What if trees could talk? Humans may have increasingly distanced themselves from the natural world over past millennia, but we cannot escape it. Our continued exploitation of the planet is driving it towards a point of environmental crisis, yet ultimately it is us that will be destroyed by this inharmonious relationship. Undoubtedly, a more mutual, two-way conversation is needed. The kind that can only come from a place of connection and equal respect.
Connection and respect are two values that lie at the heart of Common Ground’s radical and vital work. The small, grassroots charity was set up in 1983 with the intention of rekindling people’s relationship with place through art. Over the past 35 years, it has commissioned music, film, festivals, photography, publishing, building, sculpture and poetry to celebrate ‘local distinctiveness’ (ordinary, everyday aspects of the local environment, such as tree-lined streets or garden wildlife) and bring communities together through activism, celebration and conservation.
Perhaps in recognition of the importance, as well as artistic merit of such work, this summer Yorkshire Sculpture Park presents a series of displays and exhibitions dedicated to some of Common Ground’s most exciting initiatives; from the iconic projects that have captured the public’s imagination over the last three decades, to a number of more recent and brand-new creations.
Among these, Supernature (2018) will take the form of a large-scale outdoor sound installation exploring the presence, history and imaginative possibility of trees, created especially for YSP by South African artist James Webb. Indoors, the Bothy Gallery will house work by a younger generation of artists (including the Turner Prize winning architectural collective, Assemble) marking the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest act, which re-established rights of access to the royal forest for free men. And the Garden Gallery will exhibit a range of archive documents from past Common Ground projects; including a striking series of tree drawings by David Nash, diary works from Andy Goldsworthy’s residency on Hampstead Heath in 1986, and images of landscape sculptures that the charity helped local communities in Dorset to realise.
Repairing humanity’s relationship with the earth may seem like an insurmountable task, yet reconnecting people with their immediate natural environment could be a small step in the right direction. Indeed, perhaps the more personal, localised approach reflected in Common Ground’s work might just help demonstrate the extent to which we all have a role to play in protecting the environment, no matter how inconsequential our individual actions may feel.
Don’t miss the opening of Common Ground at YSP, which will be marked by an ‘intervention of food and feasting’ by Welsh artist Owen Griffiths.