‘Small Steps’: Woo Jin Joo & Nelly D.’s Collaboration

This collaboration brought together Woo Jin who is a mixed media artist with a speciality in textiles and embroidery art and Nelly whose creative practice centres on political cartoons. This was a fortuitous pairing in many ways. Woo Jin explores in her art our perception of material value and the relationship we build with the object world around us, and how this has transformed with the advent of consumerism; while Nelly had started during the lockdown to consider the changing relationships between animals in a world exposed to different stressors. Together, Woo Jin and Nelly started a conversation that let them to pick the theme of sustainability and climate change for their artistic collaboration.

In the introduction to ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, Ursula K. Le Guin muses on the role of the sci-fi writer – is it to document the present reality or to predict the future repercussions of the careless acts we engage in now? Similarly, Woo Jin and Nelly asked themselves what is the role of artist focusing on climate change. Furthermore, what if the target audience were children and their parents? The initial research picked many stories that may sound outlandish however but are already a reality – from bears moving into abandoned meteorological stations, forests ‘walking away’ to the North, hornets and bee wars… Plenty of material to consider for the collaboration! The goal was to communicate this information in a complex, nuanced and engaging way to children – a mighty task indeed! If only Woo Jin and Nelly could craft the perfect activity pack (all from recycled materials, of course) for children and parents that will inspire them to enact change…

Ultimately, the activity pack that Woo Jin and Nelly initially started to design focused on the idea that children and parents need more knowledge about climate change, learning, and gathering facts together. Some materials could target the children (5-6 year olds) and some will target parents (especially when nuance had to be introduced in the story). Research on already existing activity packs and books revealed that many adopt a similar approach…

Target audience: Children
Target audience: Parents

Yet, many of the stories were hard to ‘describe’ and capture in a simple way. Let’s take this New York Times article on ‘murder’ hornets. Refugees can be described in the media as ‘undesirable’ or ‘problematic’ but what about animals and insects which are forced to migrate because of climate change? Would hungry polar bears eventually become ‘killer’ bears to be widely feared similarly to the ‘murder’ hornets? Below are some materials that suggest that habitat preservation rather than extermination is the answer, and that the responsibility for the former lie with us, human beings.

These materials were developed for a sustainability workshop that took place on the 18th of March 2022, at the University of Essex as part of its Environment Week. During the workshop, Woo Jin and Nelly had the opportunity to talk about their ideas to children and their parents, students, sociologists working on migration as well as scientists focusing on climate change and biodiversity. The conversations were very lively!

The workshop was incredibly fun! All the workshop activities were designed using recycled cardboard, wrapping, and most importantly merging Woo Jin and Nelly’s styles!

The workshop was a huge success! The Sociology Department at Essex which hosted this workshop has since won a Bronze and Silver Sustainability Award in recognition of the activities that brought students, academics, and children together and engaged them with these important topics!

This is certainly one outcome of the collaborative residency of which Woo Jin and Nelly are very proud! The Department has framed the polar bear poster (seen in the picture above on the left) and the installation is now gracing its common room as a whimsical reminder of the long road ahead in the fight to halt climate change.

The workshop was very important for further developing the activity pack ideas of Woo Jin and Nelly! There were sewing activities for the students, but many of the children (10 to 13 years old) who attended wanted to engage in those too, and thought that it will be wonderful to learn stitching techniques that will allow them to mend their own clothes – a great sustainability challenge! Ideally, these stitching challenges will focus on animals impacted by climate change and will be collectables too! Furthermore, the children that Woo Jin and Nelly talked to wanted to enact change – not just be passive recipients of knowledge alongside their parents. Below are some of these brainstorming ideas! collectables

Thus the idea of the ‘Small Steps Activity Book’ was born! The focus will be on 10 animals directly impacted by climate change, and children as the main drivers of change. Woo Jin and Nelly have started to already design some of the materials to go into this book, and this will be a collaboration that will extend beyond this collaborative residency!

Small Steps Logo

The pair has found sponsors that are interested in providing upcycled textiles felt as a material for children’s embroidery activities. They have already begun the sampling by laser cutting designs that will prompt children’s engagement with the material and would allow children to safely learn embroidery and craft. Woo Jin and Neli are looking for further sponsors and funding to develop and share these materials with a wider audience!

Upcycled Textiles Felt Embroidery Activity

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