MA Fine Art students spent a day in Alice Holt Forest run by the Forestry Commission. Students were encouraged to bring some materials to work with and the aim of the day was to respond to the site and to think of the forest as a space in which to work, a studio outside the studio. Alice Holt Forest feels very different to the woods I usually walk in. The organised car park, the well-defined and surfaced tracks, designed to accommodate large numbers of visitors, feel alien and a little disturbing.
The relief at being outdoors though is the same. Despite the cold, it is a thrill to choose a spot and get to work. I begin with making rubbings of tree trunks, one a yew and one a larch (I think). The bark feels and looks very different but the differences are less marked on the rubbings. The large pieces of paper are awkward to handle in situ but the grandeur of the woods deserves no less. The resulting marks may translate into a screen print to be used at some later point.
Next up is the ball of yarn: walking around a small group of young trees, connecting them with the yarn. Is this wrapping? Or connecting? Wrapping, in the way I think of it, has connotations of celebration or adornment, as a mark of respect or wonder. I delight in trees and take pleasure from being close to them. In this case though, I am making connections, in space and through time, in the way of making visible something abstract.
“The thing, however, is not just one thread but a certain gathering together of the threads of life.”
Ingold T Bringing Things to Life 2010:10
On the way back to the car park, we see Cosmos, a carved wooden sphere, measuring two metres in diameter, installed in a carefully chosen site in the forest in 2014. The work was commissioned by The Jerwood Open Forest from joint winners Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt). On arrival, we had seen the video showing how the work was produced, taking data collected over a year in Alice Holt Forest as the starting point, demonstrating the links between science and art. It is a clear illustration of how data can be translated into an abstract sculpture, how a work of art can be made in collaboration with industry by outsourcing production.
Cosmos looks both at home and alien in its setting. The material is in harmony with its setting in a small clearing, acquiring a gentle patina of moss, and yet the form clearly signals its human origin.
“These sculptural forms become unreadable within the context of science, yet become a physical form we can see, touch, experience and readable in a new way. Here, humanising the data offers a new perspective of the natural world it is documenting.”
There is something liberating in the physical activity and the somatic experience of using the forest as a temporary studio. I plan to do more work en plein air.