Tactile experiences and creating embodied memories. Image: Priska Falin, 2020

During the planning phase of the ‘Sensorial Ground’ workshop, we worked with different forms of practice to explore the notions and ways of thinking that arose in our discussions. We wished to understand (through experience) what exercises would genuinely support our intentions and to define them in such a way that others might echo this experience, whilst finding a personal connection. One of our primary activities was to walk in our respective home areas. We spoke frequently, sharing our experiences, reflections, and visuals from our small journeys. Alongside this, we shared readings that we felt drawn to and places of overlapping interest, which held connection and meaning.


In the beginning of our work, we found Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s book The Metamorphosis of Plants intriguing and especially the new edition of the book with Gordon L. Miller’s introduction and photography (Goethe 2009). Miller's lifelong fascination with Goethe’s approaches and his own endeavour to produce this edition inspired us. In his search for specimens, Miller travelled far and wide as had Goethe many years before him. Miller had deep motivation to experience and reveal the world that Goethe unfolds in his writings and he went to great lengths of finding the exact same plants or details that Goethe had drawn in his original version of the book. This endeavour inspired us in our practice to experience the surrounding nature in new ways. Finding the poet–scientist in our practice helped to discover the nuanced and detailed aspects of our environment that supported the attuning to the subtle senses.


This newly illustrated version became almost like a ‘teacher’ as we began to walk and explore our local environments. In Goethe’s work on understanding plant life, he shed light on the different forms and aspects of individual plants, instead of solely looking into the best specimens. He sought to understand the conditions that influence the growth and form (Miller 2009: xxii). Goethe’s poetic inquiry was for him a way of achieving a better understanding of plant life as a whole. In his writings, he examined irregular, or accidental metamorphosis in comparison to regular. Through irregular metamorphosis he discovered insights that would have been hidden had he only focused on the regular metamorphosis (Goethe 2009: 6–7). His approach brings forward the subjective experience of perceiving plants, which teaches us about interconnection and interdependence. We began to recognize and embrace this approach in our practice and research.


Within our daily lives, we found the walks to be useful for directing our attention to the body with ease, through our subtle senses. We found ourselves naturally returning to aspects of our experiences over and over and they came to support the foundation of our thinking. 


First, there was a feeling of openness — of being open to the environment and at the same time opening the senses, our use of embodied tactility in our perception, being aware of the sounds that turned our bodies in different directions, and the piercing spring light which would stop us in our tracks. Watching and experiencing how nature comes to life around us, seeing the shades of luminous green where it was all brown just the other day.


This was a process of tuning into the aesthetics of our everyday experience. It was about revealing our personal connections that took our curiosity by the hand, to explore nature and our experiences in this material world as material beings. This basis of our research was informed by organism-environment interaction where it is recognized that we are biological organisms and in our understanding of our world all is dependent on our bodily makeup and patterns of engagement with our world (Johnson 2015: 1).


In order to understand and direct the personal experiences that are mostly based on sensorial perception we employed the theoretical framing of having an experience according to John Dewey (2005). In his writings, Dewey builds his theory on everyday experiences in order to be open for all and not limit the experiencing of art to any specific group of people. The process of having an experience is based on an organism-environment interaction. Dewey writes: “experience is the result, the sign, and the reward of that interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participation and communication” (ibid.: 22). In the ‘Sensorial Ground’ workshop, we concentrated on this active participation and sought to share the aesthetic nature of our experiences.


Starting to open his idea of having an experience, Dewey says that in order to understand the aesthetic, one must begin with the experience in the raw. He continues to unfold a way of attentive appreciation, of being able to enjoy the surrounding life with all its nuances, being open to subtle qualities, of happenings, and not remaining as a “cold spectator” (2005: 3). Similarly, we began the workshop with the idea of being attentive observers who approach the qualities we find with gentle delight, who notice the details and are drawn to the utterances that we so often miss. This began by bringing attention to the fresh sensory experience of each moment, where there is always something new to learn. For this approach, we sought to bring attention to one sense at a time. In this way, we might gently discourage deciding what is seen before it is ‘felt’ within. 


Opening our senses to the environment was the beginning of starting to explore and understand the individual connections that created an interest towards something. During the first week, participants were asked to explore the embodied tactile experiences, to simply follow a willingness to touch — to notice the urge to touch. They were asked the question, why do you want to touch it and to imagine what it would feel like to touch? We wished to give the sense of how the tactile experience feels in our bodies before touching and then how it feels in our bodies when touching, feeling the discovered rock, or surface. Taking this approach, we began to open up our sense perceptions and linger with them in the body. 

The PoetScientist approach: Home to the wilderness

In this part, we discuss the practice that formed our collaborative work, which began with the ‘Embodied Clay’ workshop and continued towards the ‘Sensorial Ground’ workshop, through our shared and individual practices. We open the ideas around the Poet–Scientist that influenced our approach towards how we can perceive our common surroundings in a new way.

Zooming into details to enjoy the colors and the feeling of growing.

Image: Priska Falin, 2020

Standing still in the landscape. Video: Priska Falin, 2020

Helen's embodied memories: Embodied connections with nature

During the springtime of 2020 while Covid-19 had confined us to our homes, I, like many others, found myself walking more and more in the nearby surroundings of our home. I remembered from previous springtimes, how much I enjoyed nature coming to life, especially here, living in Helsinki, the southern parts of Finland. I explored with great enthusiasm the gradual growth of the leaves, different kinds of leaves in different trees and bushes. I tried to catch the morning light or the beautiful shades of early evening when the setting sun and its rays filtered through the new light green fresh leaves that would eventually become filled with greenness, marking the end of the springtime.


