Our New Common ForestPUBLISHED ON: 23 MAY 2022
Connecting new groups with nature benefits both individuals and our local communities. We want to help enable new experiences for people in and around the National Park, especially for those who are under-represented and find it challenging to connect with the outdoors.
Spending time in nature is great for our mental health, physical health and inspires us to take action for wildlife and the environment. With the help of our Sustainable Communities Fund, artists Luke Pell and Lucy Cash, also known as Phos’, hope to engage a community of LGBTQ+ people with the landscape of the New Forest.
We asked them some questions to learn more about their project ‘Our New Common Forest’.
How did Phos’ come about and how long have you been working together?
We first met on Dunwich Heath, Suffolk, just before sunrise, as part of another project in 2011. Luke was dancing around a giant fire and Lucy was filming, we enjoyed each other’s energies, sensibilities, and values when it comes to creating work that celebrates people and place. Since then, we’ve written together, danced together and created projects on more beaches, in former mining towns, parks, gardens and libraries.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we participated in an online programme called ‘Becoming Earthly’ with The Barn in Banchory, for artists who are invested in ecology and environment. We formed Phos’ during that time to pursue a shared enquiry and frame our collaborative practice.
Can you briefly sum up the ‘Our New Common Forest’ project?
Our New Common Forest sets out to meet other LGBTQ+ folks, friends, families and allies, exploring where we find kinship, community and connection in the places we live, work and grow.
We’re interested in whose bodies are thought to belong where, in what sort of environments, who feels they have access to and are safe in certain spaces, who gets to enjoy and celebrate their connection with nature.
So, we are making moments to meet with folk through different kinds of encounters that attend to these ideas: through conversation, creative play, poetry and performance. In the summer we’ll be gathering this material together to create ‘A Queer Almanac’ taking the shape of an installation in the gallery at spudWORKS. The work will weave together the words and worlds of people we’ve met and what we’d call the poetry, we’ve unearthed together, of this place.
What are your personal connections with the New Forest and why do you feel it is important for this project to happen here?
We both have historic family ties to this area, Lucy’s Mum used to live in Bournemouth, Luke was born in Winchester, grew up in Cosham, lived and worked in Southampton, later studied in Winchester and has family who live in the Forest now.
We both remember spending time in the Forest throughout our lives and found so much solace, joy and sense of our selves amidst the bizarre and beautiful patterns and forms – the life in and of this landscape.
There’s something very particular about the expansive feelings that can come from moving through the heathland under such wide skies and then the tenderness of unexpectedly encountering a pony chewing holly, or the exact yellow of a primrose in a shaded copse of trees… that are so special to this place and really resonate with what it is to be discovering things about oneself in the different places we move through and inhabit.
Whilst things have shifted significantly in terms of equalities, identity politics and LGBTQ+ rights since we were younger, we know that finding and feeling a sense of belonging in more rural places, especially if you are part of a marginalised community, can be incredibly challenging.
You launched the project back in February and held the first workshop in March. What have you learnt so far?
Meeting and connecting with other folks who are widely dispersed throughout the area can be difficult, as can feeling safe and welcome in spaces and places that aren’t commonly associated with certain lived experiences.
There’s such an abundance of energy, ideas, creativity and really profound perspectives amongst the folk we’ve met so far, so we’re keen to celebrate that and the extraordinary nature of the Forest as a place that is a home for all.
Underpinning this all is an interest in the culture of trees and botany, can you tell us where this inspiration came from?
We’ve each had a longstanding curiosity for spending time with the more-than-human world; our connection with other living things, creatures, plants, flowers and what we might learn from them.
So much of our relationship with the world, the landscapes we live in, of and with has been cut off, particularly in the West. Now, perhaps more than ever, it feels so urgent that we re-establish our appreciation of and links to other living things and those knowledges. Taking trees as an example, the ways they communicate with others through deep root networks and share resources, this feels so akin to some of what we need to be doing more of with one another as human creatures.
How do each of you begin a day in the studio?
We both have backgrounds in dance, performance and somatic practices, so usually with moving, breathing, tuning into place, that often leads into writing or reading together and trying to move those ideas in our bodies, in space, or on a page.
What tools and materials do you always have in your studio space?
Tape – masking, washi
Notes with found or invented phrases and scores taped on the wall or table
Large rolls of paper that become maps of our process
Things we’ve foraged from outside, a stone, a shell, a branch, a petal
Books (we’re both renowned for having about 4 books each on the go at the same time, so there’s usually a stack of those)
Materials or objects, and markers / pens etc to do with colour and texture – including a Japanese colour dictionary
Finally, your next workshops are in June, who can attend and what can they expect?
We are doing two events in June, one is a day of play specifically for all of the Breakout Youth groups from across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, that’s taking place at spudWORKS. We’re bringing a whole bunch of young people who know and don’t know the Forest together to explore and create found poetry and hopefully some extraordinary images that will become part of the exhibition.
Anyone can come along to that, meet us, hear about some of our other works and ways they can be involved in Our New Common Forest themselves later this summer.
Stay up to date with Phos’ work on Instagram.
Find out more about the Sustainable Communities Fund and how to apply here.