A lament from the Children and Nature Network is that in the last score or so of years children of the digital age have become increasingly disenfranchised from the natural environment, sometimes with perilous implications, not only for their physical fitness, but also for their sustained mental and spiritual well-being. When the gardens and woods beckoned — kids scampered about, bustling, building, burrowing; playing imaginative and socially interactive games like hide-and-seek, tag and capture the flag.
Yet the glow of a screen now arrests more attention than fireflies.
According to a quasi-introspective documentary (produced and directed by self-admitted TV junkie and long-time child actor Adrian Grenier) about youthful paparazzo, on average, children in the USA spend just over 6 hours looking into electronic screens each day. The total of 2,000 hours a year compares with 900 hours in class and 1,270 hours with their parents.
What to do? Seems thaat PlayStation, X-genie is out of the bottle and it ain't gonna fit back in.
What if I was to describe a scene about a week ago in Miami when I watched kids stash (voluntarily) their gaming devices as they entered a garden and museum's maze-like structure?
Would you believe it?
Ostensibly designed to promote environmental awareness and celebrate Miami's lush urban greenspaces and natural eco-systems, 'Elusive Landscape' by mixed media artist Dinorah de Jesús Rodriguez consists of multiple hand-crafted, 16mm films depicting the forms and colors of natural images of Miami social topography and landscape projected (often in layers and various points of view) into foliage, trees and other less than linear
I find this last bit quite important; considering a "digital-coming-of-age" youth's response to the natural world is often quixotic. This is a youth culture sorting rapid intercuts and altering points of view from multiplied, often virtual vicissitudes: astoundingly capable of filling the space of unseen gaps.
Certainly, casting light into a garden’s terrain begets gauzy, mutable images. Yet, there’s intrigue to the flash and flow of the images that confounded conventional wisdom and preserved the natural surrounding in the cadenced swoosh and loop of the seven, 16mm reel to reel projectors.
In the maze projection I alluded to above, an interactive, on-site dialogue seemed to emerge as two projectors streamed light to a center pole-like edifice from nearly a 90 degree angle. This encouraged the children to address the center fixture as a "media source". These fleeting Vizcayans appeared to delight in the discovery of new impressions -- as they constantly ran to different areas of the maze. It reminded me of a movement therapy technique I sometimes use called infinite walking. Which, ironically, I describe to children as being a game of “How many things can you do at once”? It easily inspires interest as it allows us to use our own body as an instant biofeedback system. The brain begins to use the body as a much more appreciated sensational organic system. It amounts to accomplishing an initiation technique that provides active mind bypassing and encourages body and spirit conspiration.
In a nutshell, the body motor language reveals the new images as you move in a figure eight pattern (hence the name infinite walking) of perceptual shifts that change the quality of images and the oftentimes, informs a new movement pattern.
De Jesús Rodriguez highlighted the satisfaction she gained with getting people "to be moved" by the gardens (metaphorically and literally) in this location. "I so enjoyed watching people walking through the maze garden in the dark last night," she said.
In this particular spot I also picked up on the social facilitation dynamic of De Jesús Rodriguez’s craft: parents and grandparents began to encourage children to play in the light, trace the projections on themselves and playfully become a part of the art. Cameras consistently flashed to capture the moment; colluding with the elusive, watery light sprinkled in the canopy beyond the edifice."
De Jesús Rodriguez's method is both very simple and quite profound. This paradox seems to arise from the foundation of the art being juxtaposed to a usual daylight rendezvous in a garden setting, as well as anchored (and thus confined) to the most basic of simple repetitive movements: the loop to loop reels. Yet the artistic temperament of the work enables basic movement to carry the potential for profound change. The unique way in which each film's movement patterns are personally textured with sensory, perceptual, language, cognitive and relational elements evoke response in the whole person. The transformational quality of the work may be best epitomized by how De Jesús Rodriguez skirted the boundary of rationality. As Sara Firman, a Cultural Creative focused on contemporary and historic spa culture commented on mind mediation to help heal the body, “it takes personal humility and integrity, as well as social conscience to bring the rational and non-rational sides of
human experience into harmony with each other."
De Jesús Rodriguez exhibited those qualities to mother nature at Vizcaya, though, in a form that might provoke a purist like Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods), Chairman of the Children & Nature Network which promotes the philosophy of "leave no child inside."
However, Louv may be inclined to agree that with a social mediation like Elusive Landscape -- we may find an entourage of children outside in the dark but seeing the light.
Randy Eady is an award-winning landscape designer, on the editorial advisory board of Garden Design. His most recent publication "Creating Therapeutic Garden Landscapes" can be found in the 2010 ICAA Developer’s Guide, Vol. #5, pgs 22-28. His therapy garden design features have been installed in Washington, Oregon, Florida and the EU.