A nature writer, a conservation group and the Sámi people of Northern Finland have all been among the key influences on the work of Victoria Pratt, Creative Director of the interactive art studio Invisible Flock.
The artist group Blast Theory was instrumental early on in our journey, before we were even sure what Invisible Flock was or could be. We met because Ben Eaton, who co-founded Invisible Flock, applied for a residency in their space. Back then he was still working in bars, doing a weekly commute between Leeds and Brighton to do three weekend shifts and then be back in the studio on Monday morning. Over the 12 years we have known them, our relationship has evolved into a lasting friendship. Blast Theory provided us with a model of openness and support that shaped the way we worked and the kind of organisation we have become. It was not about the work as much as the way the work is made and how you think of yourself as an artist. Their generosity and quiet support is something we have tried to replicate in how we support younger artists and peers.
Unbox is a festival run by our friends at Quicksand Studio, a design practice based in India. The festival is a nomadic event that took place in Bangalore earlier this year. It brings together designers, artists and countless other makers and thinkers to talk about the world’s challenges in an honest and inspiring way. The fact that it is done on no money, driven by the sheer will and determination of members of the studio (particularly our close friend Babitha George), puts pretty much every other event to shame. The level of polish and thoughtfulness coupled with the energy of the festival leaves you feeling better equipped to tackle the world.
Our work takes us around the world and we regularly meet incredible people on the front line of fighting climate change. Recently, working in Sumatra, we met a host of organisations and people doing incredible work in one of the most challenging environmental conflict zones. The work these organisations do ranges from traditional conservation and research efforts to active rewilding and land purchase, as well as empowering farmers to move towards crops that promise greater profit and sustainability. Although the threat posed to Indonesia by climate change is still huge, illegal logging is down, elephant deaths and poaching are down, and they are about to embark on a first-of-its-kind Sumatran Rhino breeding program. As Rudi Putra, one of the big names in Indonesian conservation, told us with a smile: “nothing is impossible”.
'Underland' by Robert MacFarlane
Reading and research is a big part of our work and always has been. We draw on a lot of influences in our work; in particular, science has become more important to our research. 'Underland' by Robert MacFarlane is a book that is making waves in our studio at the moment. It weaves a line between fact, experience and poetry that we try to thread through our own work, and seems to express a lot of thoughts, images and a sense of place that we have been exploring ourselves. Now and again you find other works, songs, films or books that perfectly capture a feeling and a moment in time, and that you find yourself continually referencing or thinking about. 'Underland' is that book for us right now.
Our practice has always been about place, all the way back to old works of ours like Sand Pilot and Bring the Happy. This has crystallized over the years to look specifically at nature, our proximity to it, and our ability or inability to co-exist with it. I am writing this column from north Finland during a research journey. This is a truly magical place where nature has power and is deeply important – forests are entwined in people’s lives and their sense of selves. This is also the land of the Sámi people; whose sense of place transcends contemporary political and spiritual understandings of geography. This closeness is something we all need to learn: only take what is needed.
Victoria Pratt is Creative Director of Invisible Flock.