Biophilic City

It’s only when we understand the meaning of ‘enough’ that we start to accumulate real wealth. As in nature, ‘enough’ gets the job done well; doing or having more than we need wastes time, resources, and ultimately, our lives. Andy Middleton, TEDx Biomimicry program


Building on our Biomimicry art program Treeline. Three linked artist commissions exploring creative-action based Biophilia at Winterbourne House and Gardens. Aspects of Biophilia will be developed via the artist’s opening their research into shared actions of creativity; and selected members of the public become active participants in the making, instead of passive receivers.

Jaime Jackson will create a moving image artwork based on mapping  the trees at Winterborne House and Gardens using terrestrial LiDAR. A terrestrial laser scanning technique that allows the structure of vegetation to be 3D-mapped to the millimetre, it is the most accurate in determining the biomass of trees and carbon stocks in forests and an important development in the monitoring of carbon stocks for worldwide climate policy-making.

Working with Winterborne’s archive of magic lanterns and slides and botanical collection of over 6,000 species of plants in 7 acres of gardens. Linking to Winterbourne’s pioneering legacy of technology, engineering, social reform and Biomimicry.

Engineering background:

Winterborne House and Gardens was built by the industrialist, town planner and social reformer John Sutton Nettlefold. Named after his grandfather and industrial revolution pioneer John Nettleford (1792- 1866), who set up the steam powered Nettleford factory in 1843 which was the world biggest manufacturer of nuts, screws and bolts. The business became Guest, Keen and Nettleford in 1902, and is now the global engineering business GKN registered in Redditch, Worcestershire.

Birmingham was the centre of the Midlands enlightenment at the end of the 18th Century. Linked to the lunar society, it was a scientific, economic, political, and cultural period of growth facilitating the exchange of ideas between experimental science, culture and practical technology, that enabled the technological preconditions for the rapid economic growth of the industrial revolution to be attained.

Terrestrial LiDAR Tree map

Biomimicry background:

John Sutton Nettlefold became a town planner and was part of the early 20th Century Garden City movement, he established the garden suburb Moor Pool in Harbourne Birmingham. Garden Cities are a method of urban planning of self-contained communities surrounded by green belts, which aimed to reduce the alienation of people and society from nature and provide an alternative to the inner city slums.

Technology and research partners:

Working with Dr Matt Disney (UCL Geography) and Dr Kim Calders (Wageningen University) “Terrestrial laser scanning, also called terrestrial LiDAR, allows us to measure biomass with far less uncertainty than before. The current methods yield results that may be off by as much as 37%. The LiDAR method, by comparison, delivers more than 90% accuracy and there is still room for improvement. We can now ‘weigh’ trees far more precisely and then determine their biomass. The current uncertainties about the presence of carbon in forests are, therefore, reduced.”

Moving image installation still, Jaime Jackson 2018.

Strategic partners and linkages:

Birmingham City Council Sustainability Officer, Nick Grayson. Birmingham is the UK’s Biophilic City, part of an international network of cities. Birmingham has more public open parkland than any other European city. Birmingham is the UK’s only city in the international Biophilic (literally love of nature/life) city network, Biophilic design aims to reconnect humankind with nature, sustaining a physical relationship in order to improve overall environmental condition as well as improving wellbeing, mental and physical health.

The project links to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to Sustainability West Midlands Community goals. Both above-ground biomass and carbon stocks are important details for UN-REDD, the United Nations initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation that is striving to keep the destruction of forests in check and thereby preserve the uptake of carbon by trees.

The program builds on the Biophilic legacy of public access to parks, the birthplace of the industrial revolution and the establishment of workers rights from the Birmingham Enlightenment period and the progressive members of the Lunar Society. It is a program of artist commissions, exhibitions and seminars, part of BCU based New Art West Midlands exchange program. The project sits within the European Biophilic City Network and the European Green Capital program. The project connects artists with government departments, sustainability organisations, arts organisations and universities in the U.K. Midlands with the South West, Mid-Wales, the Basque Country and Oslo.

Moving image installation still, Jaime Jackson 2018.

Strands of research linked to UN, national and Birmingham strategic natural eco assessments and the research council’s liveable cities research:
Financial reslience. Natural Capital, carbon locking and innovation opportunities in product based biomimicry, sustainability through agricultural adaption. Social sustainability, adaption and resilience – process based biomimicry in the face of climate change, social anthropology health and wellbeing – open spaces in Cities, social change.

