Among the Trees - Art review

Among the Trees, 

Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

From £5. Concs available and members go free: 

Open on Weds – Sat, 11am – 7pm; Sun, 10am – 6pm; Please book online before visiting

An incredible sense of calm descends as you enter the Hayward gallery’s latest exhibition to find yourself surrounded by the images and sculptures of trees from Colombian rainforests and Japanese jungles to Scandinavian woods, a Garry oak and an ancient British yew.

 Among the Trees, curated by the Hayward’s director Ralph Rugoff, features the artwork of 37 international artists and explores our changing relationship with trees. The exhibition covers the past 50 years and the emergence of the modern environmental movement.

Divided into three sections, the first highlights the connectivity of trees and the recent scientific discoveries about the “wood wide web” – the network of underground roots, fungi and bacteria that connects forest organisms.

The second illustrates the clash of nature and culture. Zoe Leonard’s photographs of enclosed trees in an urban landscape evoke their endurance. Particularly poignant is Steve McQueen’s photograph of a lynching tree, used as a gallows for black Americans, which he captured while filming 12 Years a Slave. Roxy Paine’s topical ‘Desolation Row’, a bleak diorama of charred and blackened tree stumps with the embers still flickering, reminds us of the devastation caused by forest fires.

The final section explores the theme of time. It includes Rachel Sussman’s ‘Underground Forest’ which depicts the crown of a 13,000-year-old clonal tree in Pretoria - it is believed the trees migrated underground in order to avoid being damaged by wildfire - and a terrific animated video projection by Jennifer Steinkamp, which allows us to watch a birch grove transform though the seasons in under 3 minutes.  

There’s a theatricality to many of the artworks such as Ugo Rondinone’s sculpture cast from a 2,000-year-old olive tree (pictured); Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s horizontal video portrait of a 30-metre-Finnish spruce; Pascale Marthine Tayou’s sculpture made out of branches garlanded with colourful plastic bags (pictured) and the forest of trees constructed from cardboard by Eva Jospin.

It’s rare for an exhibition to provoke such a range of emotions – from awe at the trees’ solemn grandeur and a profound tranquillity, followed by anger and tears of disbelief at what we are losing through climate change and human folly.

Until 31 October 2020

Originally published by Camden New Journal