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The Wonder Project: An Interview with Andy Franzkowiak

23 July 2018 | Emily May

You may have visited many a garden in your time, but have you ever considered how you come into play regarding your surrounding environment’s ecosystem? If not, well here’s your chance. Kew Wakehurst, a beautiful botanic garden in West Sussex is putting on the Wonder Project this summer, an after-hours experience that invites you to see the landscape in a different light. We chatted to Andy Franzkowiak, the director of Shrinking Space – the collective curating The Wonder Project – to find out more about the motivations behind the project, the art works on display, and a very special natural ending…

Culture Calling: You are co-director of Shrinking Space, the arts collective that is curating the Wonder Project at Kew Wakehurst. Can you tell us more about your company’s work?
Andy Franzkowiak: We do cross art form, interdisciplinary projects. We try to take on issue based projects, whether that’s to do with climate change, other environmental issues, social issues, or something political. What we try and do is bring in experts in those fields, whether they are artistic, or scientific, or from other academic disciplines, to create a holistic, complex take on a given topic. So hopefully audiences have a number of ways in to the artistic experiences we provide, because they are built on a lot of cutting edge research. We also often work in site specific, playful environments, which adds a new layer of meaning to what people experience at our events. We want people to question spaces, what they read in the media, and give them the tools to think critically.

Image Credit: The Wonder Project, Wakehurst
CC: What gave you the idea for the Wonder Project at Kew Wakehurst?
AF: We’ve done projects around climate change and air pollution before. So we were very interested in humanity’s relationship with nature. We came up with the hypothesis that we wreak the havoc we do across the planet – for example all the issues with biodiversity loss and natural habitats being taken over for agriculture - because we’re so disconnected from the environment. So one of our starting points was: how can we look at our relationship with nature and try and figure out how to reconnect and find our place as part of the ecosystem? We found very natural bedfellows with Kew in this conversation, because the team at Wakehurst were asking similar questions, and do a lot of research into preservation and conservation.
CC: And now it’s transformed into an outdoor, natural, multi-disciplinary gallery?
AF: I guess you could look at it like that. It is difficult to define The Wonder Project, because it really is an experience. A gallery comes with loaded meaning, so we didn’t necessarily want to use that word, or exhibition or festival, as they might lead people down the wrong path. That’s exciting in some ways, because maybe that means this is something very new that hasn’t been attempted much before. We are presenting artworks of different kinds, sculptures, soundscapes, performances, within this mile and a half journey through this very meaningful landscape. Wakehurst is poignant, and a real collection of cultures within one site. It’s got a North American woodland, a European and West Asian woodland, and even the Millenium Seed Bank which has billions of seeds coming from many different places.

Colourfield. Image Credit: The Wonder Project, Wakehurst

CC: It’s described as a multisensory, interactive, journey through Wakehurst’s wild landscape. To what extent can visitors immerse themselves and interact with the art work on offer?
AF: We’re starting out by asking the audiences to take on the roles of “messengers” about the site. We believe that if audiences have agency within an experience, that helps them take away the ideas presented in a more impactful and embedded way. Humanity normally sees itself as the top dog, the manager of the site - and it is arguably, Wakehurst is very managed by people. But we wanted to readjust the human being’s role within this experience. So we’re asking people to be messengers, and to pass on messages knowingly or unknowingly around this site. For example, there are artworks where they are asked to describe an array of colours that they see along their journey without using the colours’ names. So they’re passing on these messages between each other and creating a Colourfield, which is a type of work by Vicky Long and Eloise Moody. Across the landscape there’s an ever changing array of colours, and we want to see how audiences can play with them, and be inspired by the likes of Maria Sibylla Merian, who was a naturalist who wasn’t awarded the same tools as male scientists were using at the time, to document nature and depict natural phenomena such as metamorphosis. So she became very creative with how she described and painted these objects.
CC: Can you describe any of the other artworks you’ve curated?
AF: There’s a soundscape by Joe Acheson from Hidden Orchestra, in a wooded glade, which explores communication and the dynamic ways that plants interact with their local environment. For example, the relationship between fungi and tree roots that pass nutrients, or the way trees pass messages between each other that there might be danger around, or the fact it might be dying. There’s a whole world of messages that are being passed around that, maybe if we wonder a little deeper, we can start to uncover. Acheson worked with a researcher called Brian Pickles from the University of Reading, who’s going to be doing research at Wakehurst. He wanted to understand the ways plants and other life forms can communicate with each other, and find out how this can help inspire a musical environment that can allude to what is going on around us.

Joe Acheson. Image Credit: The Wonder Project, Wakehurst
CC: The experience will culminate with visitors coming together to witness the sunset over the rolling green hills of Sussex. So nature itself if the final artist of the evening…
AF: We’re very much aware we might not see the sun as it sets, however this summer’s been amazing – so fingers crossed! We want to participate in the sunset moment and draw attention to the sense of community at Wakehurst in 2018. We want people to look around them and at each other, and understand that they are present within the site, and the ecosystem that is around them. On one level the sun is the starting point for all life, but from that, everything goes off in different directions. So that’s the point I guess, the sun will go down on that day, but whatever the audience do next is up to them. We hope the Wonder Project opens a rabbit hole, and that people jump into it, and want to explore in a deeper way, and actively enjoy their own place within the natural environment.
The Wonder Project will be running from 26-29 July & 2-5 July, 7:00pm – 9:30pm at Kew Wakehurst, Ardingly, Haywards Heath, Sussex, RH17 6TN

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