Trustee Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust
This report is probably the first published experience of the setting up and management of landmark or site-specific art linked by a trail. The Trustees hope that it will assist others who are commissioning land art to plan more successfully and optimistically. The greatest lesson which we have learned is that we did not plan initially for success i.e.for 100,000 visits a year! There is a great open minded public out there ready for land art, and good work will draw the crowds.
Planning successfully involves sensitive management of the landscape between the works as well as having individual plans for the `areas of influence’ around the works. All must be agreed by the artists.
Chairman Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust
For so many of the artists involved in the Forest, the mystery of the forest was an intrinsic source of its appeal. No-one involved in the original commissioning intended that it should be a gallery in the forest; rather, the works would be scattered throughout the forest and people would seek them out for themselves. `Mystery’ and `wonder’ were descriptions shared by commissioners and artists alike in their vision for the trail. It was observed by foresters that as the walk became more widely known the public appeared to regard the trail as a `hunt for treasure’. Clearly that sense of mystery was intrinsic to the experience of the trail for the first visitors.
Within each artist’s approach there was an implicit sense of the public having to make a special effort - a sort of pilgrimage - to see the works. The artists felt they should work more on what they felt to be the forest’s terms, rather than those of the public.
Peter Randall Page was very concerned about the relationship of his work to the environment. His seed and cup forms were sited with extreme care and some difficulty so that they looked part of the forest - as if they had naturally fallen from the Scots pine and the oak beneath which they were eventually sited. His intention was that the work would not be “immediately obvious” so that the viewer would be caught “unawares”, “jolting the consciousness into a slightly different way of seeing the forest and our relationship with it”.
Miles Davies selected his site because of the solitude he found there. The mysteriousness of the relationship between the industrial archeology of the forest - its disused mineworks, lost underground culverts and overgrown spoil heaps - and their natural context, was enhanced by the loneliness of the site and crucial to the imagery of his piece. “House” is as tall and linear as the trees, yet cast in iron as an industrial working.
The public were also intent in being involved in the works too. They wanted not simply to see the sculpture, as a relatively passive spectator or controlled gallery-goer might, but to touch them, feel them, get close to them, be photographed with them, sit on them, and indeed test them, push them to their physical limits and take away bits of them for souvenirs. The public were making efforts - perhaps not precisely the kind the artists wanted - but efforts none the less, ironically that succeeded, in many cases, in destroying the environmental meaning of the work.
No-one envisaged that the dense hedge of bramble and nettle which surrounded and protected Peter Randall Page’s “Cone and Vessel” would within six months be trampled out altogether leaving the carvings perched on a little mound of bleak hard earth surrounded by a rapidly eroding and potentially dangerous bank.
Similarly Zadok-Ben David’s herd of deer sited out of the reach of the public (so the artist thought) across a precipitously steep and brambley bank, were soon within reach. The slope down and up again became a morass of mud, as the attractions of the brightly painted fluorescent butterflies, fish and stars on the backs of the deer beckoned enthusiastic visitors and trophy hunters.
David Nash was concerned when he returned to inspect his “Black Dome”. Wide pathways had been beaten down around the sculpture and the work itself was “pummelled down”. David Nash admitted that “when I first came it was a quiet forest; I naively imagined my work would be viewed from the path” (that is, the main path some 50 yards from the work itself).
Vandalism and Loss
Of all the artists Kevin Atherton considered he had anticipated the public issues. The glass. “Cathedral” was clearly vulnerable to breakage or vandalism. A tough double lamination
system was devised, but even so odd pot-shots taken at the glass by vandals with air pistols and stones did eventually penetrate the lamination. However, Atherton’s objective that the work was “permanent and in permanent materials and is meant to be permanent” did work in that it did not damage the fabric of the forest.
Cornelia Parker’s “Hanging Fire” experienced a not dissimilar problem in that people picked up loose sticks and stones from the surrounding ground using them to throw at and dislodge the cast-iron flames. This problem was compounded by the fact that the work had not been installed according to the artist’s instructions, so that the fixings were more vulnerable than they should have been.
Zadok Ben David’s “As There is No Hunting Today” proved to be vulnerable to the theft of the fluorescent details; like glittering jewels, the brightly coloured star, butterfly, man and lizard were all too delectable and were frequently stolen. Concerns for the stability of the deer when forest workers reported seeing visitors rocking them, proved to be ill-founded. The artist had made the frames strongly, and the figures were surprisingly robust.
