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Heather Peak and Ivan Morison of Studio Morison talk about their sculpture Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds, a grand pavilion built from natural materials in Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of the Oak Project.
Ivan: Studio Morison supports our practice and that of the many people we work alongside.
Heather: Our work is social sculpture – sculpture that involves the way people interact with it – and is always really multi-layered. What we do has changed so many times over the last 20 years of working together with Ivan. Our work really involves following your nose and intuition.
Ivan: Silence is a sculptural pavilion that reframes our relationship with nature by heightening our experience of the natural world. It is a gift of time and attention.
Heather: It’s got that feeling of your own indigenous connection to the earth – that’s not a word we use very often in the UK, but Silence is about your place in the world, and living in synergy with nature.
Ivan: In the centre, the heather roof overhangs very deeply, so it feels like a cloister, and these silver birch trees are framed as a natural centrepiece. The entrances to get there are staggered, so you have to go on a journey to find it. The walk is meditative, and will make you feel aware of the elements surrounding you due to the play of light and materials used.
Heather: The one thing about Silence is that you’re not supposed to talk or use your phone when you are in the space. This makes you really listen – it can open a sort of portal to the natural world.
Ivan: We’ve also built in some acoustic tactics. The inwardly sloping roof deadens a lot of the sound until you reach the centre, where the sound converges to give you a different acoustic experience of the landscape around you.
Ivan: Although there are so many sounds made in nature, environmental collapse means they’re not the same as they used to be, and they may not be there in the future. I think art needs a dissonance as well as a joyfulness to tell both sides of the story, and the idea of a completely silent world is apocalyptic – terrifying. But simultaneously, we’re all searching for a bit of quiet. The notion of being silent captured all of those things. We chose to mark this through an exercise of listening, so then it was really just about creating a space that offered that.
Ivan: We wanted to make people more aware of the natural world, by reframing it and giving them space to listen.
Heather: It takes something you know and makes you see it differently. Even though the birch trees were always there, framing them makes them more apparent – more in focus. In the book Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, the author lies in the grass listening to the sound of a grasshopper’s tympanal membrane. This piece hopefully helps create a tiny portal for us to listen in a similar way, helping us understand that we’re just a part of the many connections that make this world a beautiful place.
Ivan: Silence isn’t just a joyful celebration of the natural world. It’s also a questioning of our relationship with it, asking how we can move forward and help people get closer to nature so they can be more bothered about what’s happening to it.
Heather: Humans always think that they’re in charge, and end up missing so many of the messages and communication and connection nature is sending out.
Ivan: It’s about more than just enjoying nature – you’ve also got to grieve and know what’s been lost, and through that you can come to love and appreciation. The piece is an arrangement of natural things into a temporary form, and in some ways it’s also a sort of metaphor for the fragility of what’s around us in nature. It’s all so delicate and easily destroyed.
Ivan: Built into Silence is the fact it will eventually just fall apart, so we had to engineer a structure made up of lots of little parts – no big pieces of timber or metal – so it’d be safe as it gradually decomposes.
Heather: Yelming the heather for the thatch also took weeks and weeks. It’s a beautiful way of tying together bundles of heather, then splitting them into these very small bunches. But there is something about a repetitive action like that and our connection with nature – like learning a craft that you’re never quite finished with.
Heather: In December I did a site visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park with my children. It was the darkest part of the year, but we stayed until it was really late and pitch black. It was really cold, but we laid down on the damp ground and just watched the stars, just listening to the sounds. In the winter, when there’s not much light, we tend to shut ourselves up inside, but it’s amazing how much being in nature can settle you and rebalance your inner equilibrium.
Ivan: The completion of each of the steps were wonderful, like finishing the roof. For that we used very thin timber to make a lattice, which we really weren’t sure was going to work, but it’s now holding 25 tonnes of heather. That was monumental.
Heather: I truly believe human beings need to feel rooted in nature. There’s something deep about your garden, or birdsong, or a weed poking up through a pavement that gives you pleasure. Our world is so noisy, so I hope that this piece can cut through that in some way.
Ivan: I hope people will have powerful, personal experiences when they visit. Not of the work, but of themselves, within the work. They might notice the natural materials and how these resources have been used in a thoughtful way. It might help them reconnect to that landscape, even if they’ve been there 100 times, and even question their relationship with it.
Ivan: We did a similar piece a few years ago called Mother, also in a natural setting, where we consciously went back to a more hands-on style of working. The experience of building it was amazingly beneficial to my mental health, and I’ve started to understand the benefits of working sympathetically with nature. There’s so much healing potential, both in making it, and for the people who will come and experience the work.
Heather: Right now, Covid is like a big mincer that’s chewing everything up, and layered on top of what’s happening to our climate, it’s really heavy stuff to get your head around. But there’s a lot of pleasure in the nuance of making a work with materials from a place, and have it seen both as a sculpture, a work of craft, and a work of nature that holds space – I want it to be joyful and for people to go away feeling like they had a moment of kinship with the natural world.
Ivan: We’ve got a very nice piece of work opening soon called Small Bells Ring, which is the UK’s largest collection of short stories on a boat called the RV Furor Scribendi. It’s been in development for a while, but has grown really beautifully.
Heather: I’ll be spending one week on the boat and one week off until the winter, as the librarian. It’s like living in a boat full of thousands of voices – it’s wonderful.
Ivan: As well as the library, there’s a space for readers and writers to have residencies, and as a project it talks about literature, stories and how we can bring people to them. It’s a really big social sculpture, and at its heart is a really beautiful boat as well.
Silence – Alone in a World of Wounds opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on World Environment Day, Saturday 5th June 2021.