Contributed by Sarah Hubbard
In September our Young Naturalists Guild got a chance to work with local artist and extraordinary human Chris Taylor at
The State Botanical Gardens on his Nest Building Project. Chris has been building nests at the Botanical Gardens since March 2015. Most Saturdays he can be found somewhere along one of the many trails at the State Botanical Gardens creating. Ours is number 20! He just finished his last nest on Sunday November 22, 2015! (Congratulations Chris)
Chris is probably one of the most likeable people I have ever met. He isn’t shy and he loves what he does. He hopes to inspire others. Like those of us at Wild Intelligence he hopes to help build a bridge for people between our everyday lives and the natural world.
When we arrived at the Botanical Gardens in September I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I didn’t know or understand what building ‘Land Art’ was like – being an artist myself I was certainly curious. As we passed a few of his other nests I was immediately struck by the internal reaction I felt for them. I suddenly had this strange empathy for all the animals that live on the land. While talking about it with Chris he shared with me this was one of his motivations in making the nests – to invite people to think and look at where and how animals live – to imagine ourselves living that way as well.
He led us up a small creek to the location he had picked for the next nest. We had the choice of building it on the bank of the creek or actually in the creek on some rocks that created a nice little bed right in the middle of the nest.
Naturally, we picked in the creek!
He laid out the nest building process – we were going to gather sticks and organize them (something we do a lot of at Wild Intelligence) and then we would start building. I was feeling a little nervous… I thought for sure the kids wouldn’t be into it. These two have built countless numbers of fires and shelters – to the point they could probably just about do it in their sleep. Thankfully, they were excited to be part of a cool art project and they jumped right in. We had a nice stack of sticks in no time.
As we worked Chris talked to us about his process, his relationship with nature, his childhood adventures, and the experiences he has had with the numerous people he has built nests for. We talked about some of his dreams and hopes with the art he creates and the impacts it has on people. There isn’t anything selfish about what he’s doing other than that he wants it to be fun for himself. What he most wants seems to be to inspire people and to get them outside.
And… he doesn’t just make nests. He uses a lot of different types of living and non-living materials to make art. He’s even made a nest out of plastic bottles.
I have to admit I was surprised by how quickly the time passed and how the easily the shape came together. We started with big sticks and made our way down to the smallest branches. He had us pick pretty specific types of branches and sticks. As we finished up we were weaving the smallest sticks together.
A nest materialized right before our eyes.
Once we finished up our nest and after basking in what we had just created we headed back down the creek and onto another creek to really dive into how Chris looks at art. When he’s making anything in nature he Explores, Collects, Curates, and then Creates. He does this with every project he works on. He picks one item from nature and that’s the only thing he uses – he might use leaves, nuts, rocks or seashells – whatever is in the landscape he’s working in. He then looks for a place where his items will have contrast. He might play with the light using shadows and reflection. He might pick an area that is a contrasting color than his picked item. He might hang his items from a tree or build something out of sticks for them to hang on. Once he’s gathered up his items he then sorts them into groups. He typically sorts them by shape, color or size – and then he sets to work. For Chris the sky is the limit. And because he is making living art he knows it could last a day or it could last several seasons. He embraces the impermanence of it. (That’s my kind of thinking.)
As we wrapped up the day I was seeing the landscape yet another way than I had before. Colors looked different to me, shapes suddenly stood out in new ways, and though I already see the earth as amazing I saw even more potential in what is possible to create with what is already there.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to go back to the spot where we built nest #20 with a group of teachers from Chattahoochee Hills Charter School and Tommy. We all gathered around the nest and talked about the creation of it and the effect it had on them. Tommy and I were taking the teachers on a Wild Intelligence style wander to work on deepening their connection to the earth so they could take their connection back into their classes. We spent a nice chunk of our time talking about nests and animal habitats – we even built one a small one for a game of eagle eye. Proof that Chris’s nests are a point for real connection for folks who come across them in their wanderings.
If you are looking for something cool to do with your kids or need an excuse to get outside you should take a walk on the trails at the Botanical Gardens. Make it a game to see how many of Chris’s nests you can find. If you want to check more of Chris’s Land Art you can visit his website, follow him on Instagram (@34degreesnorth), and Facebook. Take pictures and tag him! It makes his day to see people enjoying his artwork!
Here’s a map to the Botanical Gardens made with 21 of the current nests on it. After this map was completed a few of the nest have gone by way of rain. See which ones you can find and see if you can figure out which ones are now missing. Which one is your favorite?