Sputnik Faith and Arts Trees, songs and creation care: an interview with Lydia Hiorns

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Trees, songs and creation care: an interview with Lydia Hiorns

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a nature-inspired musical album written by Newcastle-based artist Lydia Hiorns. As well as being the Director of Shieldfield Art Works, Lydia explores embodied hospitality through her KILN project, and makes prints, drawings and songs to explore the created world.

Like us, Lydia believes that art and creativity are integral parts of human life. Why not join us in supporting multi-disciplinary artists like Lydia, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Lydia. Can you introduce yourself? 

Hello, I am an artist living and working in Newcastle. Within my artistic activities I explore embodied hospitality. I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality. Currently this occurs in KILN tent, a hand printed portable space where I host meals and conversations to grow a more critical understanding of hospitality (making room for another) and commensality (being together around a table) within the public and private sectors. This is needed within society to develop a genuine culture of ‘hospitality as a way of life’ rather than something that we do.

I also make prints, drawings and write songs to explore the created world and how we interact with and care for it. You can find out more on my artist website and KILN website. I am also the Director of Shieldfield Art Works [SAW], an arts organisation in Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne — an area which has undergone rapid urban development. As a project of the Methodist Church, we seek truth, challenge injustice, engage in social activism, and work for the common good.

Anyone’s welcome to participate in our programme. We believe that art and creativity are integral parts of human life, and, with art’s unique ability to articulate, question, and inquire, we can change our communities and the world. So we develop high quality art exhibitions, events, workshops, conferences and publications based around the issues and interests of our local area. 

It’s a pleasure to be able to support your new project. Can you fill everyone in on what you’re planning?

I am going to write and record an album called The Arboretum that will consist of 20 songs about specific individual trees, paired with 20 corresponding tree drawings. I am hoping to collaborate with a selection of musicians to compose and record the songs and I am excited about the diversity this method will create. Once I am done you will be able to enjoy the songs and artwork on Spotify and my website—and you never know, I may get a few CDs made for those who enjoy the physicality of polycarbonate. 

The natural world has been the focus of many of the finest artworks ever created but, at the same time, there can be a sense that work about the raw elements of creation can be passé or unadventurous. Why do you think that the natural world is a good focus for artworks and what is it about trees in particular that inspires you? 

There is no doubt that nature is often idealised in art as people try to contain it in a neat frame. But nature is messy, dangerous and gloriously reflective of aspects of God’s character. Recently I have been doing a lot of research into trees specifically and I am convinced that trees, and what they teach us, bring great good to our world. They are universal and generous: enabling us to breath, bringing beauty, giving food, allowing us to write, read, sit and walk. Only last month the Woodland Trust gave away 60,000 trees to fight against climate change. Trees are also prevalent throughout the Bible from the tree in Eden, Calvary and heaven. Trees give life, they praise God, they show fruitfulness, they are a conduit for salvation, they display suffering and they describe Jesus.

With that view of trees in mind, I would like this album to inspire awe in the beauty, diversity and complexity of trees; to shine a light on the problem human destruction of trees creates to planet and people; to explore how we can cultivate a mentality of longterm conservation and care for trees like within an arboretum; and to link the gospel to trees, so that whenever a tree or a product of a tree is seen a Christian will remember the gospel and anyone else may start to glimpse Christian truths in the natural world. 

In your wider body of work, as you mentioned, you like to explore ‘embodied hospitality’. What is this and how does it play out in your practice?

Embodied hospitality is when you don’t just see hospitality as something that you ‘do’ at given times, like when you invite someone for dinner, but you see it as a way of ‘being’ where your whole life embodies a hospitable nature. We often see it as making a Mary-Berry-worthy Victoria sponge. But it is not entertainment! No, it holds a far deeper importance.

God is hospitality in essence: he created the world, a spacious and gracious space. He welcomed us into it. Jesus came and ate with people. Jesus’s table was one of grace, not reciprocity. It was counter-cultural, and collapsed the distance between rich and poor, insider and outsider. Jesus’s table expressed the Kingdom of God. Hospes means both ‘host’, ‘guest’, or ‘stranger’. So, hospitality is welcoming the stranger.

If hospitality is about making room for others and welcoming, it doesn’t depend on having a nice house and being able to cook a five-course meal. I am so convinced of this that I’ve just written a book to help everyone discover practical ways of offering and accepting hospitality with limited resources, or at the beginning of their hospitality journey.

KILN is the name I have given to my practice/research around hospitality after the Hebrew initials for “All of my heart and soul”. It carries on this idea that our whole life is to embody welcome. For most of my practice I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality in a hand-printed portable tent.

Finally, my role at SAW of managing the programme naturally puts the host’s apron on me, which is empowering; but something occurs when a guest’s contributions are recognised, and when a guest isn’t defined first as needy. This intrigues and astounds me. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more often than he provided it. He enabled Zacchaeus to be a host, and that’s what transforms him. Christians often take the host roles, but sometimes we need to give others a turn.

To stay connected with Lydia Hiorns and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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