Reflecting Nature (2016/17)

Reflecting Nature collaborators, Dr Nichola Street and Dr Gemma Hurst

Reflecting Nature was a collaboration between Mark Ware and Staffordshire University’s psychologists Dr Nichola Street and Dr Gemma Hurst that investigated how the contribution of art might increase the positive effects of viewing still images of naturalistic subject matter.

The collaboration resulted in an Arts Council England supported Reflecting Nature national touring art exhibition that visited Kent Wildlife Trust, The Life After Stroke Centre Bromsgrove (Stroke Association), the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, Exeter Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral, Staffordshire University, and the Nature in Art Gallery Gloucester.

The 16 Reflecting Nature images

The exhibition featured 16 digital art images that Mark created in consultation with the psychologists, who wanted each of the images to contain two things in particular that have been shown to trigger positive responses in the viewer: Symmetrical patterns and images of nature.

Reflecting Nature exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral & public engagement activities

As well as being able to enjoy the artworks, those attending the Reflecting Nature exhibition were also invited to contribute data to a scientific project being led by the psychologists. Members of the public took part during workshops using eye tracking equipment, and by performing specially designed response tasks. In addition, lab-based investigations were being conducted at Staffordshire University.

Dr Street commented: “Most of my research to date has involved trying to unpick the things that contribute to aesthetic appreciation, with a particular focus on complexity in visual scenes and fractal patterns (self-similar patterns commonly found in the natural environment). Through the collaboration with artist Mark Ware, we have achieved scientific engagement from the public on a topic that influences our everyday life – understanding beauty/visual preference.”

Reflecting Nature exhibition at Exeter Cathedral’s Chapter House

Mark Ware commented: “Reflecting Nature was a perfect extension of our Wavelength Project, as we are gradually moving toward a crossmodal approach to our nature investigations and projects. For me it was very interesting to have direct contact with the public at each of the exhibition venues, where I received a wide range of feedback. What struck me, was that most people have very strong views on nature and art, but at the same time, no two views seemed to be the same. As is often the case with art projects, some of the more interesting outcomes of the activity (from an art point of view) were unexpected. These included, innovative ideas for ways in which the lighting of future art exhibits might increase the subjective impact of the art on the viewer, the impact and importance of choosing carefully worded titles for each of the artworks, experiencing a general audience resistance to acceptance of symmetrical imagery as ‘art’ (this was not so unexpected), a greater understanding of how to communicate and display art in future in ways that encourage audience engagement and empathy, the importance of considering the scale of artworks being presented, and being aware of how audiences responses varied according to the location of the venues.

“As a result of working with Dr Street and Dr Hurst, I am now developing a new collection of nature artworks that are directly influenced by the outcomes of Reflecting Nature and our other nature investigations, that I am hoping to exhibit and evaluate later this year. This new work will be design specifically for display in environments where nature-deprivation and sensory monotony are issues, such as in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

“I am extremely grateful to Dr Street and Dr Hurst for our Reflecting Nature  collaboration, for their expertise and support, and for the generous support of Staffordshire University”.

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