A Little adventure into the natural world

A person of the world, sculptor and horticulturist Peter (Pete) Little was born in Australia to English parents, before spending much of his childhood travelling, his family’s adventures taking him to places like Bali, Malaysia, India, Afghanistan, Iran and Newfoundland in Canada. After following love and adventure to West Cork, he settled with his own family between Bantry and Glengarriff, in the wild mountainous landscape of the Beara peninsula. With a background in fine art and blacksmithing, later moving into landscape design and permaculture, Pete shares with Mary O’Brien how he has fused these disciplines, combining his love for the natural world with art to create a concept he calls Hortisculptures, the most well-known of which are hanging ‘pods’ – essentially cocoon-like moss plant-covered pods that people can sit inside while immersed in audio.

The ‘pods’, which have featured in his sculpture gardens at many well-known festivals including Glastonbury and Bloom since 2007, were inspired by a trip into the jungle of Brazil, where pools of water teemed with life under trees and the bright colours of the cacao fruit were reminiscent of lanterns glowing in the under-story of the jungle. “Its incredible sensory experience felt like a protective sanctuary in a rich healthy eco-system,” shares Pete. “I wanted to try and recreate it.”

Pete’s aim was to create an installation that would allow the viewer to become immersed within the art, effectively becoming a part of the installation, viewing it from the inside. He achieved this by merging music and acoustics with the elements of  fire, water and living plants to create an extraordinary multi-sensory experience.

One particular installation favourite of Pete’s was ‘Portach’, which he created at Bloom in the Park in 2011. The design was based on a rare bog woodland habitat that has disappeared along with Ireland’s woodland culture. The installation took home Best in Show and the RHS Gold award and went on to win Best Show Feature at RHS Tatton Park in the UK, which led to an invite to the international art garden festival, Chaumont Sur-Loire, in France, in 2012. “We were the first team ever to represent Ireland and our design both shone through and stood out among hugely sponsored gardens for companies such as Christian Dior,” he says.

While the awards and accolades are of course important, the greatest joy for Pete had come from knowing how many people have been in his ‘pods’ at festivals over the years and the experiences and meetings, even marriages, that these have facilitated. “The installations have always offered a sanctuary and a haven at events, and that is something I am proud to have created. Several people have contacted me over the years to tell me how they met in the pods and had an incredible experience.”

Ultimately the most important side to his work is changing people’s perspectives and opening people’s eyes to the beauty and connectivity of nature and the massively positive benefits of working sustainably with it. “Witnessing a collective response among the crowds,” is always the highlight.

At Glastonbury 2014, a surge of some 60,000 people overwhelmed security and passed through Pete’s installation space, surging through the sculptures and plants. “Thankfully there was no damage or injuries, but seeing my sculptures surrounded by a sea of people as far as the eye could see was both dramatic and terrifying!” he shares.

His own eyes were opened to our rapidly disappearing natural habitats when he took time out to travel after his mother’s death in 2002, on a trip that brought him through the jungle in Indonesia and face to face with orangutans, creatures who are critically endangered.

In 2015, a mysterious phone call asking him to partake in a secret exhibition later in the summer led to a missed opportunity or even perhaps a lucky escape!

“It was a busy time in the summer and I was often getting late requests to come and exhibit at events, so I said no, with the excuse that my plants would be looking pretty worn out and dead by the end of the summer. They insisted that really wouldn’t matter, which left me slightly confused,” he shares.

The irony of the situation hit Pete when street artist Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’ exhibition, a pop-up installation that was “a sinister twist on Disneyland” hit the headlines later that summer!

After years of creating transient installations, in 2020, Pete was commissioned to create a permanent design for the well known Fusion festival in Germany. It marked a huge step forward in his career. “This was something I had been keen to do for a while at a festival site, to allow the garden to fully mature and grow. Basically to create a micro-climate and habitat with the aim of rejuvenating landscapes,” he explains.

Right now Pete is taking a break from his transient lifestyle with encouragement from his teenage children to stay put for a while. As a result, he has created some unusual accommodation at their homeplace using an old truck and one of his pods with the intention of creating a nature arts retreat in Coomhola. At the same time, he is focusing on projects closer to home and currently creating a decorative steel canopy for Goleen Harbour eco experience on the Mizen peninsula.

The spirit of the adventurer is difficult to contain however and plans are already afoot for taking part in a major sculpture exhibition in the UK, as well as Glastonbury, this summer.


WCP Staff

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