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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

‘Dear Human’ Audio Tour Narrates West Ridge Nature Park’s Story From Perspective Of Its Non-Human Residents

A new art installation offers an audio tour of the nature park told from the perspective of a deer, a tick, a pond and a tree.

Fall foliage and colors grace the West Ridge Nature Preserve in Lincoln Square on Oct. 26, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN SQUARE — A new art installation at West Ridge Nature Park gives guests an audio tour of the park told from the perspective of its animal and natural inhabitants.

The project “Dear Human” was installed at West Ridge Nature Park, 5801 N. Western Ave., last month. It seeks to tell the story of the park through a different perspective and give its visitors a deeper appreciation for the natural oasis in the middle of the city, artist Christa Donner said.

The digital, audio guide includes stories told from the perspective of a deer, a tick, a pond, a tree and the soil. Using a map or a GPS-aided smartphone app, park guests can listen to the guide as they walk along the path.

“I’m interested in reminding humans that we’re not masters of nature,” Donner said. “We’re part of the ecology. I see it as a friendly ground exercise, reconnecting with our non-human community.”

The audio guide is one portion of a larger art project called “Navigations.” Launched by the Rogers Park-based art nonprofit Roman Susan, Navigations seeks to bring interactive art projects into public spaces.

“Dear Human” is the first of six Navigations project to go live, and more will be rolled out next year on the Far North Side, said Nathan Abhalter Smith, director of Roman Susan. One of the projects will chart the evolution of the lakefront, while another will use satellite imagery and historic data to show how the Uptown streetscape and infrastructure has changed over years.

“It’s to create some free and widely available art in public spaces,” Abhalter Smith said. “They’re all purposefully multi-sensory. We want there to be layers of complexity and accessibility.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A deer dines at the West Ridge Nature Park in Lincoln Square on Oct. 26, 2021.

“Dear Human” originated as a pandemic project while the Andersonville-based Donner family were living abroad in Singapore when coronavirus put them in lock down.

During that time, Donner was only able to go outside once daily for a brief walk, she said. The experience reminded her just how beneficial nature is not only to the livelihood of the planet but to the happiness of humans.

The project relies on a technology that also became increasingly important during the pandemic: smartphones. “Dear Human” uses the phone as an interface to connect people to nature.

“It’s important to experience the environment in a hands-on, interactive way,” Donner said. “With the pandemic, we wanted to think about bringing art into the public space.”

Donner teamed up Roman Susan to bring the Dear Human project to West Ridge Nature Park, the native preserve carved out of Rosehill Cemetery and opened in 2015. Donner has been a volunteer at the park.

“Dear Human” works by using a map (available below) or a smartphone app to guide park visitors through its trail, connecting users to points of interest in the park.

QR codes to activate the audio guide were placed along the park’s trail, but they have since been damaged and removed.

Each stop tells of a different inhabitant of the park, highlighting how the nature preserve benefits the ecology and how having a natural space in the city is beneficial to humans.

“Dear Human” will be available at West Ridge Nature Park indefinitely. Hopefully, it will not only allow people to connect with nature during a pandemic but also produce a new appreciation for our native habitat among city residents, Donner said.

“It’s easier to relate to something if they sound like us,” she said. “Maybe it’s beneficial to have the trees talk to us in a human voice.”

For more on Dear Human, click here.