Footprint

A proposal for an outdoor environmental art installation

Footprint is a research based art project aimed to discover the number of people whose carbon dioxide would be offset by a specific woodland area and resulting in the creation of an art installation, where positioning of life sized hands across the woodland floor is intended to provide the viewer with a visual sense of the scale of the challenge required to reverse climate change.

Collaboration and Research

To establish the number of people that are offset, the project uses research obtained from sites such as Kielder Forest and studies conducted in Wytham Woods, a site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the longest and most intensively researched woodlands in the world. 

The research process and findings could also form part of an exhibition in the form of artistic ways of describing data and as a way of exploring how to make scientific data accessible. It is also an opportunity to involve visitors in this phase of the project.

Materials and Sustainability

The choice of material for this art installation is evocative of the forest in which it is to be placed. The hands are to be made from mycelium, a sustainable and biodegradable building material that is grown rather than manufactured. The symbiotic relationship between mycelium and trees, in exchanging nutrients as well as providing a communication network for trees, makes this material suitable for a woodland setting.

It is clear that as well as offsetting, we will need to find innovative solutions to bring down our carbon footprint. Mycelium is currently used as a packaging material to replace polystyrene by companies such as IKEA and Dell. It is estimated that the mycelium based packaging only uses 12% of the energy used in plastic production and it produces 90% less carbon emissions (We Don’t Have Time, 2018). A fascinating material that I am sure would inspire school children and visitors alike.


Workshops and Community Engagement

As well as engaging with local schools and the local community in the science behind the project, they will also be involved in the creation of ‘growing’ the hands - using creativity and curiosity as the core methods of exploring and learning. 

We will have the opportunity to talk about trees, soil and mycelium and their importance in the ecosystem while also engaging them in growing the mycelium hands by putting the mycelium/hemp mixture into biodegradable gloves and observe the mycelia grow into the hand shape over four days. Once we have the required number of hands, we can again engage with the participants in the installation of all the hands, in a designated space in the woodland. The pattern in which this will be installed will be inspired by the site and numbers of hands.

Exhibition and Legacy artwork

The project will include the development of a film intended to show the making and installation of FootPrint which could be exhibited indoors together with photographs, sketches, and research materials, but the legacy piece will be FootPrint itself that would continue as an outdoor sculptural installation to be enjoyed for some years to come, until the mycelium will eventually return to the earth.

Future projects

The FootPrint art installation will gradually decay but there could be several stages of changes to the mycelium including slimes, moulds and mushrooms appearing. These changes could be monitored and turned into another art film as well as filming any encounters with wildlife.

There would also be an opportunity to extend the range of this project by including wetland and meadow areas as to their carbon store abilities, resulting in additional art installations for each of the areas. A way of communicating the difference in different environments.
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Bibliography

Simard, S. W., et al. (1997) “Net Transfer of Carbon between Ectomycorrhizal Tree Species in the Field,” NATURE -LONDON-, 6642(6642), pp. 579–581.

We Don’t Have Time. (2018) IKEA Starts Using Biodegradable Mushroom-Based Packaging for Its Products. Available at: https://medium.com/wedonthavetime/ikea-starts-using-biodegradable-mushroom-based-packaging-for-its-p....