Ai Weiwei Palace, 2019
Cast iron 141 x 250 x 195 cm, 55 1/2 x 98 3/8 x 76 3/4 in
Ai Weiwei, Roots series, 2019, Cast iron sculptures
© AiWeiwei; Courtesy Lisson Gallery and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin
Arnolfini invites you to explore the many interconnected layers existing above and below the forest floor with Forest: Wake this Ground, an immersive exhibition of sensory delights from a group of international and intergenerational artists, writers, filmmakers and composers.
Humans have long conjured stories and passed-on myths of the forest, creating their own language of words, materials, and process, through which a relationship with the forest is forged.
The works in Forest: Wake this Ground recycle, reuse, and repurpose these resources to gently salute the enduring rhythms of nature and examine the impact of man and meteorology. At the heart of this exhibition is the act of exchange, collaboration and communication.
Forest: Wake this Ground creates new connections between each work, which dig deep and peer above, re-establishing strong roots and sowing new seeds, reminding us of both the forests’ ancient past and its fragile future.
A wider public programme will includes live performance, film, family events and creative workshops held throughout the Summer and Autumn at Arnolfini. Details to follow soon.
Forest: Wake this Ground also marks the start of Arnolfini’s renewed approach to sustainable practice that will see an increased focus across all our activities and the implementation of a new sustainable action plan. We look forward to sharing our work with you as a core part of our programme.
Featured artists and their works in Forest: Wake this Ground include:
The ideas behind British artist David Nash’s ever-growing charcoal drawing The Family Tree 1967 to 2019, evolve very much like the trunk of a tree, that thickens and strengthens from the energy provided by each branch.
Weaving together her own ancestral threads, Brazilian artist Maria Nepomuceno’s complex woven sculptures utilise traditional craft and basketry techniques, reminiscent of plant and organic structures.
Rosa Nguyen’s fragile ceramic and glass sculptures incorporate both living and dead botanical forms. Drawn together in a new installation the artist explores the ‘above and below’ of nature through hand-made porcelain, soil and hand-sized roots.
In contrast Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s monumental upended ‘roots’, cast from the ancient and endangered Pequi Vinagreiro tree (found in the Bahian rainforest), reflects both the uprootedness of arboreal species and the displacement of people.
In a similar lamentation of loss, Chilean artist Rodrigo Arteaga deals with absence and presence (metaphorically and physically) in the vast burned drawing series Monocultures. The works document the radical change in the detritus found on the forest floor, resulting from a major, government backed planting of the Monterey pine tree which is now threatening many indigenous species.
A new commission by Arteaga will also be made in response to Bristol’s local forests.
Finnish artist Alma Heikkilä, whose work Flashing Decaying Wood, made in part from pine wood, mycelium, and alder flower ink, recreates the microscopic world beneath our feet to lie physically decomposing on the gallery floor.
With similar cyclical concerns, French artist Eva Jospin’s towering and immersive sculpture Forêt Palatine, made from recycled cardboard, reflects the multiple material lives sprung from the rich resources of the forest. Its fantastical almost mythic depiction, hauntingly forewarns us of the possibility of their disappearance.
This theme is reprised by Palestinian artist Jumana Manna. In her 2018 documentary Wild Relatives, she explores the tensions between human need and natural resources. Through the journey of seeds, and the migrant women responsible for their replanting, the film tells the story of the Arctic’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Relationships between land, movement and ownership also play out in Irish artist and composer Mark Garry’s film An Lucht Siúil (The Walking People). With its richly intertwined songs sung in both English and Shelta (the language of Irish travellers), first shown in his solo show Songs and the Soil.
Language and soil lie at the heart of Bristol-based Zakiya McKenzie’s poetry. Represented by the texts Soil Unsoiled (originally commissioned by the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust in collaboration with Khady Gueye) and Primordial Mother Speaks for Herself, McKenzie examines whose bodies belong to the forest, tracing her own ancestral threads to shine a light on racial inequality in rural spaces, bringing new timbre to the forests’ many narratives.
John Newling extracts soil from the ground to reveal the history of his own leaf-strewn back garden in Ground; language from the cores. A new commissioned work, The Night Books burning forests, is made from pulped texts, coal dust and crushed charcoal; physically released carbon through the process of making, re-enacting the exchange that lies at the heart of the forest floor’s survival.
Looking to the future, Ben Rivers’ film Look Then Below journeys into a subterranean world. Shot beneath the nearby Mendip hills and ancient woodland, the film reimagines a future in which the full impact of environmental damage wrought by man is felt.
In contrast is composer and sound ecologist Hildegard Westerkamp’s Beneath the Forest Floor. Recorded in the old-growth forests of Canada’s Carmanah Valley in 1992, the creaking sound work transports the huge stillness and peace of these ancient forests to the gallery, asking us to consider if these spaces may still survive today.
‘Wake this Ground’ is a line from the poem Soil Unsoiled, 2021, by Zakiya McKenzie and Khady Gueye, commissioned for Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail.