How did the Oak Project come about?
The project is a partnership between Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), the University of Derby and the not-for-profit Bronze Oak Project, which promotes art as a way to create connections with nature. The university’s Nature Connectedness Research Group has done some work on how people connect with nature and how they can become more positive in their interactions with nature, in relation to climate change.
We have set out to create several commissions that build nature connectedness. Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds is the first iteration of that. It is timely, as during the pandemic we have all seen how important nature is in supporting our health.
Can you describe the Silence artwork?
It is bloody beautiful. And it is so much more than I thought it was going to be. We went out to competition on this and when we got the proposals, all of us felt that this spoke the right language.
The artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison have created a ring of round earth that forms a foundation, and then built a framework of Douglas fir on top, and then a kind of roof of latticed wood with turf on top, and then heather thatch on top of that. All of the wood comes from their woodland in west Wales, which they have been nurturing for the past 15 years. The hemlock and fir comes from there, the willow and the earth is from here, and the heather is from the North Yorkshire Moors.
It is very, very earthy and you become really aware of all your senses when you are in there. It is an area that we have never used before – a bit of land next to the upper lake, so there are ducks there and a pair of swans. Birds are already nesting in its structure, so the work is becoming part of its environment.
Have you found more artists responding to the environment, and particularly the issue of climate change?
That is definitely the case. We are collaborating with another artist, Rebecca Chesney, who is working on a wild bee project that she started here about 10 years ago. And an American artist, Brandon Ballengée, was doing primary research on newt and amphibian populations here. One of the issues that a lot of universities have is being able to fund primary research and I think artists are taking a proxy role in that. They can galvanise big groups to do that research.
Is the Oak Project part of a wider strategy to address environmental concerns at YSP?
Yes. For a long time, we have had a strong vein of programming around social responsibility and participatory projects. And the sculpture park is an oasis, it is something that people can come to for nurturing and sustenance. The work by Peak and Morison asks you to be silent, so it has a relationship to faith buildings like Quaker-meeting houses and cloisters, and certain parts of temples and mosques.
Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, 2021, a work by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison, which is installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park