Framing Nature

Framing Nature

Trees play an essential role in our lives. They absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale – and the greenhouse gases human activities emit. Without them, the world will continue to get warmer. Yet the mass-destruction of habitats persists. Since the 1960s, nearly half of the world’s rainforests have been lost. Between 1990 and 2016, 502,000 square miles of woodland were razed. In a world where around 36 football fields’ worth of trees are lost every minute, what can we do? Among the Trees is a new exhibition at Hayward Gallery, London, seeking to change the narrative. It coincides with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, highlighting the importance of a positive relationship between humanity and nature.

The show takes viewers across the globe: from Colombian rainforests to jungles in Japan, olive orchards in Israel to Scandinavian woods and an underground forest in South Africa. Featured artists include Myoung Ho Lee, whose work is shown above. The artist positions large white canvases behind trees, separating them from the environment. The series asks questions about representation, reality and artifice – framing nature in uncanny and elaborate compositions.  

Hayward Gallery presents a range of media, including immersive video installations, life-sized sculptures, paintings and drawings. Other featured names include photographer Robert Adams (b. 1937), whose works examine the impact of industrial processes and farming on woodlands. Similarly, Zoe Leonard (b. 1961) looks at how trees can unexpectedly adapt to urban settings. Ugo Rondinone’s (b. 1963) sculptures of ancient olive trees stand as memorials to the passing of time, whilst Steve McQueen (b. 1969) reflects on painful narratives of oppression in New Orleans.

The exhibition brings together nature and culture, highlighting the wider symbolism of trees throughout history. Ralph Rugoff, Director at Hayward Gallery, notes: “At a moment when the destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating at a record pace, Among the Trees brings together the work of leading international artists who urge us to think about the essential roles that trees and forests play in our lives and psyches. Hopefully visitors will leave the exhibition with a renewed sense of appreciation for both the beauty and complexity of these indispensable organisms.”

The exhibition runs 4 March – 17 May. Find out more here.

Lead image: Myoung Ho Lee, Tree… #2, 2012. Ink on Paper. 104 x 152 cm © the artist 2020. Courtesy Myoung Ho Lee and Gallery Hyundai.
1. Jennifer Steinkamp, Blind Eye, 1, 2018. Video Installation. 2.77 minutes © the artist 2020. Courtesy greengrassi, London, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. Photo by Jennifer Steinkamp