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Booking information

Tickets are now sold out. Lunch will be provided, but if you have any specific dietary requirements please email jbaxter@horniman.ac.uk

About this event

Join us for this seminar responding to the Horniman's inaugural Studio exhibition, The Lore of the Land. 

Sensitive Chaos: Rethinking the Anthropocene, brings together special guests to consider themes that reference our deep-rooted relationship with nature.

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Professor Veronica Strang will join artists, anthropologists, researchers, the Studio Collective and other thinkers to talk about these themes. The discussion chair will be Angela Chan, “creative climate change communicator” and Founder of Worm, a platform who gather perspectives on ecological issues through creative practices. 

About the Seminar

Many objects from the Horniman's Collections, such as those on display in The Lore of the Land, denote the power of water and plants as animate entities, spirits, and deities influencing our lives. 

How can alternative thinking around our interconnectedness to water, plants and the natural environment support us when considering our climate crisis?

Such an understanding is often connected with prosperity, sustenance, and fertility. In many different contexts throughout human history, the spirit of water is seen as both a nurturing and a menacing force. Meanwhile, leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, stems, and bark have long been used as tools of divination, providing routes into the unknown.

What can such understanding offer us in today's modern world?

How can we learn from these more sacred views of nature to destabilise an anthropocentric world view?

Our guests will open up this key question in presentations of their work after a tour of the exhibition led by some of the exhibitions’ co-curators.

Artist Serena Korda will talk about her work and installation Sensitive Chaos, titled after the research of anthroposophist Theodor Schwenk, who studied the flow of water, before opening up a discussion on the role of art, fiction, and cultural institutions in responding to the Anthropocene.

We will end the day with a performance from Dr. Dan Byrne-Smith, the Horniman Museum Art, Design and Natural History Fellow.

The Studio is a co-curated exhibition space and The Lore of the Land is the culmination of an engagement programme working with community members, Horniman staff and the commissioned artist Serena Korda.

Speaker and performer biographies

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than eighty-five technical papers and eight books, including The Science Delusion, and the co-author of six books. He studied at Cambridge and Harvard Universities. As a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, he was Director of Studies in Cell Biology and was also a Research Fellow of the Royal Society.

He worked in Hyderabad, India, as Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and also lived for two years in the Benedictine ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths on the bank of the river Cauvery in Tamil Nadu.

From 2005-2010, he was Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project for the study of unexplained human and animal abilities, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge. He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California and of Schumacher College in Dartington, Devon. He lives in London and is married to Jill Purce, with whom he has two sons. sheldrake.org

Professor Veronica Strang is an environmental anthropologist and Director of Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study.

Her research focuses on human-environmental relations and, in particular, people’s engagements with water. She has conducted ethnographic research in Australia, the UK, and New Zealand, and has held posts at the University of Oxford, the University of Wales, Goldsmiths University and the University of Auckland. In 2000, she received a Royal Anthropological Institute Urgent Anthropology Fellowship, and in 2007 she was awarded an international water prize by UNESCO. From 2013-2017 she was the Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth.

Key publications include Uncommon Ground: cultural landscapes and environmental values (Berg 1997); The Meaning of Water (Berg 2004); Gardening the World: agency, identity and the ownership of water (Berghahn 2009); Ownership and Appropriation (Berg 2010); Water: nature and culture (Reaktion 2015); and From the Lighthouse: interdisciplinary reflections on light (Routledge 2018). She is currently working on a major comparative text exploring diverse societal trajectories in long-term human-environmental relationships. dur.ac.uk/ias/staff/?id=10491

Serena Korda is an artist interested in the various ways we think about ourselves in relation to the world.

Working across performance, sound and sculpture, she considers how communion, tradition and ritual shape our lives. Her interest in ancient cosmology, new age philosophy and theories of quantum physics have drawn her to the imperceptible connections between nature, plants and animals – all bound together by vibration, sound and energy. Giving the rational mind and the imagination equal weight, she strikes a balance between the scientific and spiritual realms by creating multi-sensory experiences that make invisible and inaudible forces palpable. Audiences are often encouraged to participate at some point in her process creating collective experiences that focus on the forgotten and overlooked. 

Serena was the Norma Lipan/BALTIC Fellow in Ceramic sculpture at Newcastle University 2016- 2018, she was also the first artist commissioned to work on The Studio project at the Horniman, The Lore of the Land. Whilst recent solo shows include Missing Time at BALTIC Gateshead, Daughter’s of Necessity at The Hepworth Wakefield 2018, The Bell Tree Trust New Art and Bluecoat 2018, Missing Time a performance for The High Line NYC 2018 and “Khaos Spirit” a flag commission for Somerset House, Earth Day 2019. serenakorda.com

Dr Dan Byrne-Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art Theory at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.

He is currently the Horniman Museum Art, Design and Natural History Fellow. This is a research fellowship in which Dan is exploring the Horniman’s natural history collections through the lens of science fiction, making use of the genre’s ability to estrange, reveal and provoke new and unexpected questions and connections. He is the author of Traces of Modernity (2012) and is currently editing Science Fiction: Documents of Contemporary Art for the Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press, which is due for publication in 2020.

Dan will be presenting a video work with a live soundtrack titled X… The Unexplained. It presents a scenario in which a mysterious occurrence has transformed the Horniman’s Natural History Gallery. It is unclear whether the occurrence was a natural phenomenon, the result of human action or the consequences of forces beyond the limits of our knowledge and cognition. The video itself presents another kind of occurrence, an encounter with models on display which have become uncanny presences. These scientific tools, designed to guarantee and disseminate knowledge, to function as educational, are reframed, turning science into science fiction. The Museum is represented as a mirror universe where models for instruction and education, very much of this world, become visions of an elsewhere. @utopianimpulse