Artist takes axe to Enlightenment tree taboo with Somerset House forest

One of the most famous stone courtyards in Europe will be dramatically transformed this summer when it is taken over by a forest of 400 trees.

Il stage designer Es Devlin will channel ideas of enchanted woodland when she takes over Somerset House for the 2021 edition of London Design Biennale.

The installation, Forest for Change, will be the Biennale’s centrepiece and part of a programme highlighting the role of design in addressing global challenges and crises.

Devlin, this year’s artistic director, is one of the world’s leading stage designers whose diverse CV includes Sam Mendes’s production of The Lehman Trilogy, the London Olympics closing ceremony and stadium tours by artists such as Adele and Beyoncé.

She recalled being shown round Somerset House many years ago and discovering that the Enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard.

"Certo," lei disse, “the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s Biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard.”

The forest will have trees from 23 types typically found across the UK and northern Europe. There will also be a clearing where visitors can learn about the United Nations global goals for sustainable development, a plan to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and tackle the climate crisis.

Devlin said she was thinking of how forests were often places of transformation in literature, whether the forest of Arden in Shakespeare or the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm.

Lei ha aggiunto: “The UN global goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behaviour and it is our hope that an interaction with the goals in the forest will be transformative.”

The trees will be in place for the month of June before moving to a new home.

The forest is a partnership with Project Everyone, a not-for-profit agency co-founded by the writer and director Richard Curtis.

He said the idea was to create something beautiful which communicated a vision of a better, fairer world. “Bringing a forest into the courtyard at Somerset House for the first time is a bold statement that mirrors the audacious nature of the goals," Egli ha detto.

“The goals are the answer to the challenges we are facing, and a pathway towards building a better and brighter future for everyone, everywhere.”

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