I recently went to one of my favourite of all places, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, primarily to have a look at the Al Weiwei exhibition in the newly converted chapel on the site which I had not yet got round to seeing. Before I went into the chapel I was mesmerised by the copper tree structure outside it which I had no idea was going to be there.
The sculpture of the tree is made up of numerous casts which capture the intricacies of the bark and the structure of the tree in all it’s glory, the texture and detailing are astonishing which is only heightened by the beautiful weathered copper colour. When I was talking about seeing this piece a friend said that he had often thought that if trees didn’t exist naturally in such abundance we would have examples of them in museums such is their beauty. Seeing the Iron Tree I couldn’t help think that he was right.
However the beauty was also tinged with darkness, the Iron is bolted together roughly in places and it appears as though the iron has perhaps encased the original tree killing it in the process. I couldn’t help think of how totalitarian regimes have done exactly that throughout the generations to the fee creative spirits that have existed within them, encasing them in iron and squeezing until life, creativity and freedom of expression are extinguished. This of course is what is happening to Al Weiwei himself (and countless others in China) placed under virtual house arrest, passport confiscated and finding it harder and harder to communicate with the world outside the iron grip of the Chinese regime.
A beautiful, stunning and thought provoking piece of art that made me think as much about freedom and creativity as it did about natural beauty. What’s the point of art or is that art is a conversation I have with my kids on and off, sometimes you come across a piece which for me encapsulates the point brilliantly. The Iron Tree is one of those pieces.