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    AMONG the TREES Exhibition

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Among The Trees Exhibition'. Source of the image:
    'Among The Trees' was an incredible exhibition exploring the human and artistic relationship with trees. Through a variety of mediums including photography, paintings, sculptures and film, the visitor experiences a mystical and serene scene, entrancing us with the beauty and inspiration of nature. Within the exhibition lies a distinct environmental message, reminding us of the widespread effects of climate change and the need to act in order to protect the spaces and species presented in the gallery.

    INTO the FOREST 

    As you walk into and through the Hayward Gallery from the bustling city-scape of the Southbank, it feels as though you enter a forest; its dimly lit walls feature paintings and photographs of woods, surrounded by beautiful looming sculptures of trees. The curated scene is tranquil, evoking the deeply human connection to nature. This is most tangible at the 6-screen depiction of a life-size spruce swaying in the wind, so large that the tree is presented horizontally. Recorded by the artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, this piece, paired with birdsong and rustling leaves played on speakers, draws you in with its organic majesty. Behind this, a dense mangrove constructed out of cardboard by Eva Jospin covers an entire wall, further drawing us into the mystical nature of a forest. The exhibition’s first room encapsulates the still, yet kinetic, feeling of the natural world. We are surrounded by human interpretations of forests, each contributing individually to the collective artificial woodland. This room seems to inspire the visitor to explore their relationship with trees and to ask themselves what it is that makes the woods so beautiful to us.

    THE CITY and the TREE 

    Continuing on through the exhibition, the second room presents the distinct interaction forests and trees have with the urban world. Here we see photographs presenting the darker side of our relationship with nature; namely Steve McQueens Lynching Tree. This is seen alongside more complex explorations of human and natural space through George Shaw’s paintings of British ‘urban’ forests littered with empty cans, and photographs taken by Zoe Leonard depicting tree trunks growing through and around fences and gates in New York. It is in this section of the gallery that the only human presence throughout the whole exhibition can really be seen; whilst there are only actual people in a few photographs, the human is present here. Residential buildings, industrial references and human activities litter this section, still maintaining the static image of a tree, yet unveiling the signs of life around it. Overall, in this room we are moving away from nature by itself and seeing how trees play a role in our everyday life.

    The whole exhibition showcases sculptures, paintings and photographs from all over the world, from Japan, to the United States, to Finland, and South America. In the final rooms, we are presented with large sculptures from a variety of international artists. Carvings made from trees by Giuseppe Penone, and Udo Rondinone’s gigantic metal casting of a twisted old tree tower around the visitor. Here the medium of wood seems to be redefined; artists create the very thing they are using, exploring their own relationship with the material. The final piece in the exhibition is a large projected animation of a birch forest going through the four seasons. The artist, Jennifer Steinkamp, aims to confuse the viewer’s perception of reality, creating a woodland seen halfway between reality and imagination.


    The exhibition creates an incredibly transcendentscene, effectively capturing the magical stillness and beauty of the forest and exploring the fascinating form of the tree. Yet in this exploration there is a deep-rooted sense of sadness; the inevitability of climate change and its environmental impacts subtly coded into the exhibition. We are left in awe of the trees, yet simultaneously mourning their loss in a world of deforestation and global warming.

    In a sense, all of the art presented has an environmental lens, yet not all of this commentary is as heavy-handed as the sculpture of a tree with plastic bags for leaves by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Many of the pieces hint at the cost of our environmental practices and almost neutrally present the impacts. For example, Roxy Paine created a sculpture of trees burnt down after a forest fire; glowing red embers contrast the coal-black ground and destroyed tree trunks, while a photograph of a thousand year old underground tree is depressingly labelled ‘deceased’. These works subvert our appreciation of trees with the reality of our treatment of them as a species. The growing number of forest-fires and decimated ecosystems are a feature of our global impact on the environment.
    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'Among The Trees Exhibition'. Source of the image:

    It seems as though if our treatment of the planet continues to follow this trend an artificial exhibition will become the only way we can enjoy nature: a sobering conclusion to a magnificent presentation of the wooded world around us.

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