Hanging out ‘Among the trees’ at the Hayward Gallery

A breath of fresh air that takes you away from the city and into the comfort of nature

The city has changed. It’s no longer a place to meet up and have a drink with friends, see your favourite band play live or catch a spontaneous film. So when I went into London for the first time since lockdown to visit this show at the Haywayd Gallery, I was kind of grateful for the respite, I’d made only a short trip into Covent Garden early on a Saturday morning, but even this was enough to unravel my nerves and seek solitude, and this exhibition was happy to provide that.

I booked my timeslot, knowing that visitor numbers would be restricted, and the 2 metre rule would be in place. And it was bliss! It was the first day that it opened and was probably filled to capacity, but it wasn’t a packed show. No knocking of elbows or craning of necks. It felt very polite and orderly, and if you wanted to get up close to the work, you only needed to wait a moment until people moved off to have your go.

Stepping into the space felt like a trip to the zoo or the Natural History museum. There was a sense of wonder and atmosphere as you weaved in an out of the tree drawings, installations and films. Trees, by nature, are multifaceted, and this group exhibition brings together those varying perceptions, imaginings and the complexities of our relationship with them.

The most impactful, awe-inspiring piece was the ‘Horizontal – Vaakasuora’ film installation by Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Realising the full scale of a spruce on its side, in a space that wouldn’t in reality be able to fit, was part of its breathtaking charm. The monumental scale of the tree, the individual birds chirping and wind rustling through its branches allowed for a meditative, mindful experience. I sat for longer than I expected to, appreciating what was in front of me, and how rare it is to actually watch nature, and study trees. You forget! Combined with the knowledge that I was in central London, where that would never happen, felt like a rare treat and a chance to wind down and escape the bustling noise of the city.

In fact, a lot of the works invited you to take a meditative and reflective look at the life of trees, our relationship to them and the impact we have on nature. One of my favourite artists, Mariele Neudecker, presented a nuclear yellow submerged landscape, contained in her signature tank sculpture. It had an otherworldliness that was beautiful, yet toxic, as though it was contaminated by human activity. Scorched landscapes, neon branches, a sculpture cast of a 2,000 year old olive tree, and silver birch video rendering the different seasons – this is an exhibition that transports you around the world, through time, and gives you new ways of seeing that you won’t want to forget.

‘Among the trees’ is on at the Hayward Gallery on Southbank until 31st October.

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