Wakehurst premieres six bespoke outdoor art installations inspired by trees.
Release date: 24 February 2023
- 10m high multi-coloured neon installation from ‘Punjabi Liverpudlian’ British artist Chila Kumari Burman MBE
- Series of figurative, human portrait sculptures by Joseph Hillier, carved from trees lost during Storm Arwen
- Giant robotic wood mouse forms part of interactive Wood Wide Web from Little Lost Robot, demonstrating relationship between trees, fungi and wildlife
- Tattoo by Geraldine Pilgrim highlights the critical role trees play in absorbing carbon
- Bespoke audio work from Hidden Orchestra & Tim Southorn immerses visitors in calming haven of music and woodland sounds
- Tree climbing workshops offer children chance to explore leafy canopies
- Live performances, pop-up food stalls and botanical cocktails in popular lates programme
This summer, Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, celebrates one of the world's most recognisable and loved plants – trees.
Vital to human existence, trees form the life support of the planet, from storing carbon and sheltering wildlife, to providing shade and being scientifically proven to ease stress. In recognition of the phenomenal power of these woodland wonders, Wakehurst has commissioned a series of award-winning artists to create a series of spectacular outdoor installations across the 535-acre site.
Forming Wakehurst’s largest summer programme to date, the eight installations capture a broad range of artistic practices, from sculpture to sound. Taking inspiration from Wakehurst’s varied landscapes and ecology, each piece will explore a distinct theme and allow visitors of all ages to explore new perspectives on nature.
Chila Burman brings her signature colourful style to the heart of the Wakehurst landscape in a new major commission, celebrating the inspiring impact trees have had on her practice since childhood. The 10m structures form a joyful explosion of vibrant neon colours, accompanied by delicate creations in the shape of bees, illustrating the close relationship which exists between trees and invertebrates, and the threat climate change poses to them.
Acclaimed sculptor Joseph Hillier similarly reflects on the communication network hidden in nature in his series of human portraits carved from trees lost to Storm Arwen in Northumberland, in a considered effort to make art in a more sustainable way. The hand-crafted sculptures will sit upon plinths, creating their own network of quiet exchange, inviting visitors to contemplate their place in the wider natural world. Exposing once hidden decay, the work will also draw attention to the threat of fungal diseases that plague many tree species across the country, including ash dieback and Dutch elm disease.
Two further creatives draw inspiration from the incredible power of nature networks. Little Lost Robot, a not-for-profit collective of social practice artists create their own Wood Wide Web in a collection of interactive installations exploring the relationship between trees, fungi and wildlife. From a tree sap pump that sends vital nutrients and minerals through the trunk, to a bespoke sound piece hidden in coiled set of root-like structures, and a giant robotic wood mouse that can be fed mycelium pellets, younger visitors are treated to a stimulating new way of engaging with the natural world.
Hidden Orchestra, created by composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Acheson, returns to Wakehurst with a new immersive soundscape work Sonic Woodland IV. The audio work creates an enveloping sound experience using a bespoke system designed by spatial audio engineer Tim Southorn, coupling the sounds of the botanical forest with generative music, to create a living piece of music which is constantly evolving, reflecting the non-human timescales of the interactions which are constantly unfolding between plants, trees, and the underground mushroom networks in the woods.
Many works will respond to critical Kew science projects, creating installations that see art and science collide, highlighting how much there is still to learn about trees – from pioneering research to combat ash dieback, to the positive impact of woodlands on wellbeing.
Artist Geraldine Pilgrim in her newly commissioned work Tattoo explores the "dynamics of carbon" with an ancient oak tree created from recycled branches sourced from the grounds at Hatfield House. Emerging from limestone boulders etched with constellations and crystal stars, the trunk and branches are tattooed with the shadows of the absent oak leaves highlighting how not only carbon black was used for the first tattoos but also how this "King of Elements", carbon, is made from the interiors of stars.
Researching the most effective carbon-capturing plants and fungi underpins a major science research programme at Wakehurst, Nature Unlocked. Using Wakehurst as a ‘living laboratory’ scientists are collecting carbon data across different habitats, and exploring the previously untapped powers of underground fungal networks, or mycelium. Mycelium forms a key material in Mycelium Bar, a collaborative architectural piece from creative studio La Succulente, artist Côme di Meglio and designer We Want More. Kindly donated to RBG Kew, the striking bar will sit in the Wakehurst landscape, providing a space for people to dwell and connect, and ultimately will decompose and serve as a fertiliser for the soil.
Further installations include a new trail of scorched tree monoliths, the remaining trunks and stumps of trees felled as a result of the fungal tree disease, ash dieback. The reflective trail serves as a stark reminder of the rate at which the deadly disease is killing ash across the country, commemorating their loss, whilst also drawing attention to new hope in the pioneering research which Kew scientists are undertaking to conserve ash for the future.
Visitors are also invited to reflect on their time in nature in Forest Megaphones designed by Estonian artist Birgit Õigus. Formed of three giant wooden megaphones each measuring 3m in diameter, the megaphones create the perfect place for visitors to sit, escape from everyday pressures, and feel grounded in a peaceful, beautiful setting.
Throughout the summer, visitors of all ages can also enjoy a series of activities and events for, from tree climbing workshops for children, to live performances, pop-up food stalls and botanical cocktails in a new series of vibrant evening events.
Tickets for Rooted will go on sale in May 2023, along with further information on the programme and accompanying events.
For more information, images and interviews please contact Frances Teehan, Strategic Communications Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
7 July – 17 September 2023; 10.00-18.00
Tickets on sale in May at kew.org/wakehurst
Included in day ticket price
£1 entry for recipients of Universal Credit, Pension Credit and other legacy benefits
Notes to Editors
Please note that Wakehurst is referred to just as Wakehurst, not Wakehurst Place. It is not a National Trust property.
The National Trust was bequeathed the Mansion and grounds of Wakehurst in 1963. It was then entrusted to us here at Kew in 1965, and we now work in partnership with the National Trust to care for our collections and heritage areas.
Wakehurst is Kew’s wild botanic garden in the Sussex High Weald. Its ancient and beautiful landscapes span 535 acres and are a place for escape, exploration, tranquillity, and wonder. Its diverse collection of plants from Britain and around the globe thrive within a tapestry of innovative gardens, temperate woodlands, meadows, and wetlands. Wakehurst is a centre for UK biodiversity and global conservation, seed research and ecosystem science. At its heart is Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the world’s largest store of seeds from wild plant species.
RBG Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales. In the first six months since implementing a new accessibility scheme for those in receipt of Universal Credit, Pension Credit and Legacy Benefits, Kew has welcomed 10,000 visitors with £1 tickets.
At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, we’re dedicated to harnessing the power of plants and fungi to end the extinction crisis and secure a future for all life on Earth. With our world-leading research, global partnerships and beloved gardens – home to the world’s most diverse collections of plants and fungi – we’re using our trusted voice to shape policy and practice worldwide. As a charity we rely on the critical support of our visitors, not only to sustain the gardens, but to protect global plant and fungal biodiversity for the benefit of our planet and humanity.