The End of Ash?
‘The current plight of the ash tree cannot be understated. Landscapes, fields, hedgerows, parks and gardens will be irrevocably changed as landmark canopy trees and copses of ash disappear.’
Ackroyd and Harvey, 2018
Standing high on the Kent Downs are two 10- metre high ash tree sculptures, by the artist duo Ackroyd and Harvey. Named ‘Ash to Ash’ one of the trees is stripped of its bark and light brown in colour, whilst the other has been burnt, and appears black and charred. They are both pierced with around 10,000 arrows made from ash, which harks back to the historic use of the trees’ wood, in the creation of arrows. Through the use of ash arrows, the artists incorporate elements of the trees past history, yet conceptualises this narrative via a contemporary minimal design. They offer a stark visualisation of an impending reality of loss, brought about by the threat of ash dieback which is estimated could potentially affect between 95-98 percent of British ash trees alone.
The artwork makes starkly visual a disease that is currently plaguing the woodlands of the UK, threatening not only the tree species itself, but also the biodiversity that it supports. It is estimated for example that around 1,000 species rely on ash as an ecological habitat, ranging from bats and birds to lichens.[i]The work itself was commissioned by ‘The Ash Project,’ who describe themselves as creating an ‘urgent cultural response to [the] devastating loss of one of our most important species of tree….creating the cultural, natural and social history of the ash tree, and creating an enduring legacy for future generations.’[ii]Alongside ‘Ash to Ash’ they have so far instigated ash walks, (including one co-hosted by previous Invisible Dust artist Fiona Macdonald), events, education activities and an ‘Ash Archive,’ all to ensure a cultural awareness and visibility of the impact of ash dieback.[iii]
The disease itself is caused by a fungal pathogen called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.[iv]Once a tree becomes infected the disease is typically fatal, and it blocks the water transportation systems within trees causing subsequent leaf loss and bark lesions. This therefore, weakens the tree and opens it up to further infections. It has already affected a lot of central Europe having been identified in Poland in 1992, from there spreading across a lot of western Europe.[v]Scientists are currently working on identifying genetic factors that may help breed new generations of tolerant ash trees; as some trees appear to be resilient to the disease. They are working with the Forest Research Agency and the British government in order to collaborate resources to try and solve the issue. The government itself, has also put some resources into tackling the issue. Earlier this year they set out a Tree Health Resilience Strategy, part of a larger 25-year environment plan, with the intention of it explaining ‘how the government will work with others to protect England’s tree population from pest and disease threats.’[vi]
Ackroyd and Harvey comment on their sculptures, stating it is ‘our way of inviting people to connect emotionally with the landscape, to help them find a way of mourning the loss of this tree and the way that it will change the land forever.’ They ‘hope that Ash to Ash becomes part of an urgently needed wake up call for the preservation of tree life generally and the future of the British landscape.’[vii]Hopefully, through this piece and future work by ‘The Ash Project,’ people will start to pay more attention tos their natural surroundings and the important species that inhabit them, and ‘Ash to Ash[’s]’ placement within the natural landscape and not a white gallery space, offers a blunt visual interruption in the very landscape at threat from ash dieback. Individualising a species at threat, whilst contextualising the wider ramification it could potentially have.
Invisible Dust look forward to working with The Ash Project in the future especially as ‘Surroundings’ our three-year programme of artist residencies and events, incorporates the theme of biodiversity.
Written by: Martha Cattell, Project Assistant
Find out more about one of our current Surroundings Project: http://invisibledust.com/project/surroundings-climate-change-and-migration-nii-obodai/
You can also report suspected cases of ash dieback via the forestry commission website: https://www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback#Reporting%20suspected%20cases
[i]Nick Johnannsen, ‘Ashes to ashes: How a foreign fungus is killing off Britain’s ash trees’ Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/ash-trees-uk-dying-fungus-asia-hymenoscyphus-fraxineus-woodland-a8541511.html
[iii]Fiona Macdonald led the walk with alongside fellow artist Marcus Coates and was called ‘Ask the Ash’ which carried on from their ‘Ask The Wild’ project which was initially held at the Whitechapel Gallery back in February 2018. ‘Ask the Ash: Marcus Coates and Fiona MacDonald : Feral Practice’ https://www.theashproject.org.uk/the-ash-walks-marcus-coates-and-fiona-macdonald/
[v]See: ‘Just one more Ash Dieback spore could push European ash trees to the brink’ http://www.earlham.ac.uk/newsroom/just-one-more-ash-dieback-spore-could-push-european-ash-trees-brink
[vi]‘Tree health resilience strategy 2018’ gov.uk, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tree-health-resilience-strategy-2018
[vii]Quotes from the artists taken from ‘The Ash Project installs sculptures by Artists Ackroyd and Harvey at White Horse Wood, Maidstone during Ash dieback spread’ Kent Online, https://www.kentonline.co.uk/maidstone/news/stunning-artwork-draws-attention-to-devastating-woodland-disease-190126/