“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, / There is a rapture on the lonely shore, / There is society, where none intrudes, / By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: / I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
The neologism Shinrin Yoku or Forest bathing was coined in 1982 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries specifying the making of contact and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. This poetic coinage, describing an activity as old as humanity itself, was most probably introduced to increase the physical and psychological wellbeing of the city dwellers.
Immersing oneself with nature, taking in the all-surrounding being of the forest, breathing its crisp air and hearing nothing but the rustling of the leaves is proven to enhance the activity of natural killer cells and the expression of anti-cancer proteins (study 2007). Additionally, it is proven to lower the blood pressure, pulse rate and promote lower levels of cortisol (study 2010).
Forest bathing is the antonym of our 24/7 urban lifestyle. It is an embracive experience that activates all our senses allowing the mind to wander, liberating it from rigid patterns and thought loops. Inhaling the phytoncides (airborne chemicals that protect plants from rotting and insects) while walking past meandering streams, witnessing the play of light reconnects us with the soil, shadows and silence that have slowly disappeared from our ever-growing cities.
Originating from the ancient Greek the term Metropolis means “mother city” referring to the city that sends out settlers or the original city with whom the settlers retained cultic and political connections. Although various cities have flourished from the third millennium BC cities are still the most artificial habitat mankind has ever lived in as William F. Ogburn remarks. Due to this relatively short adaptation period we were not able to adapt satisfactorily to these “closed” environments. Resulting in a myriad of challenges like plummeting birth rates, growth in impersonal crimes, high densities of traffic, excessive illumination and more pollution. Attracted by the economic opportunities that are generated by the concentration of great wealth, the enchanting siren call of the city echoes into the most remote corners of the earth.
In the nineteenth century this attraction would create a new type on man, the Man of the Crowd as Edgar Allen Poe would call him in his eponymous story or the Flâneur as Baudelaire would name him. For this urban explorer, the street as a public space is his natural habitat.
Today 55% of the world’s total population live in urban centres. By the year 2030 60% of the world population will live in urban centres whereby the number of megacities, currently 33 worldwide, is projected to rise to 43 by that year.
Since the Middle Ages artists have created real and imaginary landscapes that depicted nature, urban centres or merged both worlds. Evolving from background scenes of religious subjects (Fra Angelico’s “Noli me tangere”), to more realistic depictions of landscapes (The Limbourg Brothers “Trés riches heures”), depiction of nature as the artist saw it (Tiziano Vecceli “Orpheus and Euridice”), detailed and dramatic landscapes of Peter Paul Rubens (“Landscape with the Ruins of Mount Palatine in Rome”) Arcadian landscapes (Nicolas Poussin “Landscape during a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe”) romantic landscapes that aroused the imagination of the beholder (William Turner “Lucerne by Moonlight”) Impressionistic landscapes that captured the tones and reflections of light (Claude Monet “Poppy Field near Vetheuil”), to the prismatic qualities of Paul Cézanne’s Mont Saint Victoire.
Intrinsically always interwoven with the Zeitgeist, its commissioners and the progressing industrialisation, the viewer is visually invited to look, see and gaze at the endless vastness of the landscape. Transcending consciousness while visually exploring these alternate windows on reality.