Survival Kit – Summer project – my work

Survival kit for mental health – 7 objects for 7 strategies

Manifesto for Mental Health

In this hectic, nonsensical reality, sometimes surviving just means preserving your sanity.

A toolkit is needed for the modern human to maintain their mental health and navigate their daily lives.

This kit helps you to gain spiritual and physical sustenance, as well as clarity of vision, through the 7 objects it contains. They provide multivarious defences against an omnipresent threat – a tool for each day of the week to keep it at bay.

Spiritual: connect and reflect, ensuring you are grounded:

  • Connection to inner focus (Vortex)
  • Connection to the natural world (Nest)
  • Connection to technological advances and algorithmic personalisation (Spotify code)

Physical: the necessities that sustain basic human existence

  • Nourishing, tradition and connection to roots (Oats and Seeds)
  • Sensual, personal touch and pleasure (Spoon)

Clarity of vision – as mental health problems can often cloud and distort our view

  • Ability to see alternative perspectives (Mirror & Mirror writing)
  • Ability to see direction and purpose (Compass)

Survival Strategies/a call to action: Research & my work (pt 4)

I started by experimenting with an alarm clock visual with the Extinction Rebellion slogan ‘Time’s Up’. I like the naive graphic style employed and have continued on this theme – the use of felt tip on paper also feels child-like and in keeping with the idea of our children’s future being at stake. I was experimenting with the use of yellow as contrast to black/grey but found this hampered legibility

An alarm clock seems a highly relevant object to be depicting here – alarm and a sense of urgency is precisely what is needed to drive action, and you do not allow an alarm clock to keep on ringing once it goes off – you act.

In my first drawing of the clock, I considered what time to show on the face. It immediately occurred that in depicting an analogue clock face, I could show the doomsday clock as it stands in 2019 (at two minutes to midnight https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/ )

Here, I experimented with use of different colour and creating a 3D effect with the text to aid standout, and now adopted my own slogan of Wake up. I liked this slogan/text effect but felt more could be done to increase the focus on the doomsday time. I also experimented with blue/red as an alternative but this didn’t have the same sense of alarm for me.
Here I dropped the alarm clock motif and focused on the doomsday clock itself. Using red here for the clock face, but a grey/black for the hands did help highlight the message, but it seemed a little more static now that it wasn’t an alarm clock. Experimenting with green/blue with the text felt a bit confusing for the eye.
Here I experimented with further graphic detail in the icons. I adopted the globa background in my doomsday clock (adding back in the alarm bell element of the alarm clock) and i think this was highly effective. Also using red/yellow for the text reinforced alarm and a sense of heating that could help carry the message. Below I experimented instead with the Extinction Rebellion symbol and a melting ice cap imagery within it, but I think this was less successful (though an interesting idea I think)

Survival Strategies / a call to action: Research (pt 3)

Yesterday, Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned and uncomfortable speech to the UN Climate Summit, berating them for not acting on climate change, despite the 30 years of science warning them of the consequences. It is chilling to think of the inaction of society against such an existential threat.

Text of the speech can also be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/23/world-leaders-generation-climate-breakdown-greta-thunberg

This made me think of the allegory of zombies used by George Romero in his 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, as a scathing critique of consumerist culture in the Western world. The zombies’ lumbering gait and slow speed imply an inevitable threat (like climate change) but also we see they are un-thinkingly stuck within the habits they have formed in their human lives – in the film we see the zombies gravitate to the mall, and this highlights just how irrational this constant need for more is. Even more starkly, the living protagonists fight to the death over their ownership of the resources within the mall – they cannot separate their need to possess from the drive to survive. Just like these protagonists/zombies, we cannot break free of the habits of our lives despite the existential threat looming in the climate crisis, and politicians to now have sought to assuage the guilt we might feel with empty reassurances and hope rather than action.

Here we see the Zombies in the shopping mall in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978)

This made me reflect on the use by Extinction Rebellion of the egg timer logo and the slogan ‘Time’s Up’. I wondered if another apt slogan might be ‘Wake Up’, in response to the idea of us and our governments being like zombies or sleepwalkers on the climate crisis.

Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Wake Up’ (1992)

In their return tour in the 2000s, Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha used this song as a platform to raise awareness on key political and social issues, by making a speech towards the end of the song during a more quiet section, to be followed by him screaming ‘WAKE UP’ 8 times.

¬†And in the face of all this propaganda I wanna say, we have here to unite here in Europe, we have to unite here in Europe across ethnic lines across religious differences across racial lines and its now the lines are clear. It’s us against the wealthy plain and simple. It’s time to wake up. WAKE UP.

Zack de la Rocha, 2010

Survival Strategies / A call to action: Research (pt 2)

The environmentalist movement may well have started in the 1800s, by Alexander von Humboldt. He was the first to come up with the notion of an inter-connected natural world, unleashing the basic ecological awareness that our modern understanding has roots in. Since, in viewing everything as connected, he understood also that should some part of it fail, the whole may be at risk. Read more about Humboldt here

Today, the ‘Green Wave’ is picking up speed. The evidence of climate change is now apparent for all to see, but this can also be attributed to the loud voices from the modern environmentalist movement.

One who has influenced global dialogue most is Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who now famously began striking from school to protest the inaction of adults to address the climate crisis. Millions around the world now join her on ‘Fridays for Climate’ strikes, and she has used the same candour at the marches and gatherings she has attended, as the most senior political arenas she has been invited to speak in.

They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions.

Greta Thunberg , speaking at Extinction Rebellion in London, 31st Oct 2018

Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black and white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at World Economic Forum in Davos, 25th Jan 2019

Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at UK Houses of Parliament, 23rd Apr 2019

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is a grass roots protest movement which seeks to use the direct action method successfully used by the Suffragettes, in gaining women’s emancipation, in order to drive greater public awareness of the climate crisis and force politicians to act.

They seek to rebel in order to disrupt business as usual, and welcome arrests as this helps to demonstrate the ardour with which they support the cause, and encourages others to be outraged also. In April 2019, after shutting down 5 iconic London landmarks over a fortnight, 1000 people had been arrested. The next day, the UK became the first country to declare a state of climate and ecological emergency.

They use incendiary language and imagery in their posters and campaign literature, making key use of the skull and egg timer running out of sand to indicate the direness of the situation as they see it.

The science is clear: we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe is we do not act swiftly and robustly… Our air is so toxic the United Kingdom is breaking the law. It harms the unborn while causing tens of thousands to die. The breakdown of our climate has begun… The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored… We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.

Declaration of Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion 2019

They acknowledge that this is emotionally charged territory in the introduction to their book This is not a Drill (2019). That it may make the reader feel ‘sad, or empty, or guilty, or angry, or frightened, or numb’. They counter this with the idea that for them the book is about love for the planet, and for humanity.

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 7)

Indirect Connection/Support: Detritus and Death

A robin took advantage of some crumbs that had fallen from my lunch @ Eden Project, 09/2019

There is a lot of support indirectly and perhaps unconsciously given to the world around us. In Eden I witnessed a Robin picking up crumbs that I had just swept from my knee during a quick lunch in the woods.

The pinnacle of unintended support and connection comes after death. Our bodies return to the earth and can support other lifeforms.

But this is not the only way dead lifeforms can support the living. Humans make various use of dead lifeforms as raw materials for construction, and other supportive functions for life.

A tree stump is being used as a literal support for the bending trunk of a living one.
A Cistacae plant grown twisted around and supported by a wooden post.

Survival strategies/A call to action: Research (pt 1)

This morning I saw the UN sharing it’s latest report on climate action.

This video which accompanies the report highlights the human factor and our need to adapt to survive, and some of the actions that can be taken by communities to do so, which inevitably are to do with how we interact with the natural world. The video opens with stark emotional clarity on the fear & sadness of climate change, but instils a sense of hope in how humans can act now.

