The artist behind an upcoming exhibition at the Chapel Arts Studios has described how the project came together, despite the pressures of Covid.

Artist James Aldridge has been working with charity Andover Trees United to produce Ash Tree Stream, a project working with schools across the area to educate them about ash trees and ash dieback. It also looks into the history of Andover, whose name is thought to derive from the Saxon, on dubr, which means ash tree stream.

James told the Advertiser: “I was originally approached by Wendy Davis from Andover Trees United, who was interested in my work. She was very interested as using art as a way of engaging children with their local environment, especially emotionally.

“You can have lots of figures about biodiversity loss and climate change, but until you get out and use your senses to explore where you live you don’t necessarily have that personal connection.”

James says that he is interested in how people see and relate to the rest of the world, which inspired him in this project.

“We’ve come to call the rest of the world nature,” he said, “but I’m interested in how we can support people to experience themselves as nature, because I think a lot of the problems we’re seeing at the moment come from seeing ourselves as separate.

“Even well-meaning people talk about going out to save the world, so it’s always something that’s out there.”

As a result, he set about carrying out his research into ash trees, as well as putting together a project that satisfied the aims of Andover Trees United and would appeal to schools.

“We’re particularly interested in using art as a way of exploring and recording your own environment in this project, and supporting the children to lead that investigation.

“We’re supporting them to explore in ways that make sense for them, and then providing information and examples to back that up, to give them that wider context.”

This involved having the same initial starting point for all the schools, before tailoring the sessions based on what children were most interested in. At St Peter’s Primary School in Appleshaw, for instance, children were interested in producing poetry, so the following sessions focused on sounds and words. As the project progressed, the schools diverged into different areas.

One thing James couldn’t plan for was the impact of Covid. “It was originally going to be a very hands on exhibition with big community events,” he said, “but that’s had to be changed.”

“We ended up focusing on the documentation of the process rather than the students’ artworks themselves, so that visitors can get a flavour for the children’s journey through the project.”

He’ll also be putting on a virtual tour of the exhibition for the schools involved, rather than bringing in big groups as originally planned.

Ash Tree Stream will be at the Chapel Arts Studio in Andover from November 3 to November 14 on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am-4pm.