“Courage calls to courage everywhere”

– Millicent Fawcett, Suffragette, 1913

Inspiration

Walking Forest is a coming together of the shared interests of four artists, deeply inspired by forest ecologies, women earth defenders on the frontlines, and the courage and performative genius of the Suffragettes. These areas of inspiration continuously feed and nourish the possibility of our work, much in the same way mycellium networks of fungi nourish individual trees, connecting them to the wider community of the forest. 

Our work aims to create space for specific connection, support and learning through listening, sharing of stories and offering recognition through human-to-human connection across the forest floors.

Suffragettes

The women’s suffrage movement in the UK was a long and hard-fought campaign. The campaign began in 1866, seeking to win women the vote. It was not until 1928 that all women were granted the same voting rights as all men.

The suffrage movement was fed by the need for women’s equality. There were two main groups involved, both with very different tactics and campaigning styles: the Suffragists and the Suffragettes. The Suffragists, The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) led by Milicent Fawcett, had been campaigning since 1866 using law-abiding political means of lobbying the government and members of parliament, letter writing and campaigning. In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was set up by the Pankhurst family after seeing 40 years of failed ‘polite’ campaigning and thousands of petitions getting nowhere. Their eventually more militant approach resulted in campaigners’ imprisonment, torture, and many instances of violence inflicted by the police and the public.

Both the Suffragettes and the Suffragists convened visually striking and very well-attended processions that were curated and crafted like theatrical productions, for example, the Mud March of 1907 and the Coronation Procession of 1911. At night there’d be lanterns, during the day they’d often carry flowers, and marchers were asked to dress in conventional clothes (usually in white), wearing accessories and sashes in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green.  The suffragettes led extremely creative campaigns making expert use of visual communication, imagery, design and merchandise. Actions to disrupt and draw attention to their cause were creative, disruptive, playful and daring.  So many conventions were broken by the women, particularly the Suffragettes, through some extraordinary acts of protest, which offered physical freedom that is palpable in their accounts.

Forest Trees

In the forest, individual trees live in a community, connected via the superfine fungal mycelial networks running underground. Forester Suzanne Simmard discovered that an entire forest can behave like a single organism, connecting via the underground network of mycelium! These networks reveal the hidden existence of a vast, unseen ‘complex adaptive system‘ which is fluid, uncertain and hugely important as the foundation of forest ecosystems and more than 90% of plant life.

Under just one single footstep in a forest, there can be hundreds of kilometres of Mycorrhizae – the symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a root system. Mycorrhizae show us the interdependency of all life, making clear the essential, cross-species connections that make up a healthy living system. They also show us that mutualism, i.e. a positive beneficial relationship between different species, is an integral and underappreciated side to the natural world.  

In a healthy forest, there are established Mother Trees who act as hubs for the information network and nurture younger saplings. Nurse Logs are fallen trees that provide ideal conditions for tree seeds to germinate, alongside providing food for the fungi and the mycelial web. When this network is damaged by extensive logging, deforestation or changes in climate, then the whole forest ecosystem is impacted. By studying mycelium and the forest as a whole, we can begin to understand more about what has brought us to this place of ecological and climate emergency, and what is needed to remediate, restore and repair these essential-to-life networks.

These stories are not about individuals, but a functioning web of relationships. We are constantly returning to the forest as a place of inspiration and learning, drawing parallels in its underground workings to shared networks of practice in light of global ecocide and the hidden, grassroots and local work of activists (often women) working to preserve life. 

Global Women Earth Protectors

The violent colonizing history of Britain has roots that go back 100’s of years. The English first colonised its own people – when the first ever stature of the English Parliament in 1925 gave landowners the right to enclose commons, uprooting the English peasantry from their own land. Today, over 50% of England is owned by 1%. The British Empire went on to make land a privatised commodity across the world, forcing indigenous people from homelands.

Our work seeks to acknowledge the histories of violence and genocide that colonising nations have inflicted upon so many cultures, how these histories continues to impact the lives of peoples across the world, and the untold damages caused to the wider web of life, non-human communities and ecosystems. Women are often on the frontlines of these impacts, and of grassroot action for change. It has been found that a majority of those who are involved in sustainability and environmental organisations around the world are women, yet their voices and presence only make up 29% of executive and board-level seat members – those in charge of key global policy decisions.

We constantly seek inspiration, dialogue and exchange with female activists across the world who work in defence of the Earth. Through our work, we’ve been connecting with women across the globe, exchanging seeds, dialogue, inspiration and courage. And still, we have much to learn and discover as we continue these connections throughout the project, through in past, present and future learnings of those on the frontlines of standing for ecological and social justice.