if only paintings could talk

abstract art canvas - congo stripes
Congo 2010, mixed media collagraph on paper on canvas, 5″ x 5″ x 1.5″

‘Congo’ is another very small work on canvas. I like the idea that it should be experienced as a small fragment, a precious last offering. In very minimalist terms, the central stripe could symbolise a path through a forest. Felled trees, stripped bark, planed wood, stacked planks, the dirt tracks of intensive forest clearing, could all be echoed in the texture and grain of the surface. This small canvas is one of a new series based on colour values and other visual associations or narratives, aka symbolic, reductionist iCons, partly geographical, partly cultural… my prospective virtual journeys around the planet.

[detail of Congo]

This photograph shows a scene of intensive deforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This pillaging of the world’s natural resources is central to the debate on climate change. The impact is seen in the immediate ecological environment, disrupting the natural biodiversity of life. As the landscape is physically altered the exposed soil is impacted by changing weather, removing vital nutrients, the rainfall and wind create soil erosion, the alternating extremes of drought to flood damage the environment even further… and so it goes on.

If only trees could talk…

The British artist, Angela Palmer, recently installed a series of vast tree roots and stumps in London’s Traflagar Square, to highlight the issues surrounding deforestation. According to the artist’s own website she ‘made several field trips to a commercially logged primary rainforest in Ghana’ – surely a footprint or two of dirty carbon traces there? The selected trees (all of which were apparently naturally ‘felled’ after storms) were painstakingly shipped to the UK for the art installation. The exhibit was later transferred to Copehagen to coincide with the Earth Summit in December 2009. Oh, the tragic irony of this monumental statement on climate change… You can read more about the Ghost Forest project here.

In 2009, another British artist, Tania Kovats, created a ceiling installation out of a 17m high wafer-thin section of a 200 year old oak tree for London’s Natural History Museum, in honour of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and as a homage to his tree of life drawing – a now significant doodle mapping out this ideas on the origins of life. The oak tree was carefully selected (then very much alive) from sustainable woodlands on Longleat Estate (they planted 200 new sapling trees to replace it – that’ll be another two hundred years). You can watch a video of Tania Kovat’s Tree here. I quite like Kovat’s moving meadow artwork (a meadow on a barge) but salami slicing a healthy tree to adorn a ceiling in honour of Darwin’s idea seemed a little extravagant…

Yet another British artist, Anya Gallaccio, has created installations out of uprooted and felled trees that are relocated and reconstructed within the gallery space. She only works with trees (and their attendant tree surgeons) that are due for the final chop – often indigeonous species such as oak and chestnut. Gallaccio’s exhibit for the 2003 Turner Prize (in my opinion, one of the better years) included life-size bronze casts of trees adorned with slowly rotting fruits. Gallaccio’s works transcend their organic materality and process, to signify the essential temporality of all living (and dead) things. In an interview in ArtForum magazine in 2008, she said: I’m interested in basic, rather banal stuff, like how big trees are and how we relate to them physically. [...] I’m a little bit terrified and overwhelmed by nature. My curiosity is more morbid than celebratory.’

If only walls could talk…

And lastly… of the recent Turner Prize 2010 shortlist announcement. I chuckled when I heard sound artist Susan Philipsz (when interviewed about her Turner Prize nomination) exclaim: ‘I couldn’t believe my ears’. I doubt it will win the hearts of the people; it’s a public exhibition and there won’t be much to look at in a white space… My money’s on De La Cruz, I like the irony… Read brief profiles on the four nominated Turner Prize 2010 artists here.