by Bruce Allan, located 1988
“I was overwhelmed by the scale, energy and presence of the trees, and spent several days tramping through Beechenhurst on and off the paths looking at what was there, getting a feeling of the place and wondering how my own ideas might fit in. I took along with me the knowledge that globally forests and jungles are being stripped, exploited for timber and cleared for farming. However, despite the historical exploitation that has happened in the Dean (mining of iron ore and coal, felling trees for timber, shipbuilding and charcoal), there exists in the forest an intimacy peculiar to no other place that I know. It is found in the relationship and scale of man’s workings in the landscape, much of which is now redundant and returned to nature. The intimacy is also evident in place names, particularly those of collieries like Speculation, Rose in Hand, Prospect, New Found Out, No Coal, Work or Hang
During the first visits to the forest I became aware of the abundance of man-made marks in the landscape. I started to explore an area around Cannop Brook and decided that instead of making a new object sculpture, I would construct a photographic work entitled Equivalent Forms. I proposed to document a number of man-made forms including a section of conduit and an old river bed that the conduit had displaced and present them as sculptural equivalents. In this way I hoped to draw attention to the legacy of human intervention in the landscape without the need for further direct intrusion into it. This was the basis of my first proposal.
The second proposal, Observatory came directly from the ideas I had begun to explore in the first. Observatory is situated by a pond in an area of thinned trees bounded by thicker plantations. This is the area it influences and in turn is influenced by. Observatory offers two vantage points, a viewing platform at the top of a staircase and a small room under the stairs with a seat.
I hope that both places offer the chance of a detached view of the forest one walks through. It is painted black, not for dramatic purposes but rather as a foil to the light and life of the forest. Placing it by the pond made me conscious of the part that water and sunlight play in the forest’s growth.
The pond is sheltered and often has a still surface that mirrors the trees. At one time it acted as a small reservoir, storing water that was pumped to the Speech House. It is dammed on one side forming the only straight line in this part of the forest, and this line should be seen as a counterpoint to the base line of the sculpture which runs in parallel. Observatory points out the movement in the trees. Shifting sunlight and shadows camouflage the sculpture and trace the movement of the sun. The understairs room faces north-east and remains a dark space at all times.
I am grateful to Gary Trigg for his hospitality to myself and others, and for the warmth, friendship interest of several old foresters, including Stan Short. Retired as a miner in 1959, “Short Stan” is 87 and goes for a seven mile walk every Sunday. I’ve since seen him acting as a guide on the trail. Two other miners introduced themselves as the two Bills unpaid, still working as freeminers, who understood the dark understairs space, and saw the view, a frame of light and colour, as the same as that from within the entrance to a mine.”