Bruce Allan, 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.” Bruce Allan

Bruce Allan’s Observatory was a simple sculpture, a staircase leading to nowhere, based on the shape of the early astronomical observatories in India. Situated by a sheltered pond in an area of trees bounded by thicker plantation, it was painted black as a foil to the forest’s light and life. A viewing platform at the top of the staircase, and a small niche under the stairs, allowed visitors to pause and contemplate the forest.

In the artist’s words, writing in 1990: “At one time [the pond] 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.”

About the Artist

Bruce Allan, an artist, curator and filmmaker, was born in 1950 in Boston, Lincolnshire. Based in Blakeney, Gloucestershire, he uses his practice to investigate the appearance and impact of human ideas, relationships and practices on each other and on natural and man-made landscapes and environments. From 2015-17 he co-curated Difference Screen, an evolving project of international artists' moving image reflecting on changing realities through portraits of people and place.