Wellcome Collection's new exhibition shows how you can be at one with nature even in a big city

Look closer: One submission showed how a home made sun catcher brought the owner closer to nature
Look closer: One submission showed how a home made sun catcher brought the owner closer to nature

Modern life in London is all smartphones and traffic jams, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to the idea of being connected with nature.

But our relationship with the natural world in the 21st century is something worth exploring. Not only is getting outdoors good for our wellbeing, but we all have a stake in the future of the planet.

A new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection offers the chance to reflect on these diverse and very personal relationships; members of the public have donated items that represent what nature means to them, ranging from running shoes, a slice of bread and a jar of air.

A Museum of Modern Nature, which opens tomorrow (June 22), encourages us to think about the daily choices we make in relation to the natural world, says curator Honor Beddard.

“Many of the objects on display celebrate that relationship - for example, young children enjoying playing in and making things from nature,” she says.”But it’s not all about celebration. The objects show that many of us are taking from nature without always giving back. Many of the visitors who lent expressed concern over declining resources or our need to change certain habits, like using plastic bags.”

The show was created after an open call asked people to bring in an object that told a story about their relationship with nature. Everyone was photographed with the object and their story recorded. Eventually, 50 of the most “inspiring, intriguing and surprising” objects were chosen to go on display but people who work with nature every day, including a dairy farmer, a mountaineer and a plant medicine shaman. (All images can be see via the Wellcome Collection’s digital project, Sharing Nature.)

Beddard says there were a few common themes in the stories she heard. “A lot of people spoke about the therapeutic properties f nature, and how being outside in nature has helped them through difficult times,” she says. “There is definitely a concern over what we are doing to our planet - the amount of plastic in the ocean and the waste we generate.”

She says it’s also clear that our relationship with nature is often on our own terms. “We don’t like it when nature comes a little too close for comfort (mice in our house) or when we can’t control it (replacing grass with astro-turf).”

Of course, the way we connect with nature has changed vastly in our hectic age. Beddard says that as well as anxiety over environmental challenges hanging over the objects, “many of the submissions spoke about how they relied on getting out into nature to help them cope with the pace of life.”

Contributors were as varied in age as the objects themselves - a two and three-quarter year old submitted an axe made from a stick, and a 91 year old submitted a childhood family photograph.

Londoners might wonder how they can make their connection with nature that bit stronger, bound each day to commutes on busy tubes, tied to a computer screen. The Wellcome Collection will offer a series of walking tours throughout the exhibition to explore what city dwellers might be able to find amid the hubbub. But Beddard says it’s often a case of finding the calm amid the chaos.

“The exhibition includes a beautiful sun catcher made of coloured glass collected from charity shops over many years. Hanging in the owner’s window, it catches the light and casts a rainbow across her front room. Living on the second floor she describes her window as a lookout on to nature - where she can see trees, birds and squirrels,” she says. “Sometimes it’s about taking the time to stop and look.”

A Museum of Modern Nature is at the Wellcome Collection until October 8; wellcomecollection.org