Among the Trees. Hayward Gallery, London

Among the Trees. Hayward Gallery, London

This is a virtual review because the lock down also closed the Southbank Centre in London, but Among the Trees is present in the remote and will be soon again in the physical space. It is the first exhibition entirely dedicated to the theme of trees and forests, and is meant to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which is celebrated this year entirely in the virtual mode on April 22nd. We navigate through the eloquent images of the works of over 38 artists from five different continents and through the words of the director and curator of Hayward, Ralph Rugoff who in this exhibition, invites us to rethink the tree both as an iconographic symbol and a living organism. In his words: “At a moment when the destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating, 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.” It is evident how these words resonate at the present time, being enriched with further meaning.

Among the Trees configures an immersive forest of sculptures and video installations that gathers together images of a distant journey, back to Colombian rainforests, South Asian jungles, Israelian olive hills, Scandinavian forests and South Africa undergrounds. The theme of the tree is addressed in three different sections which aim to reunite the artistic representation with scientific knowledge, and to introduce the exhibition is in fact an invitation to rethink the complexity of the forms of nature through an investigation of its structures and internal dynamics made increasingly defined by modern scientific instruments. We can speak about  flora as a rhizomatic system that assembles the complex of connective structures of flora, up to the scientific concept of wood wibe web, dated back in 2014, or a database that classifies over 28,000 tree species, and that in a cross of data, looks at how elements such as roots, fungi and bacteria are linked by formal connections that reflects a model of synthesis of arboreal life.

Here we find the works of contemporary artists who have addressed this issue. At the basis of a poetics of the tree, the sculptures by Giuseppe Penone, Tree of 12 Meters (1980-2) and Blow of leaves (1982) reflect on this perfect natural form by drawing from it principles and values that, when compared with the human, aim at finding an immediate application in experience. While the outstanding wooden sculpture Tree of 12 Meters reveals the perfect structure of trees through the cast of two twin structures to which the superfluous material has been removed ring by ring to reveal their raw, perfect composition, the bronze sculpture, Soffio di Foglie (1982) leverages the negative space of sculpture to allow the invisible space of breath to act in the third dimension, suggesting an analogy between the movements of the psyche and the tree, overall drawing a sublime poem. This is followed by the video installation Horizontal – Vaakasuora (2011) by the Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila, who presents us with a section of a tree, reversing the height of the plant as a function of an evolutionary thrust, and the large-format charcoal drawing by Robert Longo who thinks about the tree as a metaphor for an architecture of thought.

In a second section, the exhibition reflects the relationship between nature and culture by analyzing the impact of modern technological progress. Here, among others, the works of the American photographer Robert Adams intend to document the implications of a poorly distributed economy of resources, looking at phenomena such as industrialization and deforestation. Similarly, the American artist Zoe Leonard observes how trees are organic structures capable of adapting to the urban milieu. We continue thinking about the modern symbolism of the tree that becomes a source of sustenance, an object of decoration as an archetypal symbol of stories from the past and from memory.

In a third section, the artists explore the theme of the tree in relation to time, reflecting climate change and a deeper symbolism that wants the figure of the tree linked to the concept of mortality. In this sense, we are invited to an archaeological research in which to find Ugo Rondinone’s sculptures including cold moon (2011) or the cast of an ancient olive grove that has become a fossil forest. Follow the photographs of the American artist Rachel Sussman documenting the oldest tree ever found dating back over 9,500 years in northern Sweden, while the immersive video projection of the American artist Jennifer Steinkamp Blind Eye 1 (2018) concludes the exhibition talking about the cycle of seasons.

Among the Trees is an immersive experience that responds to the present in terms of necessity. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalog with curatorial texts by Ralph Rugoff, individual texts by the artists, a text by art critic Jeffrey Kastner and the philosopher Matteo Pasquinelli, and will follow a program of performances and talks.


Among the Trees

Artists: Robert Adams, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Yto Barrada, Johanna Calle, Gillian Carnegie, Tacita Dean, Peter Doig, Jimmie Durham, Kirsten Everberg, Anya Gallaccio, Simryn Gill, Rodney Graham, Shi Guowei, Hugh Hayden, Eva Jospin, Kazuo Kadonaga, William Kentridge, Toba Khedoori, Luisa Lambri, Myoung Ho Lee, Zoe Leonard, Robert Longo, Sally Mann, Steve McQueen, Jean-Luc Mylayne, Mariele Neudecker, Virginia Overton, Roxy Paine, Giuseppe Penone, Abel Rodríguez, Ugo Rondinone, George Shaw, Robert Smithson, Jennifer Steinkamp, Thomas Struth, Rachel Sussman, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Jeff Wall.

Southbank Centre

Earth Day 2020 – Take Action

Giuseppe Penone, Tree of 12 Metres, 1980-2, at Among the Trees, Hayward Gallery, 2020. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photo: Linda Nylind

Jennifer Steinkamp, Blind Eye, 1, 2018, at Among the Trees, Hayward Gallery, 2020. © Jennifer Steinkamp 2020. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photo: Linda Nylind

Jennifer Steinkamp, Blind Eye, 1, 2018, at Among the Trees, Hayward Gallery, 2020. © Jennifer Steinkamp 2020. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photo: Linda Nylind

Anya Gallaccio, because I could not stop, 2002 at Among the Trees, Hayward Gallery, 2020. © Anya Gallaccio. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of Hayward Gallery. Photo: Linda Nylind


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