Eyes of the Forest – Seeing things differently - RSA

Eyes of the Forest – Seeing things differently


  • Picture of Penny Hay
    Penny Hay
    Artist, educator, mentor, researcher
  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Schools

Our vision for the third Forest of Imagination was to highlight the relationship of Bath to the local and global environment. “Shining a light on the importance of global forests, and the capacity of Bath as a creative ecosystem” Andrew Grant RDI. This allowed us to create this ‘pop up’ event combining contemporary, multi-disciplinary installations with a kaleidoscope of events and activities: right in the heart of the city of Bath, focused around the Abbey.

This is a project about the creative ecology of the city, collaboration across generations and between industries. For the last two years we have transformed familiar, but typically neglected, pieces of the city landscape into an abstract ‘Forest’, brought to life by artists and scientists, carpenters, architects, landscape architects, school children, college students, parents, grandparents young and old. Andrew Grant RDI, Landscape Architect, Grant Associates and Co-Designer, Forest of Imagination


After months of preparation this year’s Forest took place on 3-6 June and we saw an incredible 10,000+ visitors.  We focused on four sites over the weekend -

The Global Forest housed three large inflatable baobab tree installations and a pavement artwork highlighting the importance of forests on a global scale.

The Creative Forest was an outdoor workshop space in which participants were invited to play and create alongside artists to make an abstract ‘forest’ of 1000 trees exploring the human response to a forest environment.

The Living Forest consisted of a 3D sound designed by Martyn Ware and an art installation by Cabinets of Curiosity Studio suspended in Abbey Green’s plane tree, designed to enhance the natural environment.

The Eden Forest witnessed an installation by Anthony Head of thousands of butterflies suspended within the nave of Bath Abbey, and accompanied by a sound installation designed by Martyn Ware, transforming the interior into a new and imagined landscape.

Since its inception the Forest has been closely connected to the RSA, receiving Catalyst funding for its first year, literally turning ‘ideas into a reality’ and embodying the power to create.  Collaboration is key to the Forest and there have been many Fellows involved since the beginning, volunteering to make the event happen. 

Forest of Imagination is co-directed by 5x5x5=creativity and Grant Associates and delivered through collaboration between a group of committed businesses, arts, cultural and educational organisations.

With a strong focus on conservation, especially the plight of wildlife in Madagascar, the event featured giant inflatable Baobab trees outside the abbey, while Bristol Zoo presented talks, and led workshops for local school children, about its lemur conservation project in Madagascar and around the globe. For the first time the event made use of Augmented Reality (AR) to offer an additional, virtual world for visitors to explore. Bath based technology firm Media Grand specially designed the ‘Forest Eyes’ app for 2016’s Forest of Imagination.

I found the butterflies and sound installations in the Abbey incredible, I just sat back listened and took in the forest noises and butterflies fluttering, it was really moving, giving yourself space to think and meditate. Lou Matter, RSA

After another successful year our future plans include working towards Bath and North East Somerset gaining accreditation as a Unicef Child Friendly City and Community. Our key aim for the longer term, is that the event will inform the development of the House of Imagination, a permanent creative studio space for children and young people in Bath.

This year the Forest concept has started to seed elsewhere, the RSA West region supported a satellite event, The Enchanted Gardens at Blaise Castle House Museum in Bristol.  Another multi partnered event, delivered a one-off magical experience to engage, educate and delight all ages to promote the changing face of Blaise Castle House Museumto the local community and start a conversation about the future of the museum.

Lead artists Jono Burgess and Grace Swordy worked alongside 5x5x5=creativity and the Bristol Museums team to design a successful event as part of Museums at Night. The event itself was blessed with incredible sunshine and saw around 1,800 visitors, with a brilliant mix of people – different ages, ethnicity and class. The atmosphere was relaxed and playful and many families stayed for the whole afternoon, experiencing a wide range of participatory arts workshops in the house and gardens. Local schools were invited to take part in creative workshops before and during the event, with children learning alongside creative professionals.

In the future it would be fantastic to design a permanent Forest of Imagination in the heart of a City.

Penny Hay FRSA




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