requires me to be a mother has been a practice of role shifting and intention making.
For this action, I wanted to look beyond my screen, and place myself away from my desk to share what I have created for myself beyond my computer. In this cyber context, we often see each other for what is behind us in our meeting space, but rarely can we share what we ourselves are looking at during these sessions.
A lost connection.
And as I embark on a study of nature immersion and
design, I am reminded of how removed I may be and
that the first steps need to be a retracing of a
I begin to walk.
I speak of my design practice as one that embarks on
connection with nature, in advocacy for children,
yet I am feeling the loss of connection with others,
and have strayed from my inner child in the
responsibilities of the everyday.
I went on a walk and I came upon a tree.
She was beautiful. An arbutus with her bark smooth
and hard, and the warmth of orange against the
greens and browns of the forest. At first I stood in
front of her, taking in how she had fallen once, her
trunk parallel with the earth and soil beneath her.
From this trunk, saplings now grew, children that
rose to the sky in small towers of bud, leaf and
I sat beside her.
And taking in the words of Louise St. Pierre in her
writings from Design and Nature: A Partnership, in
the guidance of an elder before her,
I spoke to the tree.
At first shy and awkward, as if I was sitting
beside someone waiting for the first word to be
Who will break the silence?
And then I realized that the conversation had
already begun. That though our pulses may differ,
the space had been made to communicate together.
She had already starting listening to my thoughts
and we spoke back and forth.
I began to notice things about her.
That there were marks upon her trunk, pockets where
branches had begun and left long ago. That another
arbutus has risen and dropped behind her and their
leaves had met and now rustled in the wind. That her
red bark fell off like ribbons.
I lay down beside her.
And took this moment to appreciate how in this time
and space, I can be laying down safe beside a tree
in a woods, in a country I know, living and
breathing in this world.
I began to notice other sounds around me.
A crackling of a twig in the distance made my eyes
sharp for a moment. Birds above and a plane hidden
in the clouds all contributed to the sounds of the
forest. She heard them too.
I knelt before her.
Thanking her for the time we spent together.
The connection shared. My knees damp against the
moss. I knelt there until I began to feel the
vibrations of the earth below me, charging my
ankles, my shins and passing up and through my body.
As I rose to leave, I noticed that a branch on one
of her young saplings had been snapped and left
dangling, its green heartwood hanging on by a strip
of bark. She told me I could take it and so I did,
spending a moment of contemplation in this task.
I walked in the forest today.
At first empty handed and alone, I left the forest
with a branch of arbutus in my hand and a new
connection. I sit here now looking at the branch in
a glass jar full of water. I am a foster parent that
does not know how to raise a tree.
I begin to research:
how to grow an arbutus tree from a branch and have
learned that the arbutus are dying on these islands
and that they are notoriously difficult to raise
from seed or sapling.
I need guidance,
and start by emailing the Botanical Garden at UBC in
the Faculty of Science. More connection.
And so it continues;
this ‘action’, this ‘practice’, whatever word that
may be attached to a person exploring something that
makes their heart and mind latch onto the
possibilities of something bigger than themselves.
To be continued.
As my practice evolves within the landscape of ECUAD, I have begun to investigate the relationship that I have as a designer with the environment around me. Now based on the west coast of Canada, my practice is becoming informed by nature immersion and our *often* non-symbiotic relationship with this. It made me want to dig deeper into the subject of relations.
For this action, I have gone a step further with my materialization in ‘Wunder Kammer’. I began to look at all these objects, and see that they each can be tied to each other in narrative and relations. To highlight this I have chosen two and examined the relationship they can have with one another.
For one object, I chose a paving stone from Gothenburg, Sweden that I brought home with me to Canada. These are the stones that line the streets and I chose this stone from a pile that I found in my first home in Majorna.
The second object(s) I chose were stones that I found while hiking with my daughter on Salt Spring Island. I used the Swedish paving stone to crush these stones, and created a paint out of this dust. For audio I used a recording I had made at the tram stop at Stigbergstorget on my way to school at Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk – The Academy of Design and Craft at the University of Gothenburg.
Two things, when working together, can become one. This action create something new. You can look at this action in the perspective of breaking something down, or building something new. It can also be both simultaneously. As a designer, I also go through the process of breaking down barriers | boundaries | ways of thinking, and building pathways | systems | new ways of thinking.