The Exhibitionist: The Forest for Change at Somerset House
  • HOME

The Exhibitionist: The Forest for Change at Somerset House

London Design Biennale will be marked by a leafy new pop-up

Ed Vaizey eagerly awaits Es Devlin’s arboreal installation at Somerset House.

The Exhibitionist: The Forest for Change

In June this year, London will gain a new forest. Granted, the forest will not be very big, or last very long, but it is an enchanting idea. Three people and institutions that I greatly admire are behind it.

The forest is being organised as part of the London Design Biennale, which is the brainchild of Sir John Sorrell. John is an old friend, a working-class lad who created, with his wife Frances, one of the world’s most successful brand design agencies in the world. A conversation with John is never wasted, and he remains an enormous and energetic force in the world of design.

The artistic director of the Biennale is Es Devlin. I have never met her, but when I was arts minister I put her name forward for a gong. At that time, I am ashamed to say, I hadn’t even heard of her, but a friend told me she would be a worthy recipient. She is in fact a supremely successful theatre and rock tour designer, with numerous famous installations to her name (including the UK Pavilion at the World Expo in Dubai in 2020). The forest is her inspired idea.

The C&TH Culture Radar

Forest for Change Es Devlin

Es Devlin, Artistic Director of the London Design Biennale

The partner in the installation is Project Everyone, Richard Curtis’ charity, set up to promote the UN’s Global Goals to combat climate change and world poverty.

It’s about time I told you what the forest is, or to give it its title: the Forest for Change. It will be installed in the courtyard of London’s Somerset House in June.

Es explains: ‘When I was first shown around Somerset House many years ago, I discovered that the Enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard. Of course, the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s Biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard. In literature forests are often places of transformation, the forest of Arden in Shakespeare or the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm. The UN Global Goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behaviour and it is our hope that an interaction with the goals in the forest will be transformative.’

The forest will be made up of 400 tree from 23 varieties typical of those found across the UK and northern Europe, and will indeed create a magnificent and hugely fun and incongruous green landscape and centrepiece in Somerset House’s courtyard.

Es has designed it with landscape designer Philip Jaffa and urban greening specialists Scotscape, and it will be a dramatic representation of the challenge of climate change that is now the dominant issue of our time. Ultimately, after the trees have graced the Somerset House courtyard, they will be replanted, with further details to be revealed soon.

Somerset House is now a major centre for the arts, but it was once the home of the Inland Revenue, and its magnificent courtyard was a car park. It has come a long way, and I can’t wait to explore the Biennale when it arrives there this summer.

Main image: Forest for Change, The Global Goals Pavilion. Render by Es Devlin Studio. Photo: Somerset House/ Kevin Meredith

Under the Cover with Patricia Lockwood