TREE opens

Press release - 18 March 2009

A permanent, new ceiling installation at the Museum

The Natural History Museum will unveil a new permanent artwork by British artist Tania Kovats, to celebrate the life and legacy of Charles Darwin. The new work TREE will be opened to the public on 19 March 2009.

TREE is be a wafer-thin longitudinal section of an entire 200-year-old oak tree, including the roots, trunk and branches, and inlaid into the ceiling of a mezzanine gallery behind the Museum’s iconic Hintze Hall (formerly the Central Hall). At more than 17 metres long, it will become the largest botany specimen on display at the Museum and the only contemporary art work permanently installed in the Grade I listed building. Kovats wants the finished work to create an immersive experience in the gallery, like being in the woods, where the visitor is surrounded by the inner world of this magnificent 200-year-old tree.

TREE is inspired by Charles Darwin’s iconic tree of life sketch, representing evolution, from his red transmutation notebook B. ‘When looking at the notebook, it is as if you are standing looking over Darwin’s shoulder as the thought emerges. 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’ said Kovats.

The work is a slice through a vast living organism, taken as if to be placed on a microscope slide. The work takes its place among the Museum’s magnificent collection of objects from the natural world and will be shown alongside the gilded representations of plants on the ceiling of the Museum’s Hintze Hall (formerly the Central Hall). The branches of TREE stretch across the gallery ceiling and beyond into an imaginary space, symbolising how we organise and disseminate scientific and cultural thinking, the connectivity between organisms and how the scientific gaze can penetrate the living world.

The installation highlights the creativity and contemporary resonance of Darwin’s radical thinking, reflecting the continuing challenge and inspiration his work presents to us today. In order to mark the endurance of Darwin’s idea, 200 oak saplings will be planted this year in the Longleat Estate, creating a growing monument to the theory of evolution.

The artwork was chosen in summer 2008 from the exhibition Darwin’s Canopy in which 10 leading contemporary artists exhibited their proposals to create a new permanent artwork to celebrate Darwin’s two hundredth birthday and the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The judging panel of art, science and architecture experts were unanimous in their decision that Kovats’ response was the most ambitious and arresting, far exceeding the judging criteria.

TREE, is part of the Darwin200 celebrations, a nationwide series of events celebrating Darwin’s ideas and their impact around his two hundredth birthday.

Ends

Notes for editors

  • Tania Kovats is a British artist who works primarily in sculpture and in the exploration of landscape and geology. She has exhibited widely and her sculptures are in many public and private collections. Since being the Henry Moore Drawing Fellow in 2004, Kovats has become increasingly interested in drawing. In 2005 she published The Drawing Book, her personal exploration of the form. Her works in the public realm include MUSEUM OF THE WHITE HORSE, a landscape museum housed in a converted horsebox, her response to the archaeological landscape of Uffington. In MEADOW, she transported a wild flower meadow from Bath to London on a working canal boat via the inland waterways of southern England. In 2008 she explored Darwin’s epic voyage while travelling in South America for 6 months.
  • The oak tree used for TREE has been taken out of the sustainable forests of the Longleat Estate.
  • Selected by Time Out in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of London, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. www.nhm.ac.uk
  • For more information about all the Darwin200, please visit www.darwin200.org
  • The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has worked with the Natural History Museum over a long period to develop a vigorous arts programme, including the commissioning stage of TREE. The Museum has also received a grant from the Foundation to develop a contemporary art exhibition inspired by Darwin’s book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions opens at the Museum on 26 June 2009.
  • The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a charitable foundation established in Lisbon in 1956 with a UK Branch based in London. The Foundation’s purpose in the UK and Ireland is to help enrich and connect the experiences of individuals and secure lasting and beneficial change. It has long held a reputation for recognising and initiating innovative ideas and has been a pioneer in promoting activities in which artists engage with science. Key publications include Strange and Charmed: Science and the Contemporary Visual Arts, Science, Not Art: Ten Scientists’ Diaries, the award-winning Wild Reckoning: An Anthology Provoked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine and Dark Matter: Poems of Space.

Visitor information
Admission: free
Date: 19 March 2009 onwards
Venue: the Natural History Museum
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 10.00–17.50
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000 Monday–Friday, 020 7942 5011 Saturday–Sunday
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk/tree-gallery

For further information, interviews or images please contact:
Jane Lucas, Natural History Museum Press Office
Tel: 020 7942 5189 Email: j.lucas@nhm.ac.uk
(not for publication)