Neville Gabie, 2001

“Last year whilst walking around the forest I noticed a group of trees marked with white lines. In conversation with a forester, I learnt that these trees were measured annually to calculate their volume and rate of growth. It led to me thinking - how would you calculate the volume of so random a form as a tree? What would that volume look like if you changed its shape? And what space would its absence create in the canopy if a mature tree were removed? A desire to answer some of these questions was the basis of the work.” Neville Gabie, 2001

This project resulted from a Year of the Artists residency undertaken by Neville Gabie in autumn 2000 and spring/summer 2001. It was realised with the financial assistance of South West Arts, the Forestry Commission and Arnolfini Collection Trust and co-ordination by Bruce Allan and Samantha Wilkinson.

Working with a tree surgeon, Gabie converted the whole volume of a 200-year-old oak tree into small cubes, which were then assembled in the forest as one large cube. Much like the tree from which it was made, the sculpture had its own mini ecosystem which changed with the seasons. In summer, it manifested as a golden wooden cube, teeming with insects that took up residence for the warm months of the year. In the winter, the wood darkened in tone, soaking up the moisture in the air and becoming a perfect environment for lichen, fungi and moulds.

Nearby in the open glade, which had previously been sheltered by the canopy of the oak, the stump from where it was cut still sits, of little significance now except as an indicator of what it once had been – a seat on which to sit and ponder how Raw came to be.

The physical sculpture was accompanied by four temporary pieces which represented the volume of the tree in the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Earth was a hole in the forest floor equal to the total volume of the tree. Air was a measure of the tree’s total annual production of oxygen, released underwater. Fire measured the calorific value of the timber, transformed into a light which shone underground. And Water measured how much water the tree would draw from the ground over a season.

About the Artist

Neville Gabie was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He gained an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London in 1988. Gabie’s practice responds to specific locations caught in a moment of change, and his work seeks to capture the vulnerability of place, both urban and rural. He is particularly interested in establishing working relationships within communities as a way of considering their physical, cultural and emotional geography. Projects include The Edge of Things, Blickling Hall, Norfolk (2018-2019), Outfield, Hestercombe House (2017-2019) and Breaking Ground, Bradford Park Avenue (2015-2017). Read more on the artist's website