The Sign of the Underground is an Arts Council England funded nature based visual artist commission program, produced by Salt Road for Herefordshire New Leaf Sustainability Ltd. Supported by the National Trust, Culture Declares Emergency and the Elmley Foundation in partnership with The Society of Underground Networks, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Greenhill gallery Berlin and the University of Amsterdam (mycorrhizal symbiosis and ethnobotanical research).

The Sign of the Underground is an artist-led gathering of 4 areas of subterranean tendrils which includes:

  1. The latest earth crisis scientist research including the underground mycorrhizal network (that connects the roots of a plant with fungi).
  2. Biophilic (love of nature), deep/wild time, and ethnobotanical linkages to social and environmental justice.
  3. Linking these hidden pathways with what is underfoot in cities and towns, (pollution, pipes. cables, water).
  4. Connecting nature with underground grass roots eco-movements and marginalized communities.

We are running a series of relational workshops and pop up exhibitions, as well as an exhibition/residency at GroundWork Gallery. Creating proactive agency between vulnerable communities and organizations West to East across England in North Herefordshire to East Birmingham and GroundWork Gallery in Kings Lynn, with the ‘Green and Blue’ (water and trees) places around them, including the National Trust site Brookhampton in Herefordshire, Ward End Park and The Centre of the Earth in Birmingham, Queenswood/Bodenham lake in Herefordshire and the Kings Lynn woodlands. To help participants become able to adapt to the earth crisis and cope with eco-anxiety.

The object of fear and imagination, and the subject of cultural, scientific and economic interest, ‘underworlds’ conjures up visions of a fiery, punishing hell alongside crystal caves of sublime wonder; it evokes images of mycorrhizal networks connecting the roots of plants to fungi under the forest floor, and brings to mind burial places, coffins and crypts; it summons images of man-made tunnels for transporting trains or cars, and huge pipes for conveying sewage; it presents images of claustrophobic chambers or coal, gold and diamond mines; it conjures up images of the Kraken and Leviathan, the mythological giant squid and sea serpent. ‘Underground’ also suggests resistance movements operating in secrecy and danger during wartime or under harsh regimes, and alternative cultures that challenge the status quo. And it evokes the hidden, the unknown and the dark recesses of the subconscious that we are afraid to penetrate.

Underworlds: A compelling journey through subterranean realms, real and imagined.
Stephen Ellcock September 2023

Lead artist Jaime Jackson workshop space for young people from Handsworth inner city Birmingham bringing them to co-produce artwork in the rural orchards at Brockhampton estate 2023

We believe that we are nature, that artists can help people’s exploration of their Natural Selves. We all need to feel how we are rooted in nature. Artist are uniquely placed to help, we work with feelings, the underneath. Our project help people sense and re-emerge the partially hidden, unconscious roots the connect.

There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. “You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.

American Psychological Association – Nurtured by Nature

We have put together a team of artists, community, research, organizations, statutory and nature conservation partners. Your support from Arts Council England will make this happen. Lead artists Jaime Jackson and Dr Sally Payen from the artist organisation Salt Road will work with early stage career artists.

Sally Payen ‘Collapsing Colonies, We Foragers Unquiet’ Oil on Board.
Commission for permanent display of Thinktank, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 2021 305 x 610 cms.
Above and below. Jaime Jackson ‘Mechanical Pollinators’ AI, Machine Learning moving image still, 12’22”/ ACE funded commission for We Foragers Unquiet program with the National Trust, Brockhampton Estate 2023.

This is a Biophilic (love of nature) artist-led program of art-making, community co-creation and exhibitions, which creatively uses urban and rural nature spaces to enable people to connect to their innate hidden nature. Beneath layers of social conditioning is where we find it, now more than ever this universal knowledge and wisdom is needed. Our programme is grounded through our partners in current climate and ecology crisis scientific research using eco-psychology, human geography and biology. It is connected local communities through community facing public, private and charity sector partners, to green and blue (nature and water) spaces through our conservation and public sector partners and to larger regional, national and international networks through the Nature of Cities Festival, the Biophilic City Network and Culture Declarers Emergency.

New Leaf’s commissioned artists work with leading climate and ecology scientists, here lead artist Dr Sally Payen, gives a presentation of her work to climate scientists at the International Glacial Society’s conference ‘Ice in a Sustainable Society conference, Bilbao 2022 (above) and Sally showing the work at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery for Meadow Arts Watermark exhibition below.

It has been developed from our and our partners previous work and comes form a present need for us all to strengthen our connection to nature to help care for our natural environment and the more than human worlds, to cope with anxiety, become more resilient and able to adapt to change.

Lead artist Sally Payen with early stage career artist Pearl Colette in the Orchard at Brockhampton, Herefordshire.2023
(c) Barbara Evripidou
Jaime Jackson led- Biophilic co-creation event at the MAC Birmingham for the Big Green Weekend

We have been told how important it is to link rural herefordshire with urban Birmingham, to enable more people to experience each other cultures and natures. So we have created this project to bring people and spaces together over the growing season.

Step out from your front door and feel beneath your feet the thrum of subway tunnels and electric cables, moosy aqueducts and pneumatic tubes, all interviewing and overlapping like threads in a great loom.

Underground by Will Hunt 2016
Co-production art workshop ACCE funded program, led by Dr Sally Payen at Brockhampton Estate 2023
Lead artist Jaime Jackson, creating content for the AI ML Mechanical Pollinators moving image work filming 300 people with blossom at Brockhampton, Herefordshire (c) Barbara Evripidou

Our Herefordshire partners include: The Wellbeing & Community Manager Stonewater housing ~ Herefordshire Council’s museum and library service and young people’s service ~ Queenswood and Bodenham Lake Country Park and Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Engagement Officer ~ Echo Eaton Barn Community garden ~ National Trust, Herefordshire region ~ Leominster Asylum’s Seekers Support Network ~ CLD Trust Youth Worker Herefordshire ~ Leominster Cultural Consortium Leominster Roars ~ Herefordshire Food Alliance and Public Health Herefordshire.

Our Birmingham partners include: West Midlands Combined Authority, Birmingham City Council Parks and Zero Carbon Team~ Naturally Birmingham (City Council and Green Champions Network)~ Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust ~ Dolphin Women’s Centre Ward End Park ~ Winterbourne Hose and Gardens ~ University of Birmingham School of Geography, Earth Sciences ~ Pacha House community centre ~ Highbury Community Orchard ~ Birmingham Children’s Trust Youth Offending Team ~ Handsworth Association of Schools Green Influencer ~ Crick Lane Community Garden

Our Culture sector partners include: Salt Road Artist Project Space ~ MAC Birmingham ~ GroundWorks Gallery ~ Sluice Artist Magazine ~ Biophilic City Network ~ Culture Declares Emergency ~ The Nature of Cities Festival.

Lead artist Jaime Jackson leading a rural Biophilic nature workshop with participants (above and below) from Ward End and Allum Rock East Birmingham.
ACE funded Newleaf early stage career artist research workshops and exhibitions for Traders Tracks