University of the Underground project

The last tree on earth



My art practice whilst involved in the University of the Underground course has focused on environmentalism as a belief system. Exploring this subject led me to thinking about how do we take conversations about the environment out of privileged and educated spaces? Living in London I focused my thoughts around London. I wanted to create art that created a positive narrative around climate change within the city? My research started by exploring the branding around environmentalism – not branding in the commercial sense but branding as a predisposition to participate in actions that benefit our environment. What are the symbols, shapes, colours, spaces that are able to do this? How do we create a sense of worship within nature that is potentially needed to cause change? ? The project led me to designing a fictional worship space. A tree is suspended in a clearing within a forest, framed by a large-scale oval room, held by a surrounding canopy of trees. The tree’s roots are eye level to the viewer, where you can watch the slow degradation of the tree as fungi eat away at its roots. The installation aims to create a space for reflection – a space to breathe. The viewer looks up at the tree through a large circular window, viewing it from another lens. Inspired by conversations with Zen priest Eshin Takatsu, I was reminded of the power of walking through nature to get to the space which fictionally lives in Epping Forest (where you can hear in the digital installation) on the outskirts of north-east London. Mycelia and trees have lived in symbiosis for almost 400 million years. The tree relies on the mycelia network to provide nutrients to grow, to send information and to break down the tree after it dies. Without that process, the build-up of foliage would cause the earth to suffocate. We also live in symbiosis with trees; without them we would also suffocate. Underneath the soil in which the trees live there is a vast interconnected kingdom, providing the language for a symbiotic relationship. After connecting with the British Mycological Society, David Humphries explained to me that this relationship is called Mycorrhiza – from the Greek mykes, `fungus’, and rhiza, `root’. ? It starts with the hub trees (or mother trees) – the oldest and tallest trees in the forest. With more access to sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis these trees produce more sugar than they actually need, the mass threads that make up fungi called mycelia absorb this excess sugar and in return provide the tree the water and nutrients it needs from the soil. This network of threads also allows communication that can nurture seedlings and even send warning signals when the trees are under threat. Studying these relationships will not only allow us to build stronger forests in the future, but also help us to understand their language a little more. Perhaps learning this language will allow us to feel a little more connected with the environment.