Conservation to protect and preserve our green corridor and woods sanctuary.

Forming a deep relationship with the land.

A graduate studies research project by MFA candidate Gail Hinchliffe

Conservation to protect and preserve our green corridor and woods sanctuary
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Since fall 2022 Gail’s MFA (Master of Fine Arts) research-creation* studies at the University of Calgary have focused on the eastern woodlands of Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre (KOAC). The research centers on the agency of wild plants as metaphors for the human species in reconciling a reconnection with the land and the belief that plants can lead us to question how society advances its own values and moral compromises within an Earth view.

Research creation is undertaken in the belief that the arts significantly impact our understanding of the world and can inspire and create connection and understanding of the complex structures which impact our wellbeing within a larger ecological framework. Contemplation on the simplicity of wild plant interdependence can lead to greater understanding of the complex issues facing humanity today. In addition, awareness of how wild plants may offer an avenue to wider ecological knowledge has the potential to shift our perspective.

The Graduate Studies Program raised research questions on how to put aside the paradigm of domination over the land and live in relationship with the land – How do we mediate our disconnection with the land to understand we are just one of many species in an interconnected world? How should one enter a landscape that is alive and waiting to be met, understood, and listened to? What role can art, from a relational/participatory theory, play in this process?

The woodlands of KOAC offer a perfect site for study (or to contemplate these questions, as it is home to ecologically intact Aspen and Poplar standing on the eastern escarpment and is a preserved area which has never been cultivated. Pathways, initially established by wildlife, have been left in their natural state. Plants, trees, and fungi are the principal occupants, and live in accordance with their own rhythm in all seasons.

Gail’s visits gradually slowed with her pace in response to the seasons and weather. Accompanied by her camera Gail began by snapping anything that caught her eye as she walked the paths embarking on initial discoveries. As she became acquainted with the various ecosystems, she brought a small folding stool and sat in one spot listening and focusing on a mandala on the woodlands floor. This encouraged her to consider the consistency of change and how plants continue to find their own way in a life rhythm that is beyond our understanding.

Gail posed her research questions to potential participants who were also interested in finding their own answers to these questions and discovered, in the process, an intuitive way of knowing that transcends politicalized history and societal norms. To assist the process, Gail developed a field guide on approaching the prospect of slowing down, observing, listening, and reflecting. The participants had a variety of backgrounds but were united in wanting to explore what it means to build a deep relationship with nature… and how that relationship can aid in understanding a different perspective on the workings of our earth and our place in preserving the earth as our home. They shared their unique reflections with Gail, and that usually included a photo, sketch, poem, or story.

Sharing these stories is a starting point for deeper discussions on how reconnecting with the land can provide individual support and strength. It is also an opportunity to discover commonality in a world of diversity and can be the beginning of a refreshed connection with the land and a catalyst for change.

Further information can be obtained by contacting

‘It has been an honour and privilege to build relationship with this land, and I am excited to conclude my research studies this coming year and encounter new discoveries. Over the balance of my studies, this preliminary participatory work will be expanded to include opportunities to share stories and contribute to KOAC’s vision for the continued preservation of this unique site’

Gail Hincliffe, MFA candidate.

*Research-Creation is a developing research trend in Canada’s academic milieu, linking the interpretive disciplines (humanities and social sciences) with creative ones (art and design). This involves the creation of knowledge in and through creative material and performative practice’.

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