Peter Appleton’s “Melissa’s Swing” had been strongly made, but the artist had hoped that it would be used “contemplatively”. Instead it had been used “quite aggressively and violently”, so the wear and tear on both the work and its supporting tree was much greater than expected. The issue of public safety should the bough break or the swing fall therefore became critical.
A Changing Landscape
Work can be radically changed through a genuine misunderstanding of an artist’s aesthetic intentions. Miles Davies’ sculpture was affected by forestry thinning which was undertaken without knowledge of the secret nature of the place he had chosen and the impact that this would have on first viewing his sculpture.
Bruce Allen’s `Observatory’ suffered on two counts.
His choice of site had been carefully made. Overlooking a still pool and itself relatively hidden, something of the secret nature of the forest could be achieved by climbing the steep stairs to the top of the observatory, and looking down from a high viewpoint. Sophie Ryder’s original choice of site for `Crossing Place’ had been ruled out - it was a Nature Reserve - and an alternative had to be found. Bruce Allen said he agreed to her siting her work in “his” pool “unwittingly.. .I was told the work was ephemeral and I didn’t realise the impact of it” .
Sophie Ryder’s “Crossing Place” became a key attraction of the whole project, and its appeal was underlined by the Forestry Commission leaflets on which it featured as a front cover. The contemplative nature of the area was desecrated within a short space of time. Vegetation was trampled, so the view of the natural forest floor and its shadows lost, and the powerful visual impact of the wire deer detracted all but the most interested from the precise implications of “Observatory”. In effect, “Observatory” lost its meaning.
The most environmentally appropriate works, for example Yvette Martin’s “Four Seasons”, decayed naturally. These caused complaints from the public who did not appreciate that the state of decay was deliberate. “Call that Art? Its a bloody mess” was one remark overheard by visiting artist Anneke Pettican…Some of the public wanted pristine work. An explanation was called for, or at least a clear decision by the artist and commissioner taken as to when the art failed as art and indeed became a “mess.
Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work was inadvertently affected by natural causes. In “Grove of Silence” one plaque came down dramatically when the tree on which it was fixed itself blew down. Careful management of the tree under-storey became necessary as natural growth quickly obscured the view of all three plaques.
Magdalena Jetelova’s “Place” was chosen because it was a bare mound with only a little and very low vegetation. Sited on the mound the sculpture became a prominent landmark from which uninterrupted and spectacular views of the forest could seen. An adjacent chestnut coppice worked on a 20 year rotation was unnoticed by the artist at the time of the commission. By 1991 these trees were already obscuring the sculpture and the view from the sculpture, radically altering the aesthetic of the work.
After Andrew Darke’s commission had been so carefully sited the Forestry Commission changed the area by remodelling the arboretum car park. Some of these changes took place without consulting the artist. He then had to address the practical and aesthetic implications of the environmental changes.
Addressing the problems
The relationship that a public artwork sets up with its context is as important as the physicality of the object itself. Understanding public art work is not fully possible if it is only the object in isolation that is studied. That relationship can be tightly defined and structured - as with works which are integrated into architecture - or it can be more elusive - as with a natural environment or indeed additionally with a community or group of people. The site is critical to the meaning; changes to the setting have a radical effect on the aesthetics of the piece.
At the same time, the commissioned artists were well aware of the fact that the Forest itself was not only a naturally changing environment but was a working one. They too might have situated their works with this more fully in mind. It was, after all, part of their brief.
The foresters’ response was to make any damage good, as fast and as well as they knew, repairing such vandalism as they found along the way. In response to the massive public demand for information they created the trail in association with the publication of the leaflet. At the same time they had to address quite practical problems such as the lack of toilets, appropriate refreshment facilities, and increased demand for car parking and so they planned the Beechenhurst Centre.
The view from Magdalena Jetelova’s “Place” is protected by rotational felling of the chestnut coppice. This work has assumed an enhanced landmark role following the construction of the Beechenhurst Centre the design of which is aligned to “Place”. The work now serves to entice people out of their cars and into the forest, thereby fulfilling at least one of the commissioner’s original objectives.
