Celebrating Trees in Art on The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

March 3, 2020

Dazzled by the screens, news feeds, and the constant flux of information, we miss observing the outer world, especially the nature around us. Trees are often not even paid any attention unless they form a park in urban areas or forests in the wilderness. However, they are the most important factor in the distribution of the air we breed; more than that, they are an integral part of any ecosystem.

In recent times there were numerous calls to action regarding large-scale trees plantations as an immediate reaction to the climate crisis and the urgency caused by devastating forest and bush fires that took place from California to Australia, as well as decrements of carbon emission in the air. That is why any kind of an initiative that serves to remind us how precious trees are and how complex and fascinating their existence is, seems to be more than valuable for a wider public debate and concrete actions.

The exhibition that is about to be opened soon at Hayward Gallery in London under the title Among the Trees will bring artworks by thirty-eight leading international artists made in the last fifty years that explore how we think about trees as both living organisms and symbols and will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Shi Guowei - Pine
Shi Guowei - Pine, 2016. Painting on photograph, 142 x 190.3 cm © Mr. Xi Tao 2020. Courtesy the artist and Magician Space, Beijing

Exploring The Life of Trees

This exhibition tends to lead the visitors to distant greeneries found around the world from olive orchards in Israel and Colombian rainforests, over Japanese jungles and Scandinavian woods, to an underground forest in South Africa. It will also bring the critical reflection of the conventional representation of trees regarding the ever-changing conditions that affect arboreal life.

Among the Trees will bring an array of exceptional works spanning from life-sized sculptures, and large-scale paintings, to drawings and black-and-white photographs, and immersive video installations with artists such as Tacita Dean, Peter Doig, Robert Smithson, Jimmie Durham, William Kentridge, Toba Khedoori, Luisa Lambri, Myoung Ho Lee, and Jennifer Steinkamp, to mention a few.

Abel Rodriguez - Terraza Alta
Abel Rodríguez - Terraza Alta II, 2018. Acrylic and ink on paper, 70 x 100 cm © the artist and Instituto de Visión 2020. Courtesy the artist and Instituto de Visión

The Installment

The installment will consist of three thematic sections.

The first will gather various images of trees and forests to underline the diversity of flora and mutual connection between the species inspired by the recent scientific discoveries regarding the wood wide web – a vast network of underground roots, bacteria, and fungi that connect forest organisms. Among the works, the visitors will be able to see Robert Longo’s astonishing large scale charcoal drawing of a massive tree, a six-meter-high wooden sculpture by Giuseppe Penone and Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s grand video portrait of Finnish spruce.

The second section will be centered on the selection of works that correspond to the blurring line between nature and culture. On display will be the photographs by Robert Adams aimed to question present-day impact of human activity on nature, with processes such as woodlands clear-cutting and industrial farming; the works by Zoe Leonard exploring how trees adapt to man-made environments; and Steve McQueen’s works that investigate the symbolic potential of trees as silent witnesses of forgotten histories.

The final section of the exhibition will be focused on the theme of time underlining the symbolism of tress related to different occurrences as an effect of seasonal changes. Ancient olive trees sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, color photographs by Rachel Sussman documenting the world’s most ancient trees, and Jennifer Steinkamp ’s grandiose animated video projection featuring a birch forest and its cycles through the four seasons will be some of the highlights within this section.

Mariele Neudecker - And Then the World Changed Colour Breathing Yellow
Mariele Neudecker - And Then the World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow, 2019. Mixed media including water, acrylic, salt, fibreglass, spotlight, 64 x 57 x 165 cm © Mariele Neudecker 2020. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy Pedro Cera and the artist. Photo: Benjamin Jones

Among the Trees at Hayward Gallery

This exciting survey on the state of trees in the contemporary moment and the cultural, social and political associations related to these arboreal giants, is curated by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director and the former curator of last year’s edition of the Venice Biennale. In a brief statement Rugoff summarized his intention:

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.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive illustrated catalog (including the curator’s essay, as well as the ones by writer and critic Jeffrey Kastner and philosopher Matteo Pasquinelli), public talks program, as well as performances and lectures by artists, authors, and climate change specialists.

Among the Trees will reopen at Hayward Gallery in London from 1 August 2020.

Among the Trees: A virtual tour | Hayward Gallery

Featured image: Myoung Ho Lee - Tree... #2, 2012. Ink on Paper, 104 x 152 cm © the artist 2020. Courtesy Myoung Ho Lee and Gallery Hyundai; Jennifer Steinkamp - Blind Eye, 1, 2018. Video Installation, 2.77 minutes © the artist 2020. Courtesy greengrassi, London, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo by Jennifer Steinkamp. All images courtesy Hayward Gallery.