LONDON.- On 14 October artist Gayle Chong Kwans monolithic 11-metre high sculpture The Fairlop Oak, took root in the Barbican, towering up through three floors into the ground floor foyers. The hybrid contemporary-historical installation draws together new, natural and man-made materials, with scores of small model houses created from waste packaging sitting atop felled branches from Epping Forest.
The Fairlop Oak is part of The Peoples Forest, an ambitious two-year investigation by Chong Kwan into the politics, history of protest, and people of Londons ancient woodland, Epping Forest. Chong Kwan explores the forest as a site of shared and contested resources, conflict between capital and common, private and public, and as a threshold between rural and urban.
The original Fairlop Oak was a celebrated tree and also the site of a famous eighteenth century fair in Hainault Forest, its destruction signalled a warning for the threats to nearby Epping Forest. Chong Kwans installation references protests leading to the Epping Forest Act of 1878 when it was established as The Peoples Forest, the M11 Link Road protests of the 1990s, and contemporary issues relating to protest, politics, and place.
Chong Kwan initially presented The Peoples Forest: The Fairlop Oak in 6-metre form at Walthamstow Garden Party outside the William Morris Gallery in July where visitors contributed models of their homes to the work. The 11-metre version is part of Barbicans 2018 season The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape, and part of the Barbicans foyer commissions programme.
Chong Kwans research with diverse communities around Epping Forest has spanned walks, workshops, sensory feasts, and talks exploring the arboreal history, industries, politics, sounds, and personal memories of one of Londons oldest and largest open spaces, as well as examining local issues and the impact of globalisation. The research will evolve into a significant new body of work to be shown at William Morris Gallery 3 March 20 May 2018 and later in the year, elements of the exhibition will be presented at The View exhibition centre in Epping Forest. William Morris grew up close to Epping Forest, which he credited as inspiring much of his work, and he campaigned to save the forest from enclosure.
Gayle Chong Kwan is a London-based artist whose large-scale photographic, installation and video work is exhibited internationally. She makes immersive environments and mise-en-scenes, constructed in states of resolution and dissolution between imagined futures, alternative presents, and fictional mechanisms. Works includes The Pan Hag, Forma, 2016; Anthropo-scene, Bloomberg Space, 2015; Arripare, REFOCUS Photography Prize, 2013; Wastescape, Southbank Centre, 2012; and The Obsidian Isle, New Forest Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2011.
Epping Forest, which is managed by the City of London Corporation, is London and Essexs largest open space, attracting nearly 5 million visits a year. The ancient woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.