Ash to Ash
White Horse Country Park, Kent 2018 - 2020
Commissioned by The Ash Project | Kent Downs AONB
Ash to Ash is a new public artwork in the heart of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Two monolithic sculptural forms set against a dramatic panoramic landscape are both a celebration and memorial to the ash tree, where across every county in the UK, hundreds of thousands of trees are succumbing to the devastating effects of ash dieback disease.
The Kent Downs has been been chosen as the inaugural site for this work as ash is the most common tree species in the region which has thus been one of the first areas to experience the impact of the disease. Ash to Ash will remain in situ for two years before travelling the country.
A monolith describes a pollarded tree, where major branches are truncated. Both monoliths, standing vertically up to 10m high, have their natural forms extended by a mass of arrow shafts. One is stripped of bark, pale and smooth; the other scorched, dark and shadow-like.
The arrow shaft is cleaved from ash. Straight-grained and clean, with an aerodynamic design, in the artwork it is stripped of feather flight and steel head. The arrow mass creates an aura, where natural light adds a shifting dimension of interplay between sunlight and shadow. The two forms with their truncated arm branches assume an anthropomorphic presence; they seem to mirror each other, yet one casts a dark shadow of loss. In Homer’s epic The Iliad, Achilles’ spear is made of ash and on his death became a talisman, which allowed entrance and exit to and from the Underworld.
The extruding staves could be seen as visually referencing the naturally occurring shoots that produce epicormic growth as the tree attempts to defend itself from the infection. The growth is a struggle for survival, the ailing tree’s final flourish.
The ash tree is associated with the world tree and so its loss might be seen to leave a psychic hole that echoes the voids that will open up in our landscapes.