Materials: Found branches from Brighton UK and Ljusne, Sweden. Laburnum, Elder, Sycamore, Spruce / Pine branches and velvet.
A Forest is a site-specific installation developed from research into the Ljusne-Woxne family business and former saw mill factory and the attendant relationship with the collections and the establishment of the Hallwyl Museum. The materials I have used link metaphorically and poetically to the collections at the museum and are designed to evoke themes of loss, disruption, migration of people and materials and the ecological management of resources.
The branches reference the wood from the forests in Ljusne, without which there wouldn’t have been the wealth to invest in the museum.
The work was created using small branches wrapped in velvet, which I used to represent the opulence and splendor of the house, its displays and the rich fabrics used within the museum, but also to give the branches the appearance of being charred and burnt. The idea of charring is a way of referring to the production of charcoal, which was a bi-product of the sawmills, and of course the loss and devastation caused by the business on the surrounding forests and the significant disruption to people once the business closed.
The idea of wealth and richness – opposed to hardship and the loss of the forest is something that interests me greatly. The process of wrapping and binding the branches speaks of both death (and to me is like the velvet lining of a casket) and also about a rebirth in the sense that that I am creating a new (albeit temporary) artwork from the branches.
In the context of the house and the collections within the museum, my process is both a form of preserving the branch and a means of protection. But I also felt there was a ritualistic element in the gathering, wrapping and preserving, which is something that has been used throughout history.
I’m also interested in the idea that a humble branch can be part of the collection; and for me it recalls the way Wilhelmina von Hallwyl documented and collected everyday items such as kitchen utensils, and wine bottles, as well as great works of art.
The story of the family business has many resonances with contemporary life and today’s social, political and environmental concerns. The founder of the company headed by Wilhelmina von Hallwyl’s father, Wilhelm. H. Kempe, established the highly successful family business, the Ljusne Export Sawmill industry, in 1848. After his death he left his wealth to Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, his only child. This fortune laid the foundations of the Hallwyl collection and the museum in Stockholm.
The rapid growth of Sweden’s sawmilling industry after 1850 was part of the ongoing industrialization of the country, which in turn both fueled and fed an increase in demand for timber. The north of Sweden had a large number of old forests, which were consequently over exploited by companies and in Ljusne, the Ljusne-Woxna company was sole proprietor of all the industrial enterprises there.
Behind this expansion is the story of the workers, whose attempts to get better working conditions were resisted by company managers andconflicts grew between the management and its workforce until the company business closed. The reasons for this are said to be two fold: historians cite the new working regulations and worker’s rights as a factor in worsening relations between the management and workers, but the devastation caused by the forestry companies meant that resources also dwindled and many say this also led to the economic downfall.
The installation A Forest brings to the fore these dichotomies by interrogating the collection from a contemporary perspective and questioning how a collection has been put together using wealth fueled by the sweat of workers and the plundering of natural resources. Ultimately it asks: “whose history is presented and represented within this public collection and setting?”
More recently the museum and local museum in Ljusne, run by local residents, came together to research and re-tell the story of The Forest Behind The Palace and bring these different perspectives together.
The stages of the creation of this work involved gathering branches from my home in Brighton, UK as well as a visit to Ljusne, Sweden, where I gathered fallen and broken branches. The branches were transported between two countries, in suitcases and bags to be frozen before they could then be placed within the museum.
My installation brings these elements together – referencing both history and a modern journey of transformation.
The final part of the project was the installation of works at the former saw mill site in Ljusne, which has been transformed into a gallery.