There is no chance of change, there is no potential for movement without creative engagement, without making use of our imagination. For us to realise our interconnectivity and mutual interdependency we must shift our fixed view perspectives of nature of materiality.

It is an art partnership network between New Art West Midlands  Birmingham/ the Midlands,RAW  in Wales,  i-DAT  Plymouth, PNEK  Oslo (Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway)

When we lose our  connection to nature….then we do not know how to nurture their environment or how to govern our world. We destroy our ecology at the same time as we destroy one another. From that perspective, healing our society goes hand in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal (material) world. Chögyam  Trungpa

We have a network of scientists and researchers that we are working with including Univeristy of Wales Trinity St David University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Plymouth University, Oslo University, The University of the Basque Country BC3 (the Basque Centre of Climate Change), Autonomous University of Barcelona Instittute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences and the Oslo Academy of Fine Art.

To create engaging transformative visions of a better world, to increase our chances of solving the unsustainability of present social-ecological system dynamics….To create spaces for imagination and engagement with communities to get ownership about their climate futures at local/regional levels…. ‘Conventional science methods are not enough (to create a change in behaviour)…climate change is mostly a symptom and amplifier of impacts rather than a cause, sustainability is mostly an engagement challenge, not only a scientific one…Art based methods are uniquely placed to foster collective imagination, social energy and awareness.’ J. David Tàbara & Diego Galafasi Sustainabilogy Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona & Stockholm Resilience Centre


Sally Payen, Greenham Symbole (c ), 2016

If you take any part of Nature and look at it, it’s edges will be ragged and twisty and not straight. So to measure parts of Nature, to make Nature accessible to linear-some would call it, practical thinking, all of us are taught to round off the edges, to create specific and distinct boundaries between one thing and the next. This actually only gives us an approximation, a guess. And no matter the power of our magnification, it remains only an estimation of the real. Stephen Harold Buhner

Arcimboldo ‘Flora Meretrix’ (detail) 1590

I’ve worked as an artist in the world of climate change for 15 years and have been part of many discussions… In moments of despair, it feels like art can’t begin to touch what needs to be done.  At other times, it feels like the creative world can open out the conversation and facts in a way that transcends science and also doesn’t alienate or intimidate the casual or lay audience. Michèle Noach, Greenpeace Environmental activist & artist

Treeline moving image installation for Lavish at Latitude Festival. Waterscreen projection, Jaime Jackson 2017

We know the catastrophe is possible, probable given recent events, yet we do not believe it will really happen…. I can understand, intellectually that ‘life’ in this country might not be the same in 30 years time as it is today: that if climate change goes ahead unchecked it could in face be profoundly and catastrophically different. But somehow I have been unable to turn this knowledge into a recognition that my own life will alter. Like everyone who has been insulated from death, I have projected the future as repeated instances of the present.’ George Monbiot – ‘In Heat’

Given the large impact of human activities on climate, it follows that a better understanding of the ways different socio-cultural groups think about CC is crucial for the development and implementation of effective climate policies. For effective climate action (mitigation and adaptation) to occur, CC has to be perceived as one of the greatest challenges for society today. BC3 University of the Basque Country ‘Drivers of Climate Change Opinion’

For more information on the Biophilic city network visit Guardian

Jaime Jackson, Treeline moving image, 1’11’’ loop installation 2017

At the same time the arts reflect and inflect a societies shared values its culture so a investigation by artists in a period of climate change could still be worthwhile. But only without a operation of art from the global scientific academic, political economic and social systems, in between our society’s ideas values and systems and the way that they are articulated. Art inflects life as life infects art, as it is what constitutes an understanding of what is the self and what constitutes an environment underpins attitudes to, say, the land.

A value of artists and modern art is its critical distance from which dominant trends and systems informing conditioned reality constructs can be seen, and be interrupted. Modern Art’s autonomy, far from being a disabling denial of the political, is a critical dimension in which the aesthetic is a refusal of routine. That is one point of departure; political activism is another. They overlap. For that reason I do not separate art from critiques of political and economic structures; nor do I separate arguments around ecology and environmentalism from those around social justice. Malcom’s Miles Eco-Aesthetics.

Jaime Jackson Biophilic Wishing Tree, National Tree Week, Queenswood 2017