We met Britta Wahlers in 2019, when we were working for the European Wilderness Society. We organised a project called WILDArt, which aimed to take various artists into pristine nature, with the intention of finding inspiration in the nature surrounding them, and ultimately, create nature-inspired art. We spent a wonderful week as a group together in Majella National Park, Italy. Deep connections were built in that short week, and we have fond memories of that time. All of us found inspiration in and through nature, art, and each other.
Britta was one of the artists who participated in this project. She lives and has her studio in the German countryside, in a beautiful farm in the Bavarian Forest. As we had promised to visit her since WILDArt, our cycling route had to lead us through Britta´s farm. We spent three full days with her and her family, exchanging thoughts, ideas and plans, taking a rest surrounded by four horses, three dogs, a cat, a rabbit and two chickens, and getting the chance to pick Britta´s brain about the relationship between nature and art in her work.
A life in deep connection with nature
Nature and art have been closely intertwined in Britta´s life. She grew up in the Bavarian Forest, surrounded by not only nature but also people who are dedicated to protect it. As a daughter of a bat specialist working in the Bavarian Forest National Park, she grew up being involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of various wild animals. It was clear from a very young age that nature will be a core element in her life, and she considered choosing marine biology as a profession, although always being very creatively expressive. However, her path took a different turn. She had the opportunity to spend two months with a tribe in the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa, which had a big impact on her, and after returning, she decided to study art pedagogy, art therapy and media art.
Her career has been diverse ever since. What really drives Britta is the goal to see, feel, understand and above all protect nature through art. She has traveled many parts of the world, worked together with conservationists, researchers and fellow artists. For over a decade, she has also been holding workshops and teaching art to youth groups of various ages, using art to build emotional connections to nature, and telling the story of how meaningful the planet is to all of us.
Art teaches awareness
Much of Britta´s work is inspired by impressive encounters in wilderness. Through her art, she tries to make a contribution to protecting our planet, motivating people to see, think critically, and ultimately act to protect nature. “Art teaches awareness. But it also creates emotions beyond just awareness. It opens people’s minds, makes visions, problems visible and tangible” she explains.
As we are talking, Britta points out that nature and art have many things in common. They are both layered, they are a process and understanding them requires deep immersion. Art is as diverse as nature. Although the beauty lies in the small details, both in nature and art, the grander something is, the more it impresses. And just like in nature, the rarer a piece of art, the more expensive it becomes on the market.
Art in environmental education
Studies have shown that children who grew up in an environment where they could interact with wild nature through outdoor activities and exploring their creativity in nature are more likely to take action towards environmental protection, compared to those children who have a lesser connection with nature throughout their childhood. However, the vast majority of us will never witness with our own eyes the most remote places of the planet, and will never encounter the rarest species out there. That is why art is such a great tool to take our senses one step further, to bring forward emotions, starting from a very young age.
Britta tells us about how she teaches. Listening to her, we cannot help but feel jealous of her students, because we never had such awesome art lessons in school. She brings a wide range of topics to the classroom and explores those with the students through the lens of art, in varying complexity, based on their age. With her guidance, they were recently immersing themselves in architecture, designing and building earthship buildings in small groups. On another occasion, she tasked them to build tree houses with natural material, without putting a single nail into the trees. “Nature deserves our respect on both a small and a big scale” she reminds the students. And the impact of these classes reach far beyond. Parents have come back to her telling how their children advocated for more sustainable practices at home. And how would parents to disregard their children´s passion and determination about how the planet will look like when they grow up?
Can art help protect the environment?
Art has been used as a mirror for the relationship between humans and the natural environment for as long as it exists. This relationship has shifted a lot in the last century, and today, more than ever, there is a great need for channels of communication that shine a light on the major environmental challenges of our time. Combining art and environment has already driven many political and environmental developments. In fact, it is often more effective to reach the hearts of the general population than science.
Art connects the artist with its viewers, in a way that science never can. Art can engage people in a very deep and personal way, and stir them towards taking action. The artist has a message to communicate with the art piece, and since each work of art can be interpreted in multiple ways, each piece can create awareness and discussions about the importance of nature.
“As we move closer to what surely will be unprecedented ecological, economic and social disruption, meaningful art can and must express the turmoil we encounter and help us process it intellectually and emotionally.”Richard Heinsberg, American journalist
Britta strongly believes that art, and especially positive messaging can trigger impactful movements and become the catalyst for environmental action. Her mission is to make nature an experience. “I never do the same thing. And because of the many different types of work I manage to be outrageous once in a while. Do the unexpected – and surprise with it.” Some of her own inspirations in the art world are Sebastião Salgado, Marina Abramović, Robert Longo and AiWeiWei.
We are definitely looking forward to what will come out from under Britta´s hands in the future. You can find out more about Britta´s work at her page WoidArt (in English: Forest art):