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The Rootless Forest: a moving landscape bearing stories of passage

Date uploaded: August 15, 2012

The Rootless Forest
Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow,
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
Birmingham and the Black Country, 31 August – 6 October 2012

Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, presents The Rootless Forest (2012). Comprising a mini-forest made of real trees and soil planted onto a converted canal hopper, the mobile sculpture will travel the canals of Birmingham and the Black Country from August to October, with associated events at Edible Eastside, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Ikon Gallery and New Art Gallery Walsall. When fully constructed, The Rootless Forest will weigh 15 tonnes, with 100 trees up to 3 metres tall planted along its 16 metre length.

During the journey the boat will broadcast a soundscape, crafted by Beth Derbyshire and Dr. Tara McAllister-Viel, consisting of verbatim stories from people affected by the current Afghan conflict, including UK military personnel who have served overseas and Afghans who have settled in Birmingham as a result of war in their homeland. As The Rootless Forest moves slowly along the water, its continual motion poetically echoes these accounts of displacement and relocation.

Click here to see The Rootless Forest's maiden voyage.

The Rootless Forest reflects upon the upheaval experienced by communities, individuals and landscapes in times of conflict. Inspired by the moving forest of Birnham Wood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the trees are a motif for both camouflage and combat, a habitat for multiple voices and a transitional space between past and future. In 2011, 70,000 trees were planted in Afghanistan by American troops working alongside Afghan communities.

The Rootless Forest bears reference to Birmingham’s rich history as a military city. As a centre of industry the city was heavily bombed during WWII; the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Selly Oak is now home to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, the main receiving unit for all military patients injured overseas.

Birmingham is considered to have the largest population of Afghan people outside of London, many of whom have been displaced by war. Audiences encountering The Rootless Forest from the towpaths of Birmingham will see an arc of young trees set against the backdrop of the historic industrial waterways. The trees - all native to the UK, including alder and birch - will be re-planted in Walsall Arboretum once the project is complete, becoming a lasting monument to those affected by conflict.

Beth Derbyshire, lead artist of The Rootless Forest, said: “The Rootless Forest is a living sculpture which moves at walking pace along the canals. Although it will be a spectacle in its own right, it is also an artistic act of remembrance for those affected by conflict. As the UK is due to withdraw from Afghanistan imminently, I see it as a memento of hope for the British public and newcomers to Britain.”

Professor John Butler, Head of School, BIAD, said: “This is a unique opportunity to imaginatively bring together a rich and diverse partnership that connects communities across Birmingham’s sectors. The School of Art seeks to operate and support these communities through the platform of art and design. This is an exemplary project that will reach over 250,000 people and fits with our aims as an organisation to externalise our works and practice to the communities of Birmingham that we exist within. We are delighted to be hosting Beth Derbyshire as the Wheatley Fellow and we feel this is a project of excellence that elegantly fuses high quality art with public engagement.”

Beth Derbyshire is a multi-disciplinary visual artist working in innovative ways in the public realm, embracing subjects such as war, remembrance, nationality and environment. In 2005 her acclaimed project Message involved 45 veterans of World War II, The Falklands, Gulf War and other conflict signalling messages by semaphore from HMS Belfast to Horseguard’s Parade in London, marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. She is currently Wheatley Fellow at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.

A series of artists’ talks and events will take place to explore the themes of the project, presented in partnership with Cathy Wade, Lecturer at BIAD. Beyond the Pale will bring together artists, curators and galleries in locations throughout Birmingham and Walsall.

A hand-printed newspaper, The Forest Express, distributed across Birmingham and the Black Country captures the themes and ideas associated with the project.

The Rootless Forest is accompanied by an education programme, Offshoots, provided by New Art Gallery Walsall, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and sampad South Asian arts. A series of free downloadable packs are available from www.therootlessforest.com with lively activities for all ages.

The Rootless Forest is supported by Arts Council England, Birmingham City University, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, The Canal & River Trust, Centre for Fine Art Research, Ikon, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall Council and The Wheatley Bequest Fund.

Other partners include Afghan Action, Birmingham City Council, Brush Strokes, Canal Boats Birmingham, Edible Eastside, sampad South Asian arts, The British Legion, Tree Design and Action Group.

Click here for more information and full schedule.

The Rootless Forest public events:
The Rootless Forest moored at Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2JF
Friday 31 August – Thursday 9 September, Thursday 13 September & Wednesday 19 September
Open daily 11am-6.30pm

The Rootless Forest Launch Party
Canal Walk, 4.30 - 5.30pm
Beyond the Pale: In Conversation, 5.30 - 6.30pm
The Rootless Forests Official Launch Party, from 6.30pm
Saturday 8 September

Edible Eastside, Warwick Wharf, 122 Fazeley Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5RS
Join The Rootless Forest as it begins its journey along the West Midlands canal system, followed by an In Conversation event with Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and lead artist of The Rootless Forest; Dr Tara McAllister-Viel, Head of Voice at East 15 School of Acting; and Cathy Wade, Lecturer at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.

Beyond the Pale: Film screening at The Spotted Dog, Digbeth
Thursday 27 September
The Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B12 0NH.
Part of a series of events developed in partnership with Cathy Wade, lecturer at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, investigating the themes of boundaries and occupation.

Beyond the Pale: In Conversation at Ikon Gallery
Friday 14 September
Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, Birmingham
Ikon hosts the third Beyond the Pale talk, in association with The Rootless Forest, bringingtogether Tim Eastop, Arts Development Manager, Canal & River Trust; Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow BIAD 2012; Kate Self, Learning Co-ordinator, Ikon; and Cathy Wade, Lecturer at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design and founder of Edible Eastside. This panel discussion explores canals and inland waterways as places for adventure and cultural export. There is also the opportunity to visit The Rootless Forest which will be moored in Brindleyplace. To book a place please call Ikon on 0121 248 0708.

The Rootless Forest moored at Walsall Wharf (outside New Art Gallery Walsall)
Thursday 20 September – Sunday 7 October
Open daily 10am – 5pm

Beyond the Pale: In Conversation at The New Art Gallery Walsall
Saturday 6 October
Beth Derbyshire, Wheatley Fellow BIAD 2012 and Sue Ball, Media and Arts Partnership, discuss the potentials of landscape and waterways in framing memory and creating monuments to events and human resilience.

Tuesday 16 October, 6-8pm:
Symposium: Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.

Beyond The Pale is debated as a strategy for curatorial and interdisciplinary practice with contributions from Yasmeen Baig-Clifford, Director of Vivid Projects; Mona Casey, MA Contemporary Curatorial Practice, Course Director, BIAD; Professor Johnny Golding, Director Centre for Fine Art Research and Cathy Wade, Edible Eastside.

Click here for more information on any of the above