Eveline Vouillemin reviews The Lost Words exhibition at the RAMM focusing on its enveloping appreciation of nature in a world that is increasingly neglecting it
From 19 October through to 12 January, the RAMM in Exeter will be home to ‘The Lost Words’, an exhibition dedicated to rediscovering the splendour of the natural world.
The exhibition is a collaborative project between award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and celebrated artist Jackie Morris. It seeks to address our growing disconnection from nature as our world becomes increasingly urbanised and digitised and to inject wonder and awe in nature back into the lives of children and adults through the power of images and words.
Our knowledge of the living world and even our ability to find wonder in its beauty, magic and strangeness are at risk of gradually fading away, especially amongst children. A 2016 survey of primary school children in the UK found eight year olds are more able to identify species of Pokémon than species of common UK wildlife. A survey carried out in the same year, also showed that 75% of British children spend less time outdoors than prisoners do.
‘The Lost Words’, through images and writing, seeks to conjure that diminishing wildness back into existence.
Children increasingly have fewer opportunities to play freely in nature such as exploring forests or building forts, and natural areas are less accessible. This decreasing interaction with the living world goes hand in hand with nature’s retreat from our children’s stories and imaginations and as such, wild childhoods and knowledge of the natural world seem at risk of slipping away entirely.
‘The Lost Words’, through images and writing, seeks to conjure that diminishing wildness back into existence. It takes 18 ‘lost’ words from ‘Acorn’ to ‘Heron’ to ‘Wren’ and every lost word has been transformed into an acrostic spell-poem by Macfarlane who is a master wordsmith. Each poem is delightfully witty, enchantingly playful and jumps from word to word with a magical energy.
Her watercolour paintings are intricate and mesmerising and each icon used gold leaf to present the familiar to the viewer in a magical light.
In response to the words of Macfarlane, Morris – inspired by her lifelong passion for Britain’s wildlife and landscapes – has produced beautiful artwork to surround each poem. The images capture first the absence of the plant or creature within its habitat, then an icon and then the lost plant or creature’s return to the landscape that it belongs to. Her watercolour paintings are intricate and mesmerising and each icon used gold leaf to present the familiar to the viewer in a magical light. The image of a majestic heron flying in front of a full moon is particularly arresting. Speaking about her work, Morris said “I want The Lost Words to delight the mind and the eye and send children to sleep dreaming of wild things.”
Macfarlane described their creative process in greater detail, “I wrote the spells to be spoken aloud, and often I wrote them by speaking them aloud – sounding them out while walking or waiting, seeing if they would stick in my mind as chants before putting them down on paper. I then sent each drafted spell to Jackie with the same accompanying note: ‘To be read aloud…’. I wanted to write spells that, as Seamus Heaney said, would – ‘weave a gauze of sound’ around them. Once I had written the spell, Jackie would paint in response.”
‘The Lost Words’ is a captivating exhibition that will leave you feeling restored and inspired. It successfully celebrates the relationship between language and the living world and demonstrates nature’s ability to spark the imagination. Macfarlane’s poetical prowess and Morris’ artistic talent are both impressive and delightful. It will reignite your ability to find wonder and joy in nature and encourage you to spend more time out in the natural world.