Hayley Skipper, Curator of Arts Development at the Forestry Commission England , who established the national Forest Art Works programme in 2012 tells 3rd Dimension about the ambitious new Jerwood Open Forest initiative.
Jerwood Open Forest examines art in the environment and what it has the potential to be in its broadest definition. The inaugural exhibition was launched at Jerwood Space in London earlier this year with a multisensory exhibition of new work by the five shortlisted artists Juan delGado, Adam James, Amanda Loomes, artist duo Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) and collaborators Chris Watson and Iain Pate. The artists were selected from a national open call and the work on show was the culmination of a six month period of research and development. Two pairs of artists were selected to each now realise a £30,000 commission on England’s Public Forest Estate.
Semiconductor and Chris Watson collaborating with producer Iain Pate are expanding on their ambitious proposals, engaging with forest sites across England. Both artists will produce exciting new works, taking their artistic practices into new areas for the first time. Semiconductor explained:‘During the R&D period we really pushed our ideas out and ended up quite surprising ourselves with the work we finally proposed. The time we were given and the support we had from the Jerwood Open Forest team, allowed us to be very ambitious and work in a new way with both digital and real world materials; being able to thoroughly explore our ideas alongside conversations with highly skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen on the possible fabrication and feasibility of the work meant we could not only take our work somewhere new but fully realise the potential of the idea.‘This opportunity represents their first sculptural work and public art work. For Watson and Pate this is the first time they will mount such an ambitious ambi-sonic sound installation to be experienced by audiences in the landscape. 3rd Dimension will be following the development of these projects in the run up to their public launches later this year; this is the story of how the Jerwood Open Forest initiative came about.
Forestry Commission England’s national Forest Art Works programme was established as a result of a Memorandum of Understanding between Arts Council England and Forestry Commission England; set up in 2012 to help bring great art and culture to everyone across England’s Public Forest Estate. Since 1968 England’s Public Forest Estate has played host to artworks and initiatives across artforms, we believe that woodlands and forests are vital places for contemporary artists to engage with, to make and present new work and many well-established programmes host major works that can be visited across the Public Forest Estate – from the innovative Kielder Art and Architecture programme in Northumberland, to Grizedale – the UK’s first forest for sculpture founded in 1977, the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail with key works by artists including David Nash, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Annie Cattrell, King’s Wood in Kent, run by Stour Valley Arts, which holds major pieces by artists such as Chris Drury and Jem Finer and Sutton Manor in St Helens the site of The Dream by Jaume Plensa, winner of the PMSA Marsh Award in 2009 (www.pmsa.org.uk/marsh-award/) and at 20 metres high the tallest sculpture in the country.
I lead the Forest Art Works programme, as well as curating the sculpture programme at Grizedale Forest in Cumbria. Essentially I am an enabler, finding different ways for arts organisations to collaborate with us to create opportunities for artists to make new work for audiences to experience. Creating opportunities for work to be experienced in forests is at the heart of everything.
The Jerwood Visual Arts programme includes a range of transformative opportunities across artforms for artists at key early stages in their careers. Given that we were looking at our national programme, it felt like a ripe moment to work in a way that we never have before and open up the Public Forest Estate for artists to make proposals in any medium for any site. We thought a great deal about how this could work, and, as there were no other opportunities for artists already out there quite like this we felt that it would open up new possibilities for creative responses and we were overwhelmed by the response we received.
We were very clear that we were looking for bold and ambitious proposals and that we were open to artists’ ideas. We were looking for exciting ideas rather than fully developed proposals as the supported R&D period was there for artists to develop their proposals further and explore feasibility. We wanted artists to have the opportunity to really investigate the potential of the amazing places that the Forestry Commission looks after, and the knowledge within the organisation. The R&D period was a very collaborative process with the shortlisted artists working with Research Scientists, Ecologists, Foresters and Wildlife Experts.
Semiconductor have been commissioned to make a large spherical wooden sculpture, which will be created using data compiled from four different instruments on the flux tower at Alice Holt Research station in the South Downs National Park, transforming the data into a tangible sculptural form. Their installation at the Jerwood Open Forest exhibition was a recreation of this flux tower, with the video captured by the tower’s two cameras being projected; one projection looking up from the forest floor and one looking down from the canopy. This data is captured in order to examine how much carbon the trees are absorbing.
Semiconductor’s project will transform the material processes of the forest into sculptural form, through their interpretation of scientific data. The creation of this work will continue to involve a dialogue between the artists, scientists, foresters and fabricators as the work is realised and sited over the coming months. As Richard Mabey writes in the catalogue essay for the exhibition:
‘Our ancestors came out of the open forest more than a million years ago, and we compulsively return, maybe in search of our origins.’
Jerwood Open Forest is a new initiative in the Jerwood Visual Arts programme launched by Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Forestry Commission England, now with additional support from Arts Council England.