No one doubts the benefits of children playing in a natural environment, but what will happen when it is gone? The United Kingdom charity Art Fund has staged the largest-scale collaboration with over 500 museums taking part in their new project, The Wild Escape to prevent the advancement of the biodiversity crisis. Not only are they working alongside an array of celebrated artists and environmentalists, but they are also collaborating with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and English Heritage.

Through their project, they will educate on sustainability and the fundamental causes of the Triple Planetary Crises (pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss) whilst simultaneously rekindling our connection with nature through art. The Wild Escape intention formed aptly: to preserve the nation’s critically endangered biodiversity which in turn upholds the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Life on Land and Responsible Consumption and Production.

The project was inspired by both natural historian David Attenborough’s new series Wild Isles on BBC One as well as it is a direct response to the Natural History Museums 2021 publication of their report on “Biodiversity Trends Explorer”. Since the 1970s the U.K. has lost nearly half of its ecosystem due to land development, it reported. Additionally, the report further addressed how the U.K. is in the bottom 10 percent globally due to their low Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII). Thus, the U.K. is dominating in destroying its natural environment.

More recent studies, such as a report by the Environment Agency published in July 2022, found that England is high on the list of nature-depleted countries. It highlighted that a fifth of the UK's plants is threatened with extinction, in addition to a quarter of its mammals. A third of pollinator species were also discovered to be in decline.

The project is aimed at the United Kingdom’s elementary school children in an attempt to encourage questioning and learning about the ongoing biodiversity crisis. From now until July 2023 the Wild Escape’s participating museums will host a range of activities from workshops on puppetry to launching moth-shaped kites.

Children participating in a workshop for The Wild Escape at Derby Museum and Art Gallery by Hydar Dewachi. Image courtesy of Art Fund and The Wild Escape.

“The Wild Escape is a first. We want to show how museums, by working together, can bring a fresh angle to learning, especially to welcome children’s creative responses to our great collections,” stated Jenny Waldman, Art Fund’s director at the launch.

Thus, their objective is not only to draw attention to the matter but also to inspire artistic and creative reactions from the youth. The children are asked to make artworks influenced by animals and plants that are suffering at the hands of climate change.

Preloaded, the BAFTA-winning immersive games studio will then animate their creations along with pieces by collaborating artists and environmentalists. According to Preloaded’s website, this will give birth to a massive digital piece that is fixed to be released on  Saturday 22nd of April (or Earth Day) 2023.

Through showcasing impressionable art, the project invites the next generation to join the conversation on environmental issues such as biodiversity loss, or, as Waldman puts it, “one of the defining challenges of our lives.”

The most notable influence on the children, however, would be the art being exhibited in the museums. One artist, in particular, stands out from the rest: Tahliah Debrett Barnett (also known as FKA Twigs) as she is more widely known for her singing career.

Deciding to join this purpose was not a hard one, as Twigs believed art can inspire the next generation. In an interview with Press Association, she expressed that this project will allow the children in later years “to have a genuine connection that can essentially save our planet.”

Children participating in a workshop for The Wild Escape’s launch at the Natural History Museum in London by James Manning. Image courtesy of PA Media Group and The Irish News

Whilst her parents instilled nature into her through seasonal collage projects and craft fairs. She believes that art should be at the forefront as she emphasizes that she thinks “that humans have a need to create and I think that’s what we all should be doing. We are all artists inside and it helps us get our feelings out and our emotions out and, when we connect to that, I think that humans are divine.”

The 35-year-old artist created a piece inspired by both Diego Valzquez’s Rokeby Venus and Shibata Zeshin’s Two-Fold Screen. Her work, titled A self-portrait in Venus, pictures herself next to and as UK wildlife.

A Self-Portrait In Venus (2023) by Tahliah Debrett Barnett (FKA Twigs). Image courtesy of PA Media Group and The Irish News

On her work, she stated that “It’s sort of a personal self-portrait to do with the world and fertility and eternity.” She goes on to explain her conflict on whether or not she will have children.

Twigs continues to explain the creatures and their significance to her, as well as how her goal was to “inspire children to come to museums and be inspired by nature, and then, when they grow up, they’ll have a genuine connection that can essentially save our planet.”

Leading artists that have also contributed pieces for the cause include visual artist Rana Begum, comic artist Mollie Ray, sculptor and artist Yinka Shonibare, performance artist Tai Shani, poet and artist Heather Phillipson, visual artist and researcher Clare Twomey and artist and journalist Angela Palmer.

The talent doesn’t end there, acclaimed artist Mark Wallinger re-imagined the renowned poem Ode to Nightingale by English poet John Keats. He explains that his art piece, Fled is that Music is provoked due to nightingales having lost  “93 per cent of their numbers since the ’60s and are in danger on these shores.” His work highlights how harrowing the biodiversity crisis is by disassembling a renowned and beloved piece of poetry.

“The idea that this small bird that inspired one of the greatest works in English literature (is threatened) is kind of devastating,” Wallinger continued. Therefore, he decided to redact 93 percent of the poem as a humorous metaphor for the environmental issues that condemn the nightingale.

As result, he leaves only the final lines within which the nightingale disappears. By doing so, he brings attention to the issue of possible extinction, allowing the viewers to reflect on their actions that are contributing to the unsustainable use of land.

FKA Twigs, Mark Wallinger and Es Devlin helping children in a workshop for The Wild Escape at the Natural History Museum in London by James Manning. Image courtesy of PA Media Group and The Irish News

Contributing artist and stage designer Es Devlin also captures the beauty of another winged creature facing extinction as she contributes an etching of the Phoenix fly.

Inspired by scientist Robert Hooke’s book Micrographia (1664) and his engravings of great belly gnats, Devlin spent 4 months drawing one of the Priority Species for conservation in England (under Section 41 of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act in 2000.

Whilst flies are known for their irritating, disease-spreading, or sometimes even blood-sucking tendencies, they play a much more vital role in our life than we think. Flies do not only have the aforementioned features but also are pollinators, compositors and natural pest killers.

By choosing such an undesirable species to advocate for, Es Devlin brings to light how the Phoenix fly, whilst minuscule, holds major significance in our ecosystem.

“There are 15,000 species of Londoners and only one of them is human, that just puts us in context. Every time you learn the name for an animal, you make space for it,” she told Press Association. She continues to underline how humans can learn the names of all and ought to.

Devlin further highlights the true heart of the project within her Press Association statement, expressing that  “the extent of the emergency cannot be overstated. This is not something nice and pretty and something we want to do because it’s nice – this is an emergency and we all have to get involved.”

This artistic project inspires children to reimagine nature and these endangered species as counterparts, or even friends - deepening their want to get involved and make a change. Beyond this, the project educates the young on the gravity of what would happen if these insects and animals went extinct and how to halt biodiversity loss.

Find out more about Wild Escape and how you can get involved on their website.

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