In this immersive new work, the artist Phoebe Boswell inhabits Orleans House Gallery and its surrounding woodlands, engaging the audience in an intergenerational call and response, where trees become repositories of enquiry. Boswell creates space for us to raise our questions and listen to the voices of our elders as they endeavour to articulate life.
What are the questions you have always wanted to ask? What advice do you need right now? What do you still need to know?
Taking inspiration from Hermann Hesse’s ‘Trees are Sanctuaries’, the artist gathered questions through an open call which became the basis of her interviews with a vast and global group of nominated elders: from a freedom-loving feminist activist from Gorée; to an Irish ex-nun turned actor; to a Greek scientist with a passion for plants; to a psychiatrist from Zimbabwe who engaged grandmothers in an ecosystem of care for his community; to the first Black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale.
Owing to Boswell’s interdisciplinary approach to making, these recorded exchanges unfurl into an expansive and participatory installation of polyphonic soundscapes, interactive sculpture, site-responsive wall drawings, intimate pencil studies, looped videos, and a new sonic collaboration with the internationally renowned free-improvising piano virtuoso Pat Thomas (Black Top, Moor Mother). What results is a generative layering of form and language, encouraging the audience to spend time both inside the gallery and outside, in nature.
Boswell invites audiences to explore personal and collective strengths, vulnerabilities, triumphs, sorrows, contradictions – rage and love; knowns and unknowns; – through storytelling and the radical act of listening. The work is about memory, history, place, and the importance of intergenerational exchange. With delicate yet rigorous energy, Boswell transforms the site into both sanctuary and forum. Through the generous recollections and contemplations of the elders, visitors are invited to connect to lineages of language and be guided by the inherent knowledge of the natural world.
A Tree Says has been made possible with generous support from Arts Council England.
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