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The Hayward ponders the role trees and forests play in our lives and psyches

a black and white photo of a big, very old yew tree

Tacita Dean, Crowhurst II, 2007, Gouache on photograph, 297 x 380.5 cm © the artist 2020. Courtesy Collection de Pont Museum, Tilburg (NL) Photo: Peter Cox

The Hayward ventures deep into the forest for a wide-ranging exhibition of key works of art that re-imagine how we think about trees

Visitors to the Hayward Gallery’s new homage to the world of trees will encounter images of Colombian rainforests, jungles in Japan, olive orchards in Israel, Scandinavian woods and an underground forest in South Africa in a survey of major tree-related works by 38 leading international artists from five different continents.

Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the globe-trotting exhibition explores how trees have shaped human civilisation and how they continue to play an indispensable role in our lives and imaginations.

The artistic terrain of Among the Trees is similarly expansive and adventurous with works ranging from immersive video installations to life-sized sculptures; from large-scale paintings and drawings to intimate black-and-white photographs.

Incorporating distinctive and often surprising perspectives, the artists in the exhibition question our conventional representations of trees in order to forge new ways of understanding our crucial and multifaceted relationship with arboreal life.

a watercolour painting of trees

Abel Rodríguez Terraza Alta II, 2018 Acrylic and ink on paper © the artist and Instituto de Visión 2020. Courtesy the artist and Instituto de Visión

a photograph of tree trunk bark entwined and growing through a wire fence

Zoe Leonard, Untitled, 2000. © Zoe Leonard 2020. Courtesy the artist, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne and Hauser & Wirth

a photograph of a tree seen up through its long tendril-like branches

Shi Guowei, Pine, 2016. © Mr. Xi Tao 2020. Courtesy the artist and Magician Space, Beijing

Divided into three sections, the first encounter for visitors will be the complexity and connectivity of woods and forests and recent scientific discoveries about the “wood wide web” – the network of underground roots, fungi and bacteria that connects forest organisms.

Dramatizations of the intricate architecture of branch and root systems include Robert Longo’s giant charcoal drawing of a massive tree, alongside a looming six-metre-high wooden sculpture by Giuseppe Penone and a 16-metre-long video portrait of a Finnish spruce by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, all of which remind us of how trees set our sense of scale.

A number of artworks cast trees as silent witnesses of forgotten histories

The exhibition then begins to blur line between our concepts of nature and culture. Artists, such as photographer Robert Adams, examine the impact of present-day human activity on nature, with industrial farming and the clearcutting of woodlands; others, like Zoe Leonard, consider how trees unexpectedly adapt to man-made urban milieus.

In other works, trees appear as valuable sources of sustenance as well as objects of decor. Additionally, a number of artworks cast trees as silent witnesses of forgotten histories: artist and film director Steve McQueen, for instance, presents a photograph, taken outside New Orleans, of an innocent-looking tree that was formerly used as a gallows for lynching black Americans.

a black and white ink drawing of a big old tree on printed newspaper sheets

William Kentridge Untitled (Lacking the Courage of the Bonfire), 2019. © the artist 2020. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery. Photo: Thys Dullart

a photo of a tree trunk with a hollowed out centre revealing a smaller tree sculpted out of the tree's wood

Giuseppe Penone, Albero Porta – Cedro/Door Tree – Cedar, 2012. Cedar © Archivio Penone 2020. Courtesy the artist, Gagosian, Rome and Marian Goodman Gallery, London

a watercolour of spindly tree branches

Toba Khedoori, Untitled, 2018 © Toba Khedoori 2020. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Trees have long served in art as symbols for invoking mortality and Among the Trees also offers artists an opportunity to explore the theme of time, reflect on seasonal changes and on life spans that far exceed our own. Ugo Rondinone’s sculptures of ancient olive trees, cast in aluminium from moulds of living specimens, stand as twisted memorials of condensed time.

Colour photographs by Rachel Sussman document some of the world’s most ancient trees, including a 9,500-year-old spruce in northern Sweden, while Jennifer Steinkamp’s 15-metre-long animated video projection places us in the midst of a birch forest as it cycles through the four seasons.

The exhibition has been curated by Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff who says: “At a moment when the destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating at a record pace, Among the Trees brings together the work of leading international artists who urge us to think about the essential roles that trees and forests play in our lives and psyches. Hopefully visitors will leave the exhibition with a renewed sense of appreciation for both the beauty and complexity of these indispensable organisms.”

a photo of a tree with a large trunk

Rachel Sussman, Jomon Sugi, Japanese Cedar #0704-002, (2,180–7,000 years old); Yakushima, Japan, 2004 © the artist 2020. Courtesy the artist

a photo of a block of flats with a tree, field and sheep in the foreground

Yto Barrada, Terrain Vague – Tanger, (Vacant Lot – Tangier), 2001 © Yto Barrada 2020 Courtesy the artist and Galerie Polaris, Paris

a detail photo of an art piece conssiting of trees lit in a case filled with water

Mariele Neudecker, And Then the World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow, 2019 © Mariele Neudecker 2020. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy Pedro Cera and the artist. Photo: Benjamin Jones


Among the Trees is at the Hayward Gallery from March 4 – May 17 2020. 


Hayward Gallery - SBC

London, Greater London

The Hayward, a purpose-built, modern art gallery, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1968. It is considered an icon of 1960s brutalist architecture. The Gallery plays a vital role in the visual arts in the UK and internationally. As one of the largest and most versatile temporary art…

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