Graft, the exhibition by the Berlin-based British artist David Edward Allen examines notions of landscape, contrasting wilderness with managed terrain. The display consists of two new works that have evolved over several years. Pear tree presents a series of photo-collages and drawings depicting the results of the process of grafting branches from one tree onto another. The horticultural action, however, is an aesthetic one, the trees becoming artworks whose growth is determined through addition and subtraction, forming a living bricolage. Allen describes his methodology as ‘a kind of reversed sculptural process by removing material from the space in which it has formed.’ The distinction between the natural world and cultivated land is reprised in the video Harvest, which shows silent footage of a large tree being felled. As the screen fades to black the sustained howl of the chainsaw, produced as a separate audio-track, fills the gallery space, the sound is aggressive and relentless, rising and falling as it encounters knots of resistance; the sound as the tree is cut down is harsh and disturbing to the human ear and contrasts with the stillness and quiet of the wood.
The forest is in fact a managed resource. Trees are grown in a sustained manner to be harvested and sold, to be turned into furniture or pulp, as required. Shorn of its object status, a tree becomes simply wood, reduced to materiality and commercial gain. Allen’s work points to a symbiotic relationship between nature and culture, giving equal weight to both. Here, the world as a poetic, unknowable entity exists side-by-side with a prosaic and managed eco-system, sustained by the human hand and guided by the twin principles of aesthetics and capital.
This text is an excerpt from Graft by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley published as part of the vinyl record accompanying the exhibition.