acts of empowerment

Tying my shoelaces
Blowing my nose
Riding a bicycle
Learning to swim
Lighting a fire
Building a shelter from sticks and leaves
Cooking my first meal (and ever after…)
Killing a fish
Growing a radish
Reading and writing
Making a choice
Getting out of bed in the morning
Travelling to a different culture
Offering help to another in need…
An opportunity to become more of myself
Opening my mind to more than before
I reach around myself and stretch my perception of love
Listening more deeply I learn to hear more
I am nature
This is my nature
Exploring structures and actions that affirm my inner and my outer being
Those things that connect me to all, that integrate my being to all before and all after, in the present.
I cannot tell you what to think but can suggest a means to reveal thinking –
Responses to our condition and our complexity, as simple as it is
Earth and ocean and air and trees and bees
Fish and flowers
Fire, thunder and lightning
Sun and moon and stars above
Me and you and everything


acts of empowerment (video stills; p ward/f owen 2013) act of power II (video stills; pward/f owen 2013)

During a recent conversation about the application of art within sustainable development policy, conservation projects and as a response to ecological crisis it became apparent that awareness of art as a means towards empowerment, both through (re)connection to nature and our own nature, is maybe not as common knowledge[i] as I presumed. Art has often been and continues to be used politically and commercially as a means to undermine our power, a process commonly known as propaganda, so why shouldn’t a simple understanding and reversal of the mechanisms imposed within such ‘art’ be deployed in favour of ecological and social justice?!

rise up my child and become the flower that you are (mud and paint; p ward 1996) rise up my child and become the flower that you are (mud and paint; p ward 1996)

Understanding of these mechanisms is increasingly commonplace within person-centered and experiential learning and contemporary self-help techniques, as well as in healthy reflection upon events experienced in our everyday lives – methods founded on the traditional learning of indigenous cultures and the principles of ecopsychology[ii], rooted in the importance of connection to nature, place and an exploration and affirmation of individual aptitude. How such principles may be applied within our own art practices is a matter for our personal journey of self-discovery and empowerment – we can only really know and share that which we have experienced ourselves after all – their application seeming more and more pertinent as the practices of contemporary art and society increasingly (re)entwine.

act of power (ink cap ink and watercolour; p ward 1998) act of power (ink cap ink and watercolour; pward 1998)

 P Ward 2013

[i] To find out more about art and artists who have deployed and explore the mechanisms of such within their practice have a look at,, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, search ecologically or socially engaged art on the web or simply just continue to read this blog.

[ii] Ecopsychology investigates and utilizes the importance of direct contact with nature in the development of a balanced psyche. Richard Louv’s popular book Last Child in the Woods – Saving our children from nature deficit disorder amply illustrates such principles, while Theodore Roszak is credited with coining the term in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth.


It’s enough to put me off saving the World,

Such bickering and postulating amongst them and us

Dispiculating between somnambulant terminologies

Defining the piecrust while the earth turns to dust.

“All life entails violence” said Mahatma K Gandhi[i],

And while I appreciate the necessity in our nature to conflict,

And the hardships and extremes that this world often employs

To willfully move from one point of stasis to another unknown  –

(to evolve and to adapt from form to form) –

I still wonder if there is a better way to relate within.

francesca talking at the table (pward 2013) francesca talking at the table (pward 2013)

Too often do I become drawn into and distracted by the politics of corporate and institutional self-interest that permeates our culture, the ethos that undermines our quest for an energetic emergent harmony, in the hope that working alongside others may multiply the power for justice and good sense that I pray we all desire, only to find a desire dissipated and frustrated by strategies of mistrust and the insecurities of difference. Thank goodness for phenomenology[ii] is all I can say – a philosophy that observes how the whole ‘truth’ may only be truly perceived by a totality of difference and individuality.

“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude…” George Orwell

And so I return to my familiarly insular position, comfortable in the knowledge that I can never totally detach myself from the world, happy to make my own carefully determined excursions when I see fit, to add to the milieu with integrity and joy when the world summons me forth or when I am hungry and in need – my only task, to let others know that I am here, what my individuality may provide when the time is right and to develop my skills for the benefit of all.

I would like to believe, and quite often do hope, that my minimal actions and interventions may in some way contribute to the miracle of this existence both for myself and my fellow beings, that my words and images and movements mingle well with the dynamic of well-meaning. But rather I would celebrate the honour and privilege it is to exist at all – to breathe and to feel, to sense the changes and appreciate the simple acts of love about us all and to respond responsibly when I can.

dad and chilli, peppercombe (p ward 2008) dad and chilli, peppercombe (p ward 2008)

I recall my father’s passing, his sadness in knowing that he would no longer see the ocean, the waves breaking beneath the big wide sky, hear children playing or the wind in the trees or the songs of birds, the sun and moon rising and setting, the stars above, the rich scent of earth held in his hands. He did not profess to be a spiritual or religious person or to have any particular politics, other than common sense and a deep respect for all life.

the space between 2 stones, westward ho! (pward 2013) the space between 2 pebbles, westward ho! (pward 2013)

To be alive in this world is a gift that should never be undervalued.