While these walks were also a process to explore the sense perception and firstly the embodied tactile perception in my experiences, I became more and more curious about my strong interest and enjoyment towards the spring growth that I witnessed every day during my walks. I posed a question to myself: what is it, why I am so drawn into this growth, and why do I feel such joy growing within me along with the leaves and shades of green that are growing around me?

Between our conversations, I came across a picture from my childhood. I am standing with my sister, by the wall at the bottom of our garden. We are both wearing animal masks and have been feeding the cows. I can feel my hands on the rocky wall and smell the sweetness of the cows' noses as they come closer to our outstretched arms. I can feel the grass in my hand and recall the snapping of stems as I yank them from the ground. The cows and I are looking at one another; I am reflected in their deep, dark eyes. The potent scent of their noses fills the air and their wet, rough tongues are on my fingertips.

Priska's walks: Embodied connections with nature 

Helen and Anna in the garden, 1986. Image: Felcey family photo.

Spring leaves forming.

Images: Priska Falin, 2020

This was a time when I didn’t think or talk about connecting to nature. The presence of nature and all the things in my garden were just everyday life, as was wearing animal masks, becoming a bear, or a lion. I grew up in Lancashire, in a small village. The garden provided many places of refuge and play — from having my own ‘patch’ to sitting underneath the weeping elm or climbing the apple tree. It has been twenty-five years since I have been in this garden, yet, recalling the cows by the wall along with these familiar corners, comes to me with such ease. I feel their textures in my body and a warmth bubbles up inside.


After finding this picture, I began to notice the cows in the field near my mum’s home, and I watched a little girl feeding them as I had, she was absorbed and joyful. I watched as one determined cow tried, again and again, to reach the fresh young leaves of a tree by the fence. I enjoyed taking it all in, the softness of the breeze on the cows’ ears ruffling her fur, the strained muscles in the neck. What I see and feel is different now, but somewhere in this feeling I find a sense of being able to ‘return’.


I feel it is a process of connecting. Such a process of connecting was described to me recently as like the sun's rays meeting the plant, a point of connection, to work together. (Personal notes, from a talk given by Khenpo Tokpa Tulku 2020). I think about this; this meeting, this point of nourishment. Somehow, I feel that the picture from my childhood was like a light beam — a moment of nourishment, which can still illuminate my being. 

The place where I grew up is almost 600 km north of Helsinki. It is not Lapland but it is definitely different considering nature and how the spring arrives compared to the southern parts of Finland. The climate has changed during the years since my childhood and the winters are not anymore as cold as they used to be. I remember that when eventually the spring feeling came in the air and the sun started to get warmer, melting the ice and snow little by little, we started making the spring. This was something that helped the spring come faster, at least in our yard. We moved the snow piles to sunnier spots and I watched how the piles would gradually disappear. But the snow felt like an endless resource and all this felt like forever. Thinking back at that time, springtime was about this, trying hard to get rid of the winter. And when eventually the snow finally melted away, it was already June and the beginning of summer. The spring was over before it really even started.

There is a continuum that flows through me, from long ago. It is full of images, exchanges, and feelings of every kind, each with varying potency. Branches layered against a smoky sky, light settling on glass-like water at dusk, the wetness of the cows’ noses, the residue of ground rose petals on the garden wall. Momentary connections tinged with subtle inner feelings, soft colours, and odours. 


Now, whenever I can, I make a point of pausing and watching the cows, even if only for a few moments; they will still pull me inwards, providing a connection, a refuge.

The cows on Brick Kiln Lane. Image: Helen Felcey, 2020

Early evening light illuminating the fresh shades of green. Images: Priska Falin, 2020

Moving down to Helsinki, the experience of springtime is very strong for me. I can’t get enough of wondering and looking closely at the first spring flowers and tracing leaves where they first start to open. The spring starts early and there is time to truly enjoy the different nuances of colours and forms of leaves when they burst out of the buds and start finding their leaf-like forms. At first, they are so cramped together, like they are cuddling each other through the coldness of winter. The first green shades are translucent and yellow. The growing leaves, that I remember observing during springtime in my childhood, were bright green birch leaves. Small cat ear-like birch leaves together with bright yellow dandelions were marking the spring and early summer.


The ground doesn’t freeze here as it does in Kainuu, where I am from. The ground is ready to go and it smells of rotten leaves and fresh soil after the winter. When I was a child, it was such a joy when the summer came. Sometimes, there was still a bit of snow left up in the skiing hills, but it didn’t matter, the spring had won again over the winter. Now, when it is summer again, I can’t find myself to be as joyful as the growth has stopped and the spring is over.


This overwhelming feeling during the springtime was there as I was exploring the embodied tactility during my walks. Eventually, it brought out the connectedness that we have in our bodies, surfacing through feelings. The environment where I grew up had become embodied in me. The main outcome in this springtime experience was that the embodied connectedness can be traced back and by doing so it reveals the embodied dimension in our experience.

The cows on Park Lane. Image: Helen Felcey, 2020

Being With cows. Video: Priska Falin, 2013