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Among the trees

Among the trees: an exhibition of work by 37 international artists at London’s Hayward Gallery this autumn celebrates the healing and inspirational power of trees and forests

After more than twenty weeks closed due to the coronavirus pandemic the Hayward Gallery, in London’s South Bank Centre has opened five days a week. NHS workers can visit for free. Among the Trees explores how we think about trees and forests. Illuminating their beauty and visually arresting character, the exhibition invites us to consider trees as both cultural symbols and living organisms. By turns poetic, adventurous and thought-provoking, it celebrates the tree’s enduring resonance as a source of inspiration for many contemporary artists and writers. Spanning the past fifty years, the exhibition brings together major works by 37 leading international artists working in different media, who draw our attention to the role of trees in our lives and imaginations.

Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery comments, “Nature has played a large part in our lives throughout the pandemic and I am delighted that the public will once again have the opportunity to see this exhibition of works by 37 artists, all of which invite us to think about the inspiring roles that trees and forests play in our lives and imaginations. Both art and nature can play a vital role in our sense of well-being.”

Among the Trees covers an expansive and adventurous artistic terrain with works ranging from immersive video installations to life-sized sculptures; from large-scale paintings and drawings to intimate black and white photographs. From tranquil woodland clearings to places of gritty urban escape in George Shaw’s unsettling paintings and troubling memories in Steve McQueen’s striking ‘Lynching Tree’ photograph, every work in this arboreal show encourages us to think about our relationship with trees.

Highlights of the exhibition include a magnificent sculpture cast from a 2,000 year-old olive tree by Ugo Rondinone, a cinematic portrait of a 30-metre-high spruce tree by Eija-Liisa Ahtila and a vast forest of trees constructed entirely from cardboard by Eva Jospin. Running the entire width of one floor in the gallery is a six-screen video which depicts a spruce tree, gently swaying in the wind in Finland. To illustrate its scale the artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila stands dwarfed at the foot of the tree, her blue parka contrasting the vivid green of the majestic conifer.

One of the featured sculptors Hugh Hayden explains, “If I can transform how you think about something as ubiquitous as a tree or a piece of wood, perhaps that’s a way in for me as an artist to change the way you think about larger, more conceptual ideas.”
Among the Trees transports us around the world – from Columbian rainforests and remote Japanese islands to olive orchards in Israel and a 9,550-uear-old spruce in Sweden.

At a time when the destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating at a record pace, this exhibition encourages you to see the natural world through new eyes, on a walk through the woods, real and imagined. Trees can be thousands of years old – with lifespans much longer than our own, challenging how we think about time and how intimately interconnected we are with other life-forms on the planet.

What could be more de-stressing than looking at art inspired by trees, or visiting the UK’s numerous beautiful forests and woodlands. If you don’t live near woods, a lunchtime walk around a park with trees and scrubs, at lunchtime such as Hammersmith’s Hospital’s nearby Wormwood Scrubs can help refresh, calm and reset your mind.

Among the Trees is at the Hayward Gallery (1st August 2020 – 31st October 2020) at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank, London,
All visitors must book online before visiting

NHS workers and Southbank Centre Members can visit for free. Tickets are £5 for under 30s and Lambeth residents
The exhibition is open on Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 7pm and Sunday, 10am – 6pm; and closed on Monday and Tuesday

The exhibition is kindly supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia

Rebecca Wallersteiner

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