A Natural Gallery is a new site specific installation by the master of all that is green and sustainable
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has mounted a major new exhibition of the sculptor David Nash, one of the UK’s most important sculptors. For this vast installation Nash has produced work across the Gardens which utilises the setting of one of the greatest public botanical gardens in the world. David Nash comes from the same celebrated generation of British sculptors that includes Cragg, Deacon, Long and Wentworth. He fashions his work out of trees sometimes burning them, often hacking at them to create vast contemporary totems.
The exhibition will opened to members of the public yesterday, with sculptures, installations, drawings and film in place throughout the Gardens, glasshouses, and exhibition spaces. From early April, Nash has been working at Kew on a ‘wood quarry’ – the first he has done with whole trees in ten years – creating new works for the exhibition using trees from the Gardens that have come to the end of their natural life. This ongoing work will form part of the exhibition, with the fruits of his labour on display from October 2012.
In a career spanning 40 years, David Nash has created an extensive body of work. His sculptures are sometimes carved or partially burned to produce a charred surface. His main tools are a chainsaw and an axe to carve the wood, and fire to char it. Through his work, he has gained a deep understanding of the properties of trees. The artistic process itself is, for Nash, deeply collaborative – between the artist, his material, and the natural world. He adopts a responsive and adaptable approach, allowing nature to dictate the direction that his creations will take. This approach reflects the character of the exhibition as a whole – the viewing experience will change and evolve from visit to visit, due to the nature of the materials used, the changing seasons that shape and colour Kew Gardens so dramatically, and the display of new work that will be created on site, throughout the course of the exhibition.
Working with wood made available naturally (for example by storms, lightning or disease), Nash excavates the tree by means of a ‘wood quarry’. His chosen term indicates the sheer physical effort of working with a whole tree, as well as suggesting a sense of drawing on something pre-existent. The quarry is an outdoor workshop – a work of art in itself – and takes place over several months.
David Nash and Kew make the perfect partnership; a combined force that will inspire visitors to understand their place in the natural world. Nash’s philosophy places particular emphasis on the fundamental role that nature plays in humanity’s continued existence. He sees the environment as our ‘outer skin’; we are not separate from it or its master – everything that we do impacts upon it. His work results in sculptures in which form and material have a deep mutual sympathy, and retain some of the essence of their original form. Many of these wooden sculptures take forms that allude to man’s dependence on nature, and specifically wood, through the ages. Tables, ladders, chairs, and shelters, all basic human survival tools and utensils, all recur in Nash’s work.
This idea of nature as not only hugely inspiring, but also as a provider of our most fundamental survival materials, is reflected in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, which illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world. The huge variety of objects within the collection range from artefacts made from plants to raw plant materials, including a large collection of wood samples. Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing. The collection underpins this notion, that plants maintain the health of the world we live in – allowing us to have clean water, fertile farmland, productive seas, and a balanced climate.
Nash’s relationship with and ever-growing knowledge of his chosen material – wood –sits in perfect accordance with the conservation work that Kew carries out both in the UK and across the globe. Kew’s work with trees involves identifying new species, protecting areas of forest diversity, researching their ancestry, DNA, anatomy and chemistry, and studying the fungi that helps them to grow, and eventually, to decay and be recycled. Through projects such as the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, Kew can share information, assist in research and in planting new areas of forest, and advise on long term planning.
Steve Hopper, Director (CEO) and Chief Scientist of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says: “We are extremely honoured to host an exhibition of the work of David Nash, a significant and innovative artist whose approach resonates with an important facet of Kew’s work – to encourage people to look at plants and the natural world differently. An exhibition of this kind really helps to convey a simple but vital concept; that we are part of the web of life and nature responds to how we care for it. David Nash at Kew illustrates that nature can act as a great source of inspiration for artists and scientists alike, and brings these two exploratory disciplines together.”
David Nash, says: “I am delighted that my work will be exhibited at as iconic a location as Kew Gardens. Working within the Gardens provides me with the opportunity to continue my explorations into the science and anthropology of trees. This is a unique experience for visitors to see the evolving nature of the exhibition – we will offer an insight into the energy and processes involved in working with wood.
“Every activity that takes place under the name of Kew, from saving plant seed for future generations at The Millennium Seed Bank project, to on-site plant based artefacts and collections, not to mention the overwhelming physicality of the Gardens themselves, carries a message which reminds us that we cannot separate ourselves from the natural world. Our actions, from everyday activities to often essential industrial work, have an impact upon it. My work invites the same consideration. Nature is the essence of our continued existence – it guides us spiritually and takes care of us practically. Wood, specifically, is a fundamental survival material, providing us with homes and shelter, and sustaining us by its use as fuel. The art that I create is fed by such a union, and should always be observed with this essential, unique, and sometimes challenging relationship in mind.”
Born in 1945, David Nash studied at Kingston College of Art, Brighton College of art, and Chelsea School of Art.
David Nash’s first solo exhibition was in York in 1973. An artist of international renown, his work is held in private collections and public galleries all over the world including the Guggenheim, Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. At the age of 21, Nash established a base in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, and lives and works at Capel Rhiw, a former chapel built in 1863.
Exhibition Opens Saturday 9 June 2012 – Sunday 14 April 2013