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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

A few thoughts on Among the Trees - Hayward Gallery, London

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Ever heard of that theory according to which trees are immortal? No? Then you clearly do not know me very well. Of course trees are not immortal, but I choose to believe that they are. The reason is quite simple: in a world where man keeps devising new and more effective ways to destroy nature, the fact that some trees have survived for thousands of years is a pretty good indicator that they are being rather successful in their quest for immortality.

The first work I saw upon entering the dimly-lit gallery was a stunning Robert Longo, which I had already encountered and fallen in love with in Moscow in 2016. Oh joy. This is not just a tree Longo has drawn, this is a spiritual organism, a tentacled being that lives and breathes in sync with us all. In fact, I believe this may well be our own beating heart.

The exhibition is an overall pleasing exploration of the depth and complexity of our relationship with the arboreal world. The artists' visions are illustrated through a well-balanced mix of sculptures, paintings, photographs and videos. Some of the pieces, e.g. the above-mentioned Longo, Doig's almost abstract wood and Rondinone's reclaimed olive tree, are truly magnificent. After months of staying at home, getting lost in the Hayward Gallery (finally in the company of some of my best friends) proved hugely rewarding.

On reflection, I must however denounce what feels like an element of inconsistency in the delivery of the exhibition's messages. There is a disconnect between the show in the Lower Gallery, which is a stunning, if at times slightly repetitive, visual celebration of the majesty of trees. While the exhibit in Upper Gallery does not shy away from highlighting the devastating impact of human activity on the life of trees, it does fall short of representing the real emergency as effectively as it could and probably should have. For example, the subject of deforestation deserved to be illustrated more explicitly, and I felt the glowing embers of Roxy Paine's charred trunks looked too domestic in their desolation and failed to evoke the scale of the emergency.

Just so you know, this show has done nothing to diminish the strength of my irrational belief. Trees are immortal and that is the hill I'm going to die on.

Robert Longo Untitled (Sleepy Hollow), 2014

© Robert Longo 2020.

Peter Doig The Architect’s Home In The Ravine, 1991

© Peter Doig 2020.

Tacita Dean Crowhurst II, 2007

© Tacita Dean 2020.

Toba Khedoori Untitled, 2018

© Toba Khedoori 2020.

Rodney Graham Gary Oak, Galiano Island, 2012

© Rodney Graham 2020.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila Horizontal – Vaakasuora, 2011

© Eija-Liisa Ahtila 2020.

Mariele Neudecker Much Was Decided Before You Were Born, 2001

© Mariele Neudecker 2020.

Ugo Rondinone cold moon (2011)

© Ugo Rondinone 2020.

Jennifer Steinkamp Blind Eye (2018)

© Jennifer Steinkamp 2020.

Roxy Paine Desolation Row, 2017

© Roxy Paine 2020.

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