The Oak Project

The Oak Project is a national arts programme that is creatively growing connection to nature, helping improve wellbeing and motivating environmental action.

In 2021, the Oak Project launched its first major open air sculpture commission, Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, hosted at YSP, by artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison.

The pavilion-style sculpture, built entirely from natural materials, provides the opportunity for visitors to stop and connect with the natural surroundings. Over time the artwork will be reclaimed by nature as the weather contributes to its decomposition and becomes a new habitat for wildlife.

In 2022, the Oak Project will commission a new work that will dynamically engage people in nature connectedness to form the centrepiece of the project’s second year of programming. Responding to the question “Can art save us from extinction?”, the work will begin its life at YSP before touring to at least two other locations in the UK throughout 2022 to reach as wide an audience as possible.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Derby, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Bronze Oak Project Ltd, and will run for five years. Other projects in 2021 included Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow, a Silver Gilt Award-winning installation by Charlotte Smithson at RHS Chelsea 2021; a collaboration with Future20 Collective (see below); and the Tune Into Nature Music Prize – a national music competition for ages 16-29.

Charlie Burrell, owner of the Knepp rewilding project and co-founder of The Oak Project, comments: “We are living in an environmental crisis. The science is unequivocal – unless we take drastic action, and soon, we face both ecological and climate collapse. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how rapidly change can happen in response to a crisis, and how quickly nature can recover when given space to do so. We need to build upon these glimmers of hope and work to rebalance our relationship with the natural world for the long term, and we’re excited about the role the arts can play within this”

Prof Miles Richardson, Professor of Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby, comments: “Wildlife loss and climate crisis show our relationship with nature is failing. Our research shows the power of arts-based, sensory and meaningful emotion-based activities in building a closer connection to nature. When people are connected to nature, they are much more likely to do more to help the environment. These pro-environmental behaviours could be anything from buying a reusable coffee cup, recycling waste, feeding the birds and planting wildflowers through to signing petitions or joining a ‘clean-up’ activity. Nature connection is key to a more sustainable lifestyle and a new relationship with nature”.

Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at YSP, comments: “The Oak Project follows a significantly increased awareness of the climate emergency. It is therefore extremely well placed and timed to create positive action in response to climate-anxiety and compromised mental health highlighted by COVID-19. The aftershock of the pandemic will be with us for many months, if not years, and the Oak Project will sit precisely in this period – giving people access to art and nature in a way that will support mental, physical and spiritual health as well as catalysing terrific new projects by practicing artists."

Beyond Silence: SAF-S2E, Jahday Ford and Melissa Sorrell in collaboration with Studio Morison

Studio Morison and Future20 Collective members SAF-S2E, Jahday Ford and Melissa Sorrell have created a new digital artwork which reimagines Heather Peak and Ivan Morison’s sculptural installation Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, in situ at YSP’s Upper Lake.

“Take a breath, deep”

Collaborating with Ivan Morison, the diverse creative practices of SAF-S2E, Ford, Sorrell have fused together to produce a creative digital response to the sculpture, its surrounding landscape and wider environmental context, titled Beyond Silence.

Responding to the question “can art save us from extinction?” Silence invites visitors to be quiet in the pavilion-like space, and to spend time listening and focusing on the surrounding natural environment, reflecting on how we might rebalance our relationship with nature. SAF-S2E, Ford, Sorrell have taken this as inspiration to produce this new commission.

Beyond Silence comprises of onsite field recordings, moving images and heightened audio experiences of the site captured during various times of the day and night. As light, silence and sound change the atmosphere of a space, the film’s visuals by Sorrell capture the feelings and moments that often get missed during the bustle of the everyday. The film reflects changing environments, evoking feelings of meditation, reflection, and the tranquil essence of human activity, as well as highlighting the destructive moments within nature to accompany moments heard in the film’s soundtrack.

The artistic and sonic interpretations created by Ford were made spontaneously in the space, and capture the multiple buzzing, flapping, chirping sounds heard in the dark, as well as the wind, water and breathing. These combined create a soundtrack that reflects the storm that is threatening our future, and acts has the sounds of Earth claiming back its land before humans ruin it completely.

Free-styled words and lyrics by SAF-S2E are a warning of what is found in the silence – do people these days sit, look around and admire the world? Or will we continue to pave a path of no return for the human race?

Watch the artists in conversation with YSP's Director of Programme Clare Lilley

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