On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Hayward Gallery in London will host a landmark exhibition featuring artworks that reimagine how we think about trees and forests around the world.
Among the Trees brings together major works by 38 leading international artists from five different continents, illuminating the beauty and visually arresting character of trees, but also considering trees as both symbols and living organisms.
From immersive video installations to life-sized sculptures; from large-scale paintings and drawings to intimate black-and-white photographs, the show will explore how trees have shaped human civilisation and how they continue to play an indispensable role in our lives and imaginations.
You'll encounter images of Colombian rainforests, jungles in Japan, olive orchards in Israel, Scandinavian woods and an underground forest in South Africa – all featured over three sections; the first will explore the complexity and connectivity in nature, chiming with recent scientific discoveries about the "wood wide web" – the network of underground roots, fungi and bacteria that connects forest organisms. Like Robert Longo's giant charcoal drawing of a massive tree, the works in this section dramatise the intricate architecture of branch and root systems. Along with 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, several of these works also remind us of how trees set our sense of scale.
The exhibition's second section features works that play with the blurring 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.
In the final section of Among the Trees, artists take a closer look at the theme of time. Reflecting seasonal changes and with life spans that far exceed our own, trees have long served in art as symbols for invoking mortality. 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.
Ralph Rugoff, director at Hayward Gallery 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."
Among the Trees runs from 4 March - 17 May 2020 at London's Hayward Gallery.