Sunday 13th June 2021
The time spent with my sister, Kayley has often come to be slow adventures based around “nature’ (for now I will use that word as its typical meaning). Often these adventures are about us being out in nature together, foraging, mooching and drinking coffee. Sometimes they are as simple as talking about nature, or even still going to our favourite cafe, Coffee Camp, and just talking about nature; future plans near and far.
Kayley told me about Olafur Eliasson’s exhibit at Fabrica gallery in Brighton. Kayley was intent on seeing it either solo or me tagging along if I could fit it in around work. She didn’t want to look at too much of it before viewings, I’ll admit my prior knowledge was limited. My understanding was that it was potentially similar to an indoor forest. Already I had questions in my head - why would I need to see an indoor forest when I could go to an outdoor one?
Sunday 13th June 2021 rolled on and we had agreed to meet one another on the train to travel onwards to Brighton. Brighton doesn't wake up until 1100 we learnt, but the calm before the storm of Brighton’s residents hitting the streets was welcomed by us. We rambled around hushed lanes and discussed what else we wanted to achieve in Brighton. When the time was right we stood at the entrance of Fabrica.
We donned the necessary face masks before being permitted entry by staff, a sign of the times and the billion exhibits to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were then instructed to make our way forward and reminded that it was an “in and out” exhibit. Once you’ve passed through, you’re done.
Then we came upon the Forked Forest Path. My first initial thought was one of wonder at all the saplings in front of me, but also disappointment that the floor my boots stood on was that belonging to the gallery itself. I had been expecting a forest floor, but one could argue the practicalities of that inside a gallery. Kayley and I slowly made our way through, following the small twists and turns of this sculpted forest. As a whole, I was glad to have experienced the exhibit. To walk amongst the saplings, appreciating the effort that went into purposely placing each and every individual thin trunk. Kayley and I didn’t speak much as we meandered through, being separated at the fork and reunited near the end. We watched the video that complimented the exhibit which explained where the material had come from and the thinking behind it all.
I already knew how being in the exhibit had made me feel and the thoughts it had provoked in me. I didn’t yet know how to put them into words and Kayley and I didn’t say much about it only that we were both glad we had gone. It wasn’t until the train journey back home that Kayley asked me what I thought about it. And I was honest.
I explained my experience may come across as negative, but upon reflection it was, and it wasn’t. I started with even the basics such as the floor surprising me - why didn’t it reflect a forest? Then I dug deeper.
My feeling whilst being in the Forked Forest Path was one of melancholy, for lack of a better word. I was left feeling “is this what the future will be?’. Will our future see forests and other ‘natural’ parts of our environment be forced into places of confinement and protection, such as galleries?
Will there be no more outdoor spaces left to visit? No more tree stumps to take a seat and drink coffee on? Will the future forests be echos, shadows and dead remnants of what they once were? Will forests have to be exhibited to be appreciated?
The things that struck me the most whilst padding my way on the floorboards included the fact that to me, there was no natural smell. Yes, there was a ‘woody’ smell, but the kind of wood being repurposed to human benefit. Was I smelling those floorboards and the roof beams above and below me more than the sapling wood literally inches from my nose?
The lack of leaves or budding flowers also hit me. Once more I appreciate the logistics of such an exhibit being inside but a forest without a single leaf was bizarre, saddening and confusing. Even dead leaves littering the ground of a wooded forest have a place and time to be appreciated, let alone the beautiful colour changes and canopies leaves provide when still attached to their mothering branches. For me, a sign of no leaves was a sign of no life. Which circled back to the thought before - will we only have dead carcasses of once beautiful forests left to visit?
The light was unnatural. The exhibit space served by spotlights burning down on the saplings in a way you wouldn't experience outside. I did appreciate the darker and lighter parts of the path, don't get me wrong, but staring up at a spotlight a few feet away was just plain odd. Looking up also brought to my attention the netting above the whole exhibit. Once again I understood this was likely for practical reasons but for me, it gave me a sense of nature having boundaries and that my experience inside was limited, controlled and had to fit within what was being provided.
And then there was the colour or lack thereof. Grey after grey after brown and more grey-brown lines of colour at every point I looked. A forest has many greys and browns at any time of the year, but these are joined by such a varied palette that was distinctly missing here. I didn't feel like this was a place I wanted to be. I found the odd red branch and took a moment to appreciate the subtle change this brought, but they were few and far between.
Whilst thinking all of this in a relatively short span of time, the constant door slamming of other visitors leaving the exhibit was hard to ignore. I can often feel hypersensitive, particularly around noise and this constant slam was an unwelcome jolt to my senses. I was aware of others around me, their footsteps, hushed conversations; I didn't need the unnecessary addition of the poor door being mishandled.
After we exited (quietly) ourselves we were straight out onto one of the many busy streets in the heart of Brighton. We were met with loud obnoxious laughter immediately.
The lower branches had often been tapping and stroking the top of my quiffed hair and it was a sensation that was oddly enjoyable and I later realised was making my brain truly think. Having had my brain literally stroked open I found myself spotting various things that do bring me joy - an upside-down bike exhibited in a shop front and a pedestrian passing me wearing a very cool cycling t-shirt.
We continued our day in Brighton, munching a gorgeous lunch at The Vurger Co and rambling through the various places we agreed we wanted to go to.
On reflection of experiencing this exhibit, I am incredibly glad I did so. Whilst this collection of words may come across as negative, the feelings and thoughts that were invoked in me have made me appreciate the outside earth far more than I had before.
I've always loved being outside and I am thankful for a childhood that taught me to enjoy my time exploring and seeing what earth has to provide. The Forked Forest Path was a stark reminder that we are destroying all environments around us, not least the once plentiful forests we used to have. If we continue then yes, maybe we will be subjected to experiencing a dead, grey, faux forest inside a building. However, if we consider our own actions, decisions, lifestyles and way of thinking then maybe we can slow, if not prevent, exhibited forests from ever being a reality.
I am more dedicated to doing what I can to nourish, appreciate and respect our earth. I love being a part of it and the experiences and memories I have already been provided. I hope there are many more to come.