What’s your personal relationship to the natural world? Are you an allotment-tending city dweller who eats their own greens? An eagle-eyed forager who sources their food almost exclusively from the great wild kitchen? Perhaps you enjoy running through fields of wheat for kicks – because nothing beats a brush with nature when you’re feeling naughty.
In 2015, the UK’s urban population was reported at over 80%, so for a staggering amount of people living in this country, everyday nature can only exist within the context of the human. It’s there in the bubblegum pink blossom tree that brightens up the east London street and the tweeting bird whose falsetto has to compete with the cacophony of high street traffic noise. In cities, nature is all around us, but it’s just not always so obvious.
‘A Museum of Modern Nature’ delves into this concept by crowdsourcing objects borrowed from members of the public that signify their relationship to the natural world. The museum received some 150+ items in total, before a crack team of specialists – including a plant medicine shaman and a dairy farmer – whittled the stash down to 56 pieces.
In isolation, these inanimate objects are pretty ordinary – an empty Princes’ Pure Apple Juice carton, a plastic turf grass sample, a pair of trainers and a vial of milk teeth – but they are injected with individual narratives that seek to bring them to life. The patron saints of televised nature, Michaela Strachan and Chris Packham, make welcome cameos with their offerings, which weave individual captions into a bigger tapestry of human vs nature and the modern complexities that sculpt our understanding.
The four themes – change, imagine, sustain, ritual – add a socio-political dimension to an exhibition that is otherwise a low-key, back-to-basics affair. Flex your imaginative muscle by plugging into your childhood memory bank, however, and you will no doubt be rewarded with some life-affirming, nature-loving stories of your own.