Victoria MacKenzie

writer, creative writing tutor

During her residency, writer and creative writing tutor, Dr Victoria MacKenzie is studying and writing a book about plants called Vegetal Souls. The name derives from Aristotle’s division of the soul into the human, animal and vegetable, with the vegetable being the least sophisticated, lacking the ability to move or perceive.

“Yet recent botanical research suggests plants have far more awareness than they have been given credit for. They perceive their environment in many different ways, being responsive to light, sound and smells, but they have other senses that humans lack, such as the ability to sense water and minerals at some distance, and then grow roots towards what they need. They also respond to their environment in many different ways and even change it – in ways we are only just beginning to understand,” Victoria explains.

“Through a series of interconnected poems, short stories and essays, I’m responding to some of these ideas about what it might be like to be a plant, to have a ‘vegetal soul’ and to experience the world vegetally. I’m interested in thinking about how this new understanding of plants might have implications both for how we treat plants and for how we understand what it means to be alive. How should we respond to this new knowledge and these new ways of thinking? Could it inform how we live as humans?” she asks.

On arrival at the Saari Residence, Victoria hoped to be able to slow down and settle to work. “I’m hoping for a long stretch of time in which I can read, think and write. I really enjoy talking to other artists, so hope to share ideas and have fruitful discussions with the other residents about their work too. I’m also hoping for the unexpected – that can sometimes be the best part of a residency!” she says.

Victoria’s working methods during her residence mean a lot of reading, but also walking and exploring the local forests and gardens, observing the plants and living with them one day at a time.

Usually she begins her day in Saari with a plate of porridge served with cloudberry jam. “I usually try to read something, often poetry, to get my thoughts ticking over, and I try to keep away from emails and the news for as long as possible. I have my notebook to hand and jot down things while I’m reading, such as ideas for poetry or fiction, or just concepts I want to think more about. This is pretty much what I do all day, apart from taking breaks for meals and a late afternoon walk to the bird tower to see what the geese are up to. I’m also enjoying getting acquainted with the Finnish sauna habit!” she describes.