The fertile forest: a photographic journey

  • THE FERTILE FOREST is a visual work about the way we relate to the natural world. During visits to the Kaxinawa tribe in Brasil Hannah Collins is exploring their use and relationship to plants and trees which in turn encourages biodiversity.

    Collins sees these issues as some of the most vital facing humanity today.

    Building on research during a pilot project carried out with the Cofan and Inka tribes in Colombia which resulted in the images here, the artist and team living and working with the Kaxinawa tribal members ising record the plants of the vast, remote and varied Amazon area of the rainforest where they live. She is living and working alongside members of the tribe to create a work that also brings to life their relationship to this unique environment, dramatising with them the visions, stories and dreams about their natural surroundings.

    This visual study becomes an exhibition, website and book.

    Artist statement

    My idea for this project came from my reading of Sigmund Freud’s account of his dream…

    I had written a monograph on a certain plant. The book lay before me and I was at the moment turning over a folded coloured plate. Bound up in each copy there was a dried specimen of a plant as though it had been taken from a herbarium.

    Sigmund Freud, ‘The Botanical Monograph’ from The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900

    My interest in the significance of plants in the wider context of our lives was stimulated whilst undergoing radiotherapy. As I went through treatment, my mind wandered. I kept returning to a brief trip to the Amazon the previous year. I was constantly aware of the natural world beyond the city and my own isolation from it during  treatment, Freud’s dream took on a personal relevance for me.

    After recovery I travelled to the Amazon with the intention of photographing plants that are used to treat different parts of the body. It was an intense physical exploration with personal origins. I started mapping the whole human body and the corresponding plants of the forest. As well as serving as the lungs of the world, the Amazon basin is a global pharmacy. The river appears to me as a great and profound source.

    Urban experience seems to encourage a sense of alienation from the very natural resources the river represents. My own physical state only made me more aware of the artifice of such phenomena as our use of cosmetic surgery, our cultural dependence on drugs and food additives, our attitude to aging and to discomfort, our desire to compete with impossible reconfigured images of our kind.

    The intention of this work is to reconnect our bodies with a sense of a broader natural world by observing the way the plants of the forest are used by the people of the Amazon. The work involves a progression from the upper tributaries down into the basin itself. As the journey proceeds, so the form and size of the plants change, as does the way in which this great garden has, in fact, been tended by thousands of people over millennia. This botanical investigation and its human correspondence represents only a fragment of the huge world that lies beyond reach and visibility.