As I walked down the path of Royal Fort Gardens, I could spot Hollow from a distance, coming into view in fragments, between tree branches. The structure first reminded me of the conglomerate buildings on the poster for the 1927 film ‘Metropolis’. It didn’t look like the ‘miniature forest’ I was expecting but it intrigued me. Initially I couldn’t make a connection between the solid construction and the title of the piece but, having spent many hours reading about the work, I was expecting the unexpected.
The exterior of Hollow has an elegant subtlety and quietness that encourages the visitor to explore it. The reward for this exploration is the discovery of the entrance to Hollow, which, first and foremost, reveals the meaning of its name. Made of 10,000 different tree species Hollow resembles the hollow of a tree. As I stepped inside, the meaning expanded and a series of unexpected connections cascaded over me as I began to unravel its wider importance.
The inside of Hollow can accommodate one or two people. Surrounded by fossils that are millions of years old, including a piece of Methuselah (one of the oldest living trees in the world dating back 4826 years), samples of trees that are nearly extinct, and samples of trees from all over the world, I felt quite frail as a human, compared to the lasting grandeur of nature. I thought of the importance of art, as (in the words of Woody Allen) “an antidote to the emptiness of existence”and I feel that Hollow, in this way, reveals something of our short human existence. Whilst looking up at the stalactites, formed from species nearly extinct, a line from George Orwell’s 1984 came to mind; “You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”
All over the planet, thousands of hectares of forests disappear every year, often in order to create urban areas, emptying the land of this nature in order to fill it with our ephemeral selves. Considering my first thought of ‘Metropolis, Hollow feels so relevant to our times – it wordlessly asks us to reconsider our place in the hierarchy of nature.
“[Hollow] …wordlessly asks us to reconsider our place in the hierarchy of nature.”
Regarding the colour spectrum of Hollow, it is a treat for the eyes! On the outside, the amber Douglas Fir will change its hue in time, turning into a shade of grey. Inside, you are welcomed by a luminously beautiful colour palette that brings together unexpected shades of honey yellow, midnight blue, sage green and burgundy. Interestingly, the pieces of Hollow collectively form a gradient – from purple at the bottom to yellow at the top. This initial encounter with the collective mass means that the individual beauty of each piece could easily be overlooked on your first encounter, but it shouldn’t. Perhaps this becomes a metaphor for the difference between the beauty of an individual and the power of a group, or, the beauty and power of ‘I’ and ‘we’.
Seeing it in the blossoming Royal Fort Gardens, in its natural colours, I thought of Hollow as ‘nature rearranged’ for it somehow seems to blend with the environment. Hollow feels as if it could have grown out of this place, without any human intervention. If taken apart and spread across the city, could the 10,000 samples be considered as having originated here?
Katie Paterson has brilliantly gathered pieces of natural material from all over the world and put them in one public space, facilitating a communication between nature, art and people. Being open to encounter in a public space and not enclosed in a gallery environment Hollow‘s meaning is reinforced. The piece is a shared gift that belongs to everybody and to nobody at the same time. No matter the age or background of the people who experience it, they are generously invited to interact freely with the piece as many times as they want and to accept or reject its message as an artwork.
Being placed out of a usual art context, public art allows people to adapt its meaning in their own terms. It doesn’t have to be understood, but interpreted. What I find interesting is that the natural backdrop allows a shift in the perspective from which art can be seen, through the constant change of seasons. Public art promises to rearrange and to positively disturb the cityscape, drawing attention to the space around it. Equally, it has the potential to become a temporary but significant landmark.
“[Hollow]…is a shared gift that belongs to everybody and to nobody at the same time”
Katie Paterson’s work builds a seamless bridge between art and science (social and environmental) woven with poetical hints. The different sizes of wood blocks resemble the lines on a heart monitor and make me wonder if a hollow heart can give the shelter that the hollow of a tree can give, or if hollow hearts are just full, filled to the brim, with sadness only. As I sit and reflect inside Hollow, I am reminded of the importance of compassion toward others, human or otherwise. I was once told that hugging a tree brings calm. Now, what about hugging 10,000 trees, in one single hug?
The ethereal qualities of Hollow sent me on an imaginative journey, which starts with ‘what if?’ What if the different species of wood will start exchanging their qualities? What if they will grow roots? What if they will blend into one magnificent, Supreme Tree? We shall wait and see.
Andreea Stan, 2016
Hollow is a public artwork by the artist Katie Paterson and architects Zeller & Moye and is permanently sited at Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol. Described as a ‘miniature forest of all the world’s trees’ the work was commissioned by the University of Bristol to celebrate the opening of their Life Sciences building and produced by Situations.You can step inside Hollow during daylight hours, all year round.
Find out more at http://www.hollow.org.uk