Celia Turley, Creative Producer, Bristol – Repairing our connections to nature 

How would you describe yourself?

I am a creative producer and curator of public programmes and socially engaged arts. Over the last few years I have been working to align my life and work in response to the climate crisis. My current work includes nature connection practices; the Resilience Reading Circle – which is an artist-led reading group nurturing creative strategies for radical resilience in the face of climate emergency.  A participatory theatre project, working title – ‘Motherhood in the Climate Crisis?’ exploring reproductive anxiety and ambivalence in response to climate change. Generally I aim to bring artists together with other people to see what can emerge from that collaboration. I am interested in the ways that our creativity can be mobilised for personal and political change.

What role does the repair of living systems play in your life?

For me, at the core,  our very disconnected relationship to the natural world is at the centre of what needs to be repaired in order for us to imagine different, more positive and ecologically just futures. A lot of my work seeks to simultaneously repair our connection with the natural world whilst also repairing our connections to each other. Trying to find ways to bring people together for collaboration and co-operation. The climate crisis is such an enormous issue that we are disabled by it, we think we can’t really do anything. Bringing people together to talk about that, addressing how they feel, trying different activities together is an initial way that you can start to repair that hope and sense of personal capacity within structural issues. To feel that we have the capacity to shift the trajectory that we are on. This is where repair features in my life.

In eco-therapy our disconnection from the land is seen as our first attachment trauma, the first way in which we have been harmed and severed from sources of nurturing care. Finding a way re-embed ourselves in the natural world and to see ourselves as natural beings is part of that process of change and repairing that trauma.

Can you describe your repair process?

Using the Resilience Reading Circle as an example of how I work:  The Resilience Reading Circle is a reading group that aims to nurture creative strategies for radical resilience in the face of the climate emergency. Asking how can resilience strengthen our tools and vision to act? In each session we read something together and share a creative task. In the past that has included sessions run by Elsie Hap, a herbalist, florist and mental health worker who hosted a reading of her zine Herbal Medicine and Radical Self Care for the Black and Brown Community. She led particpants in floral scuplture making from foraged materials, to explore how a tactile connection with nature might inform our wellbeing. Other sessions included a reading of Jamaican poetry with Zakiya McKenzie and trying our hands at nature writing, and a session with Caroline Vitzhum reflecting on how what we learn from trees has informed her interdisciplinary practice.

Recently I have started holding the reading group outside in wild places and would like to do that more. This year I hope to hold more extended sessions in woodlands and by the river – a kind of day long reading and doing retreat with others, designed to restore and replenish us, building capacity for resistance.  One way I like to think about repairing our relationship with nature is through creating simple rituals and everyday practices that help us to sense with nature in different ways.

Part of my process of repairing is creating rituals and practices that take me into the natural world and sharing that with other people. Ritual is a key thing for me, what do we do once we get to those wild places?

Last year I made and shared fire-making kits with the group.

Making fires outside with friends and collaborators has been one of the ways that I connect with nature, both through collecting the materials and through giving  a purpose and activity to being outside. I gathered some King Alfred’s cakes, which are a fungus that you can use as firelighters, as well as making some other firelighters from natural materials I found in the woods. I collaged together little matchboxes, and made some safety and process instructions for fire-makers, which also asked people some questions to reflect on whilst making their fire – how do we tend to the fire of our climate activism and avoid burn out?

The fire-making kits are also an attempt for me to explore collaborating with the natural world. Not just about taking materials, but going back to that place to enact the ritual so that the ashes then go back into the ground and there is this circular, regenerative process.

Describe something that you’ve repaired – why you repaired it and what it meant for you?

Over the last couple of years I’ve made a concerted effort to repair my own relationship to the natural world. It started when I lived in London, and lived on a boat on the river. But I’ve made it a more regular practice since moving to Bristol. It became very pertinent in the first lockdown when I started cycling to the river to swim about three times a week. This became a way to reinforce the things we explore in the Resilience Reading Circle, that repairing your connection to yourself can repair and facilitate your connection to other people and this in turn can repair, resource and facilitate a caring connection to nature. That they are all part of a mutually supporting system. Since then I’ve been walking local rivers, wild camping a lot more and have been doing monthly full moon night swims – all as means to create rituals for myself that connect me to natural systems and rhythms.

Why do you think the care and repair of living systems is important?

It’s essential for our life on earth! We have to find a different way of being.

As humans we are constituencies of practices. If we all find those repair and care practices and center them in our lives, we are living the values we want to see in others. Embodied resilience is about finding the practices that give you pleasure and safety. Those practices give you a baseline strength that enables you to move into active resistance, and build generative alternatives to extractive capitalism. Finding ways to sustain ourselves in this journey is what it is all about.

What motivates you to keep repairing?

It’s how you develop your strength. New things come out of those processes of repair, unexpected outcomes, new seeds. It’s a collaboration.

What is your repair philosophy?

Repairing our relationship to ourselves enables us to repair our communities and the natural world.