Wherever and whenever and however I chose to give thanks may it be with openness and integrity.

However humble and mundane my actions in this world from moment to moment and day to day

May I never forget the fragility and the power,

the wind and sun and rain and all about

the soil beneath my feet, the foundation of all our lives


I will tread gently

I will speak softly

I will act with kindness

(for there is already more than enough violence and greed in the world)

I will use only what I need

and I will be thankful

P Ward 2013

[i] from Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul (London; Aurum Press, 2004)

[ii] Phenomenology is a philosophy explored in the 20th Century by such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. From an artistic and creative perspective it offers a means of expression and interpretation through the (sometimes random) juxtaposition of disparate opinions and visions. The philosophy does not offer one Truth but the validity of all chosen or perceived positions. To my mind it offers an important contribution to any ecologically inspired political or spiritual intentions through its genuinely egalitarian ethos.

Digging in the Dirt

still working (together) to unearth a sense of ecologic expression

Despite prolonged respite from the imbalance of intellectual restraint and academic conceptualisation it is with some regret we must announce that this most personable aesthetic conversation is struggling to reveal the treasures that such shared passions have promised. It is certainly not a matter of lack of talent, or lack of desire for that matter – we have bucket loads of both. Nor is it through misunderstanding or dishonest perception of our circumstantial condition – we can see our world with all four eyes, looking outside and in. But practically speaking the economic, or at least financial climate within which we currently reside, and our own malingering downtrodden sense of poverty has temporarily overwhelmed any sense of optimism that henceforth breathed and pulsed within our eloquent evocations of spirit and love…

Digging in the Dirt 2  tehidy woods, north cornwall (p ward 2013)

So then what shall we do, if not buckle beneath the oppressive dominance of capital and self-imposed slavery and familial media negativity? We shall dig in the dirt and walk in the rain and relish decay and be awestruck by beauty and age and kick shit in the faces of those who would wish us ill through greed, ignorance, pity and petty law making.

Digging in the Dirt 3 tehidy woods, north cornwall (p ward 2013)

We touch the earth and sense the power that is held within.

We hold the earth and listen to the wisdom of its age.

We shape the earth and share its stories with the wind…

Digging in the Dirt 4 north cliff and godrevy bay, north cornwall (pward 2013)

Or more simply we shall give ourselves the time and space to spend doing those things that give us joy, that make our hearts and minds sing and that make life so special and full of love.

Digging in the Dirt 1 godrevy bay, north cornwall (pward 2013)

 P Ward 2013

Ambition (no longer blind)


What has gone wrong?

What has gone astray (within the critical framework of suggested crisis)?

And where is the sense in ambition unfounded in practicality and passion,

Or meaning lost in a dry process of unfathomable wordy rhetoric,

Fulfilling the well-oiled trends of contemporary academic consumption

But missing the point most poignantly?


found pollock, westward ho! 11213 (pward 2013) found pollock, westward ho! (pward 2013)


And how might we retrieve that feeling

Of hope and joyful purpose that set our innocent imaginations reeling

At the beginning of our journey, or even sometime before

When inklings were astir within the weighty cauldron of this vivid sharing

And only understood as intuition or dreaming of a resolute future,

Resilient and honest and rooted in the love of all?


Are we left to simply pray,

Or act most guardedly of our brave and brilliant intentions,

Whether sensible or responsible or even just beautiful,

Founded in the wisdom of our heartfelt animate belonging

Our earth and soil and blood and water in which we breathe –

The power of fire and light and darkness?


talking sticks, northam (pward 2013) talking sticks, northam (pward 2013)


I ask for strength and clarity.

I ask for the means to perform my preferred and peaceable purpose in this place.

I will make my way with whatever is at hand

And step one step and each most gently

As springtime rises within

Amidst Nature’s tireless glory.


westward rainbow, 11213 (pward 2013) westward ho! rainbow (pward 2013)

P Ward 2013

sticks in the wind – westward ho! 24113

On a recent visit to my local beach I stuck a stick in the sand.

The various elemental forces in play instantly transfixed me, filling me with a sense of exhilaration – the wind, the weight of the stick, its texture, form and flexibility, the tentative support of the sand and shingle creating a viable tension and suggesting a living, breathing entity through which I might relate to my place within the world.