It is significant that they have called for adaptation to help us survive the very real impacts of climate change that are being felt today. The Global Commission on Adaptation was formed 10 months ago in reaction to a deadly summer of climate change related natural disasters.

This is intended to happen in tandem with efforts to prevent the worst climate change from happening at all, but since there is a very real threat to survival today this is also direly necessary.

The key and notable difference here vs the Eden Project mission, is that the report is targeting action of governments and business to change their behaviour, not individuals. It lays out the business case for investing now to adapt, as a means of saving money in the long-run (since spending in the wake of disaster much higher than that to prevent/anticipate it) and protecting gdp. That we must reduce this impending disaster to dollars and cents in order to help safeguard life on Earth is stark and disturbing, but it seems this is the reality we face. The UN were already talking about adaptation 10 years ago, so this must be a response that is intended to more tangibly drive action.

Within this report they highlight the key role that the natural world plays as a crucial support system in all elements of our adaptation to climate change – and the visual charts they include play on our inter-connectedness.

While I think this is still highly connected to my survival strategies theme, I think this could be a separate one in itself, specifically around calls to action, activism, protest and societal change. Relating here and now to environmentalism, which would also include eden project, extinction rebellion and Greta Thunberg, but also in recent years the #MeToo movement and protest marches in the UK and US against the political climate.

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 6)

Direct Connection/Support: Family

Across much of the animal kingdom, family connections are strong and a source of great support especially through the juvenile stage. For mammals this is especially strong during pregnancy and in the nursing stage.

A young family touring the Rainforest biome in Eden project, 09/2019
A juvenile gull pesters it’s parent to feed it in Mevagissey harbour, 09/2019
Hand casts in the wall of the Core at Eden project, 09/2019

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 5)

Direct Connection/Support: Bees

Bees are a support system in themselves – providing vital pollination to plantlife, and nourishing animals like humans in turn.

A bee on a flower at Eden Project, 09/2019

While reflecting on the importance of the support from bees, it is unsurprising that a honeycomb structure was chosen for the iconic biomes at the Eden project – where they aspire to be connecting us. The delicate structure appears bubble-like from the outside, with the tesselated structure dominant all across the heavens inside.

The Eden Project biomes, 09/2019
Internal biome dome study, pencil on paper 09/2019

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 4)

Direct Connection/Support: Lichen

Lichens are interesting to the idea of inter-connectedness and support for several reasons:

  • Lichens are communities of fungi, algae and other bacteria which support each other – fungi provide a home and minerals, algae convert sunlight to food.
  • Lichens can survive in all kinds of hostile conditions – on mountain tops, the coast, tropical forests and limestone pores under the ice in Antarctica
  • Many birds use lichen for nest building to help them camouflage
  • Some insects such as Markia hystrix (a grasshopper in south america) live in and on lichen.

I observed various instances of lichen growing on other lifeforms around the Eden Project. I particularly like their textural contrast.

Pencil on paper sketch of lichen on tree branch stump 09/2019

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 3)

Besides the visual communications Eden themselves used to evoke inter-connectedness, I was interested to witness this survival strategy in action in the lifeforms in and around the site itself.

  • Lifeform directly supported by another lifeform: ‘symbiosis’
  • Lifeform supported indirectly by another lifeform e.g. benefiting from the death of another, or picking up scraps.

Direct Connection/Support: Epiphytes

Within the rainforest biome, I observed an interesting type of plant known as ‘epiphytes’ – ones that use other plants for support and do not themselves require soil, and are not parasitic.

Here some epiphytes growing off a tree trunk, fallen across the base of a waterfall in the Rainforest biome at Eden Project, 09/2019
Here another fallen trunk covered in epiphytes – here we can see the trunk is covered in moss and tendril-like roots

These plants are supported in a literal sense, as they are suspended in the air by the trunk on which they grow. That they grow on the trunk but are not parasites is particularly interesting. In both of these photographs I like how vibrant and full of energy the plants look, with their spiky forms and vivid green colours.

Epiphytes, Felt tip and pencil on paper, 09/2019
Study of epiphyte roots detail, pencil on paper 09/2019