David Nash was concerned that people’s interest in his work went well beyond the visual, with children particularly taking delight in balancing on the charcoal stakes of the dome. Despite having been well crafted the pressure of feet wore down the dome to a silver polished surface, preventing the natural decay envisaged by the artist. Both the Trust and the foresters were understandably worried about the safety implications - people might break ankles in between the pointed wooden stubs of larch. Nash offered to make a new and permanent piece in a harder wood, possibly in a new site, taking into account what he now knew about the forest and its public.
In contrast the Trustee’s decision to remove “Crossing Place” altogether marked a turning point in the development of the ethos of the Trust itself. The work was designed to be temporary and by 1993 was beginning to disintegrate. The major problems created by its proximity to Bruce Allen’s “Observatory” precipitated a radical decision by the Trustees to remove this most popular of all the works. The Forestry Commission did propose that the work could be “saved” by erecting a green fence and a moat around the deer, then raising the funds to regalvanise a whole new herd. For some Trustees and artists this was too much of an institutional or curatorial solution - effecting preservation where none was intended and where aesthetics were ephemeral. The point was clearly made that “part of the beauty of the original trail had been the limited life of a number of the works” .
The Forestry Commission were concerned to ameliorate the changes which had altered Andrew Darke’s sculpture “Sliced Log Star” especially after the initial lack of consultation. Visitors were now using two approaches to the sculpture and for Darke, once the detailed elements of vegetation and gateway had been satisfactorily resolved, this became a bonus.
Where work was vandalised, or had changed due to minor natural occurrences, the Trustees and the Forestry Commission agreed practical remedies. So for example, details on Zadok-Ben David’s deer were to be replaced from a specially commissioned stock held locally, Cornelia Parker’s `flames’ were repaired and refixed, loose sticks and stones beneath `her’ trees removed to discourage vandals, Kevin Atherton’s glass was given a three year maintenance and repair management contract. Maintenance of the strips creating the sound affects on. Peter Appleton’s “Melissa’s Swing” was agreed on the basis of regular renewals and the swing moved to another branch with sufficient clearance and a fixing to protect the tree from damage. It was also confirmed contractually that the artist would assume no liability for any accidents which might occur to the public on the swing. Of the temporary works only Yvette Martin’s required some tidying away, Frost’s and Parker’s having disappeared.
The management plan
All the artists, the Trustees and the Forestry Commission agreed a management plan for each work and its surrounding and the changing landscape. The plan details the artists’ concerns as well as the practical aspects of maintenance and care, and addresses the following issues:
- health and safety
- copyright and reproduction
- role of the Trustees
Artists are normally committed to their work beyond the commissioning period and are understanding if consulted about problems and possible needs for change. It will always be a matter of debate as to whether the majority of those changes could have been foreseen or not.
Given the success of the trail for the public, sustaining the artists’ objectives in the face of that became a key issue for the Trustees. Much public art in the U.K. at that time was planned and managed defensively, so popularity, and its effects, was not anticipated. Positive ways of addressing and handling large numbers of people were not developed. Long-term environmental planning, and issues relating to the pro’s and con’s of installing art in the forest in the first place, were not debated.
The burden in terms of public complaints about lack of information and demand for access, plus all maintenance and vandalism problems, fell full square on the Forestry Commission. They responded as best they knew, without the guidance of local curatorial help and often without an appropriate direct level of consultation with the artist. In the circumstances it is only surprising that there were not more problems.
The Trustees’ management plan goes beyond addressing the past. It now looks to the total experience of the trail in the future. The new building at Beechenhurst provides an excellent education centre, where different artists will be invited to work in residence, creating projects with local schools, voluntary groups and visitors. The first residency was completed at the end of 1995. European contacts have been established to exchange the Forest of Dean’s experience with that of other European forest art programmes.
The examination of the issues continues to be a fascinating, frustrating, but also helpful process. The problems have imposed demands on cooperation, collaboration and integration, terms which in public art are synonymous with success. New understandings reached will mean that the integrity of the remaining sculpture will be maintained. Visitor numbers are catered for by excellent facilities, information and improved access.
The challenge for management lies in finding and maintaining a deft touch, tough enough to protect the environment, yet with a lightness which will allow those original qualities which the artists aspired to to be felt.