Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Always Have a Plan B

One of the defining pieces of the project was going to be a 3 metre high, site-specific sculpture made from a felled tree but I had a major problem today.

I went to the site to begin working on the sculpture only to discover that the tree is now completely rotted. Although I noticed some water damage when I moved it into position a few weeks ago, the majority of the central trunk was intact and stable. Since then a combination of constant rain, muddy ground and insects have made it completely unworkable as sculptural material.

This was a real blow, and let me tell you, depression started to set in rapidly! However, over the last two years I have repeatedly heard the mantra that artists should be taking more risks so I am putting this experience down as an exercise in risk. From the outset the tree was an unknown quantity and I knew that I had to work on whatever I was presented with. However, the other mantra that should never be too far from the mind is 'Always Have a Plan B'.

The fact that this sculpture remains a major component of this project means I have had to think quite quickly and very creatively about how to overcome my little problem. What I have decided is to change the original, sculptural concept  of working on the wood itself and to encase the decaying trunk in wire mesh instead. The mesh will be pinned tightly to the surface of the trunk so that it takes on the form of the original tree while supporting the material integrity of the wood.

This protective intervention actually presents a work that engages directly with ideas of conservation and preservation. The rotting tree will serve as a habitat for different life forms connecting it very strongly to the  Lee Valley Park's work with the conservation of natural habitats. At the same time, the gradual disintegration of the rotting tree inside the mesh will ultimately leave only the tree shaped cage behind it, thus rather contradicting the idea of preservation. The whole process of this 'slow-release sculpture', however, will provide a visual embodiment of an entire natural cycle.


  1. Tim Bennett-Goodman6 May 2012 at 07:34

    Pity this government doesn't have a Plan B, but moving swiftly on... I suppose someone has to make the obvious pun about barking up the wrong tree so it might as well be me. However, I think your philosophical approach and your adaptability when faced with an apparently insuperable problem is testimony to your professionalism. And actually, this cloud does appear to have a silver lining. I think the solution you propose is even more in keeping with the thinking behind your installation in that it reflects man's intervention in nature and also how nature finds its own way back. This seems a perfect response to the history of the Lee Valley, from nature, through industrialisation and back to nature again.

    By the way, I've remembered what it is your most recent pieces you showed me evoke. The delicate filigree patterns reminds me of lichen. How very appropriate!

    1. Hi Tim

      Let's wait and see what the end product looks like, but so far so good. A plan B is always important, but how quickly you decide to deploy it is very more important.

  2. Silvana Gambini11 June 2012 at 10:34

    Talk about thinking on your feet!
    Well done Jonathan for rolling with the punches (how many cliches can I manage!)- your plan B is very inventive and, as Tim has already very eloquently stated, it fits in perfectly with the ideas behind the whole work.
    I'm really looking forward to viewing the whole exhibiton and this work in particular.


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After The Fire