I have since been playing with this idea using a variety of sticks of different weights, lengths and thicknesses and in different weather conditions. This short film documents some of my initial experimentation…

For me the installation brought to mind David Abram’s analogies of air as the living elemental entity within which our collective thoughts reside, …

“Finally, and most profoundly, this invisible medium, in which we are bodily immersed, is what provides us with the capacity for conscious thought.” from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

… and of fire, being a product of the other elements, as well as the animate nature of all being, a belief in which gives faith and understanding to indigenous cultures around the world …

“With everything having life, with everything having speech, with everything having the power to breathe, with everything having the power to teach and guide, with that in blessing we live.” from the Navajo Blessingway ceremony, recorded by Gary Witherspoon, also from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram[i].

(Coincidentally, I am also presently enjoying a course of acupuncture!?[ii])

P Ward 2013

[i] David Abram, The Spell of The Sensuous (New York; VINTAGE; 1997)

[ii] The principles of acupuncture and holistic healing within the context of art and ecology are presently being explored by American ecoartist Aviva Rahmani in her Trigger Point Theory, whereby interdisciplinary actions are defined and implemented through a range of analytical tools within specific ecologies to catalyze an effect. To find out more visit I have also previously written about such ideas on this site

burning 9 bundles, COURAGE COPSE 9113

a short film documenting the eventual (and ritual) burning of 9 bundles of sticks that have been used in various projects over the last 6 months – from ecological art workshops, community dance performances and contemporary art exhibitions the bundles have been enjoyed by and inspired many people taking on a powerful presence of their own. But the bundles were made to be burnt and so they have come to their fitting end. Many thanks to COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES and HOME GROWN KIDS in North Devon where they were made and to where they were ultimately returned…

“ The ability of each thing or entity to influence the space around it may be viewed as the expressive power of that being. All things, in this sense, are potentially expressive; all things have the power of speech. Most, of course, do not speak in words. But this is also true of ourselves: our own verbal eloquence is but one form of human expression among many others.” from David Abram, Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology.

P Ward 2013


May a single action be creatively catalytic in effort and effect?



A ritually inspired process designed to gently re-evaluate, share and transform our relationship with the animate world through memory, magic and tactile engagement.




you will need

A STICK, A STONE/some earth or pigment, A metal BUCKET, A BOWL, A CANDLE (preferably beeswax) to be lit, SOME WATER (preferably from a natural source), possibly A FEATHER, SOME PAPER (cut into notelet size)+ MARK MAKING TOOLS and A HAT

Preferably this action would be performed outdoors, possibly using objects gathered from the immediate environment…

  • invite your ‘audience’ to sit comfortably and quietly in a circle; ask them to close their eyes and listen carefully to their environment
  • announce (casually) that you are about to perform some ‘magic’ for which you will need a hat – place the hat upon your head (humourously)
  • pass around the objects one at a time, and carefully contemplate their elemental nature and any memories they might evoke for you, depending on the situation discuss…
stones (pward 2011)
  • to enable the next exercise engage the group in a quick word association game – this exercise will hopefully promote a more automatic/intuitive response…
  • when all objects have been returned invite the participants to quietly recall any events, happenings or experiences from their past that have brought them closer to nature and made them feel more connected to it, and that have in some way made them the beautiful, life-affirming, ecologically sensitive and creative person that they are today
  • ask the group to hold the feeling of that experience, the sensation it brought them, the power of it, and to then write or draw the experience onto the piece of paper you have passed them, (reassure the group that what is written on the paper will be treated with the strictest confidence)
  • then place the piece of paper into the bucket,
  • pass around the objects again, this time contemplating how they may have changed or recognizing how your relationship with them may have changed since first ‘meeting’ them, (and again possibly discuss)…

  • the ‘responsible participant/process facilitator’ will then place all the objects into the bucket with the paper and pour water over them; the contents will be stirred while singing/joking about ‘there’s a (w)hole in my bucket and other ‘magic words’,
  • a small quantity of the liquid will then be poured into the bowl and passed around/shared/sprinkled/daubed onto the foreheads of the participants
  • ‘close’ the ritual with an offering of food (cake) to all the participants
  • inform the participants that the paper used will be mulched and then made into more paper for the next time the process is performed, or an art object (a ball perhaps); the objects will also be used again, hopefully accumulating more ‘memories’ of their own,

  • open a discussion to reflect on the process/elements of the process just experienced and the nature of ‘communication’, between ‘objects’, and through non-verbal means,
  • suggest to each participant to write a longer list of events/experiences/happenings in their lives which have brought them closer to nature and made them feel more connected to it – this list may be very useful in their own practices for initiating/sharing such activities with others or may simply become a personal affirmation or even an artwork in itself…



WHAT IS ART? – Joseph Beuys



Presentational Knowing