Katie Holten: Hedge Schools, Tree Time and the Language of our Forests

Dec 5 2023

Whilst 'forest-bathing' in Dorset, David discusses the ongoing human relationship with trees with the internationally best-selling author and artist, Katie Holten

David Oakes

David Oakes


Katie Holten


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About this episode:

Katie Holten is a visual artist and environmental activist who splits her time between Ireland and New York. She has exhibited at the Venice biennale and many galleries across the globe, with her work being described as “…an ongoing investigation of the inextricable relationship between man and the natural world in the age of the Anthropocene.” Recently she created the internationally best-selling book, “The Language of Trees”.

Reclining in a mossy moot deep within the Woodland Trust’s Duncliffe Woods, Katie shares with David Oakes how her passion for nature stems from two roots: her mother – a gardener, teacher and floral artist – and her father – a man who led Katie to be enthralled by logic and physics and Feynman. Katie is now an artist who prides herself upon collecting the connected and noticing that from chaos sprouts equilibrium. It is perhaps not unsurprising then that she has devoted her artistic career to creating compendiums of things she feel necessary to share, and devoting her personal life to many of the goals of Extinction Rebellion.

David's thoughts:

I first made contact with Katie during the pre-vaccine days of the initial Covid-19 outbreak of 2020. I was based in Ireland for the production of “Vikings: Valhalla”, and I was keen to find some local voices to share through this podcast. My research online showed her to be a powerful and active environmental activist, passionately giving voice to Extinction Rebellion. It also showed her to be a multi-faceted visual artist – any one of her projects laced with enough food for thought to fill a podcast. She had an exhibition showcasing her Tree Alphabet at Visual – an art gallery in Carlow – and it was rapidly added to my calendar for when I had a break in filming.

The exhibition stunned me with its beautiful simplicity. I had been spending months researching native tree species for my “56 Tree” series, read countless books, scoured multiple additional resources, and yet here with the perfection of the Ogham (simple lines as language) was a reworking of our 26 letters to simply highlight the variety of trees we should find in our diminishing native woodlands. Trees people love and cherish; no spruces, no firs, no sycamores; and, sadly, some trees you hardly ever see, but should be seeing daily; here was our forests’ (and our) national identity laid bare in a way a 5 year old could understand. How had no one thought of it before?!

To see this alphabet take form in her recent book – and to be an international success to boot – has been immensely heartening. Simple, iconic, pictures of our most important national assets enabling Katie to share some of the most powerful words on woods our humanity has created in relatively recent memory, in a way that joyously screams “…forest; Forest, FOREST!” It is a glorious piece of bookmaking.

Find all you need to know about Katie here: https://www.katieholten.com/



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