Skip to content >

This dispatch is the second from an ongoing collaboration between creative practitioner Shelley Castle (Encounters Arts) and researcher Jennie Morgan. Together they are working on the Profusion-theme of Heritage Futures. Over the weekend of 19-20 May 2018 they ran a participatory arts-research event called ‘The Human Bower’ in the garden at Torre Abbey Museum. This built on earlier work in the Torbay area. Here Shelley reports on the event, as is also featured on the Encounters website.

‘The seed of the future is here and now – I didn’t really get this until I said it out loud’ (participant, The Human Bower, May 2018)

In the latest collaboration between Heritage Futures Anthropologist Jennie Morgan and Encounters Associate Shelley Castle, the Torre Abbey gardens played host to a participatory arts-research installation called The Human Bower over the weekend of 19-20 May 2018. Shelley and Jennie have been collaborating since the Summer of 2017, when they visited householders in the Torbay region to invite them to show them objects they would like to keep for the future, and Shelley then installed Story in the Object at Torre Abbey.

Over this weekend in the gardens, they took inspiration from the extraordinary craftwork of the Bower bird. These amazing birds gather, display, and exhibit the things they appear to hold of high value outside their extraordinary twig constructions (the bower). Over the two days, a group of participants entered, what Shelley and Jennie call, a ‘guided conversation’ with them, pondering a set of co-developed questions around imagined futures, whilst binding the sticks with their chosen coloured thread.

Binding hazel sticks
Binding hazel sticks

The luxury of having time and space in the open air to discuss what we hope the future would look like, what we could hold onto to make that happen, and what we need to let go of, gave the two days a slow spaciousness that is sadly often missing in contemporary lives.

One participant commented on ‘the feeling of community’ as they placed their branch into the growing installation. This reflected a common theme to our discussions: the deep desire to shift our focus from individual to communal, and the hope that we might connect more fully to the natural world. And whilst material profusion was not demonised, there was a sense that people felt it was high time for us to become much more responsible for our actions (or lack of them) including what we chose to consume or buy.

The bower taking shape

Some participants also shared key words or messages distilled from our ‘guided conversations’ by writing them on pebbles and placing them in front of the bower entrance. This allowed visitors a glimpse of the weekend’s conversations and displayed – much like the Bower’s treasured things – their thoughts, hopes, and imaginations for the future.


Pebbles placed in the bower entrance
The Human Bower
The Human Bower

The installation will go on to form a part of the Heritage Futures exhibition which will be hosted by the Manchester Museum later this year, and ultimately will be creatively recycled by Shelley.

‘It’s always a pleasure being part of something that can change the way people think’ (participant, The Human Bower, May 2018)

‘I feel more optimistic about the future and through thinking about ‘human scale’ more able to envisage it’ (participant, The Human Bower, May 2018)