Look up at the ceiling of a Natural History Museum gallery and you will see an unusual tree. It is a 17-metre-long wafer-thin section of a whole 200-year-old oak tree, from the roots, to the trunk and branches.
TREE artist Tania Kovats
This new permanent artwork, opening to the public tomorrow, is called TREE and is by British artist Tania Kovats. It is a slice through a vast living organism, taken as if to be placed on a microscope slide. It celebrates the life and legacy of Charles Darwin.
TREE is inlaid into the ceiling of a mezzanine gallery behind the Museum’s iconic Central Hall and is the largest botany specimen on display at the Museum. It is the only contemporary art work permanently installed in the Grade I listed building.
The artwork was chosen from 10 proposals exhibited by a shortlist of leading artists at the Darwin’s Canopy exhibition held at the Museum in summer 2008.
Preparing the tree in the studio © Mike Smith Studio
TREE is inspired by Charles Darwin’s iconic tree of life diagram, from one of his notebooks, which shows his ideas on evolution.
‘When looking at the notebook, it is as if you are standing looking over Darwin’s shoulder as the thought emerges,’ says Kovats.
‘The tree is a model of connectivity, ancestry and genealogy. Each divergence of the branching form traces change or chance, but with an origin that you can retrace.’
‘In this humble sketch Darwin was mapping out the future of biological knowledge and set in motion an investigation that we are still engaged with today.’
Lord Bath and Tania Kovats plant one of the 200 oak saplings at Longleat Estate
The oak tree used for the installation was taken from the sustainable forests of Longleat Estate. And, to mark the endurance of Darwin’s idea, 200 oak saplings were planted there, creating a growing monument to the theory of evolution.
TREE is part of the Darwin200 celebrations, a nationwide series of events celebrating Darwin’s ideas and their impact around his 200th birthday on 12 February 2009.