Past Events

DRN WIP Workshop: Back to Nature: Exhibiting Trees in Contemporary England (1980–now)

DRN Events – Laura Ouillon

  • 12 April 2022
  • 4:00 – 5:00 pm
  • Online

This is an event for DRN members only. You can find out more about the network here.

The DRN’s Work In Progress Workshop series is an opportunity for members of the network to present papers on their research relating to British art histories. We are keen to encourage collaboration within our research community and hope that these WIP workshops will help researchers develop their work whilst simultaneously making all our members productively aware of new issues, ideas, directions and methodologies developing within the field of British art history.

This paper considers the ways cultural and artistic institutions in England have showcased trees since the 1980s. Focusing on specific exhibitions, including The Tree of Life: New Images of an Ancient Symbol (Southbank Centre, 1989–90) and Among the Trees (Hayward Gallery, 2020), Laura reflects more broadly on the evolving representation, presence and visibility of contemporary nature-related art in galleries and museums, as well as in new exhibition spaces, both outdoors (sculpture parks, forests) and indoors (natural history museums). This will allow Laura to return to key critical developments, such as the current debates on the Anthropocene.

A general shift can be identified – from a relative marginality of concern for the natural environment on the part of most major cultural institutions in the 1980s and 1990s to its current centrality in public discourse and the art world in the 2010s and early 2020s. Such marginality might appear surprising in the light of the considerable vitality and visibility of British land art in the 1960s and 1970s. The representation of trees was largely ignored in the landmark YBAs exhibitions of the 1980s and the 1990s and natural subjects were often perceived as either outmoded and/or out of touch with contemporary, predominantly urban, Britain by dominant institutions. Laura’s presentation thus traces back the history of the return of nature as a fundamental issue in the institutional and artistic landscape of contemporary English art.

Laura will argue this shift is both related to, on the one hand, the stark rise in environmental awareness both nationally and globally from the 2000s, as well as a more widespread understanding of the intertwining of the environmental, the social, the economic and the political; and, on the other hand, the political shift in the critical reception of British art and in the British art establishment in the so-called “post-YBA” era.

About the speaker

  • Laura Ouillon is a former student at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and is currently a doctoral student in Contemporary British Art and Visual Culture at LARCA, Université de Paris, France. Her thesis examines the tree motif in the work of several British artists, including Mat Collishaw, Tacita Dean and David Hockney from the 1980s onwards. Her aim is to see how the contradictions of English contemporary identities have been articulated in this canonical artistic motif.