On the grounds of the Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol, a cluster of posts carved from Douglas Fir trees form a cavernous, hollow structure. Sunlight peeks in through holes in the ceiling. On the inside, thousands of smaller rectangular beams extend from the floor and ceiling like wooden stalactites.
The small slabs of wood forming the interior come from over 10,000 distinct species of trees, gathered from sites across the planet and ranging back millions of years. They’re collected in a public artwork called Hollow, commissioned by the University of Bristol and permanently installed this May.
The Berlin-based Scottish artist Katie Paterson created Hollow over the course of three years, collaborating with the architectural studio Zeller & Moye. The installation is a globally representative forest in miniature. Paterson researched and sourced the tree species, many of which were donated by international institutions like the Herbario Nacional de México, Kyoto University, and the Arnold Arboretum. Amassed together in Hollow, the samples are part biological survey and part historical capsule—and they constitute one of the largest collections of unique tree species in the U.K.
Tree samples include a sliver of Indian Banyan Tree, significant in the Buddhist tradition as a site of enlightenment, and a petrified fossil from a tree species that emerged 390 million years ago. Paterson described the installation in a statement:
Some samples are incredibly rare – fossils of unfathomable age, and fantastical trees such as Cedar of Lebanon, the Phoenix Palm, and the Methuselah tree thought to be one of the oldest trees in the World at 4,847 years of age, as well as a railroad tie taken from the Panama Canal Railway, which claimed the lives of between 5,000 to 10,000 workers over its 50 year construction and wood is salvaged from the remnants of the iconic Atlantic city boardwalk devastated by hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Hollow joins other public artworks in attempting to grapple with large-scale global and environmental shifts. I previously wrote about an installation along the Los Angeles River that depicted a 2.5-million-year journey through the region’s groundwater supply. The artist Spencer Finch recently installed a scaled-down representation of a section of a California redwood forest in a public plaza in downtown Brooklyn; earlier this summer, a New York artist designed a room for at-risk bees. Such efforts to transpose reams of scientific data into art make complex issues easier to comprehend.
While Hollow aims to depict the variability of the global tree population, the accompanying public participation project, launched in association with BBC Four, invites more personal reflections. Called Treebank, the online interactive platform offers visitors the chance to share, reflections or creative responses about the effect trees have had on their lives. One musician uploaded a song; a student recalled a story of how her friends’ obsession with redwoods led them on a trip to California.
The tree species contained in Hollow are all prey to climate change and biodiversity loss, the University of Bristol professor Guy Orpen said in a statement. But understanding those issues requires a personal investment in habitats under threat, he added. “Hollow allows us to connect in new and previously unimagined ways with the beauty, complexity and depth of the natural world.”
H/t Cool Hunting