London Design Biennale: Es Devlin to install 400-tree forest at Somerset House

The greenery, named the Forest for Change, will be used to highlight the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Stage designer Es Devlin will install 400 trees at London’s Somerset House as part of London Design Biennale in June.

Forest for Change will occupy the Global Goals Pavilion, a dedicated space at the month-long event which aims to drive awareness of the United Nation’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Devlin has designed the installation in collaboration with landscape designer Philip Jaffa and urban greening specialists Scotscape. The experience is presented in partnership with Project Everyone, a non-profit organisation Kate Garvey, Gail Gallie and filmmaker Richard Curtis.

A “journey of discovery and interaction”

Launched in 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a list of 17 targets which aim to change the world for the better by 2030. The list includes the eradication of poverty, no world hunger, gender equality and quality education for all.

Information about the goals will be housed in a central clearing in the forest, which will be installed in the courtyard of Somerset House.

A total of 23 varieties found in the UK and across Europe will make up the installation, with the London Design Biennale saying the space will offer a “journey of discovery and interaction”.

Biennale director Victoria Broackes says the forest will “not only shine a light on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and how we can all get involved, but will also provide a welcome chance to explore this temporary forest in the heart of urban London”.

“To counter the attitude of human dominance over nature”

The motivation behind bringing trees to Somerset House was to oppose the idea of humans domineering over nature, according to Devlin.

“When I was first shown around Somerset House many years ago, I discovered that the Enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard,” she says. “Of course, the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s Biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature.”

The use of trees also has literary significance, she says, where forests are often “a place of transformation”. Devlin points to examples for this like the forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, or the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm.

“It is our hope that an interaction with the goals in the forest will be transformative,” she says.

Meanwhile Broackes adds: “Bringing nature into the courtyard of a man-made architectural gem, highlights the crucially central role the environment plays in our lives.

“By walking through the forest, we hope that audiences will feel energised and inspired to contribute to a better world, both individually and collectively.”

Pop-up ecosystems, one of the Design in an Age of Crisis exhibits

Elsewhere at the biennale

As well as designing the Forest for Change, Devlin will also act as the overarching artistic director of this year’s Biennale. As part of this role, she has set the 2021 theme of “resonance”, and has been the one to issue the call to action: “how can design provide solutions to the major challenges of our time?”

Countries, territories and cities from six continents will respond to Devlin’s theme and call to action, including Antarctica, Austria, Hong Kong and Venezuela.

This year’s event will also showcase the Design in an Age of Crisis exhibition. This collection of “radical design” solutions from the world’s creative community aim to tackle some of the most pressing problems of today.

These include new ways to provide sex education to young people, designs that simultaneously reduce waste and improve access to music education, and a solution that provides greenspace for those living in inner cities without access to parks or gardens.

There will also be an additional exhibition titled Sustainability and Innovation, which will consist of several installations created by a group of “universities, organisations and brands” which demonstrate “their contribution to these global issues through design”, according to the Biennale.

Identity by Pentagram

The environmental theme of the London Design Biennale 2021 content has been mirrored in its identity, which has been designed by Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa.

The look is based around trees, while questions are used in the copy to provoke thought.

“The tree reflects the struggles we are all facing but also represents the solutions; Trees breathe life back into our planet,” he says. “The use of questions are designed to help people navigate the themes of the Biennale and by integrating the questions into the trees we were able to create a solution that is both thought-provoking and inspiring.”

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  • Patricia Braithwaite March 8, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Whilst I heartily applaud this initiative, I am particularly keen to know where these trees will be “planted” when the exhibition has finished. In conjunction with recent scientific research suggesting the beneficial effect trees would have on the morale of prison inmates, I respectfully suggest that you may consider having them planted in HM prisons. I have also previously written to the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, HMP Serviceon this subject and my letter to this effect was published in the “i” newspaper a week ago highlighting this proposal. Reading about the Biennale Installation at Somerset House, I was particularly struck by the following phraseology: “The tree reflects the struggles we are all facing but also represents the solutions. By walking through the forest, we hope that audiences will feel energised and inspired to contribute to a better world, both individually and collectively.” It is our hope that an interaction with the goals in the forest will be transformative,” I shall be pleased to hear your comments on tis suggestion. Thank you.

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