Modern Nature: Symposium

The Symposium was delivered in partnership with The Hepworth Wakefield and involved both students and researchers from both Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as photographers, writers, explorers, landscape architects, activists, musicians, historians and gardeners.


Taking place on 25th April, the theme of the first day was “Seeing; Noticing; Writing” and explored how we connect with and document nature, the lack of diversity in natural space, the concept of edgelands and finished with poetry readings.

Tristan Gooley discussed ‘natural navigation’ and how to look for signs within nature. After lunch a panel of photographers (Simon Roberts, Peter Mitchell and Daniel Meadows) all with work being displayed in the Modern Nature Exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield spoke about their work and how they document nature. Zakiya Mckenzie discussed who the natural world belongs to, and why diversity is an issue in nature. Helen Mort spoke about her new novel, and how fiction writing can embody ‘ways of noticing’. The day concluded with poetry on the theme of urban and rural spaces. 

The second day, on 25th April, was on the theme of ‘Green Spaces & Gardens’. This day looked at critical responses to wellbeing, nature, greening urban spaces, liminal spaces in arts venues and western representations of gardens. 

A number of case studies were explored including the Hepworth Wakefield’s new garden, the masterplan for greening the University of Sheffield campus and the cultivation of green spaces in Kelham Island. The panel discussions raised questions such as:

  • How is access to green space mediated by ethnicity and class?
  • In what ways do people experience wellbeing through engagement with nature?
  • What are the tensions between informal and planned uses for green spaces? 

In the afternoon Adrian Moore’s acousmatic experience “Recording the Hepworth” was played to the Symposium attendees, and there was a comparative session on Gardens Then and Now, featuring Dr Casey Strine discussing gardens in biblical representations and Anna Da Silva talking about the current RHS Bridgewater project in Stockport.

Alys Fowler gave an insightful talk on foraging and the dangers of using pesticides on our wild spaces. The day closed with readings from Route 57: Modern Natures, The University of Sheffield’s creative writing journal. The issue contains place-writing inspired by – and in parts, in response to – The Hepworth Wakefields’s Modern Nature photography exhibition.

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