Shi Guowei participates in exhibition "Among the Trees" at Hayward Gallery

Among the Trees

4 March - 17 May 2020
Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London 

Curateor: Ralph Rugoff

Featured artists:
Robert Adams, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Yto Barrada, Johanna Calle, Gillian Carnegie, Tacita Dean, Peter Doig, Jimmie Durham, Kirsten Everberg, Anya Gallaccio, Simryn Gill, Shi Guowei, Rodney Graham, Hugh Hayden, Eva Jospin, Kazuo Kadonaga, William Kentridge, Toba Khedoori, Luisa Lambri, Myoung Ho Lee, Zoe Leonard, Robert Longo, Sally Mann, Steve McQueen, Jean-Luc Mylayne, Mariele Neudecker, Virginia Overton, Roxy Paine, Giuseppe Penone, Abel Rodríguez, Ugo Rondinone, George Shaw, Robert Smithson, Jennifer Steinkamp, Thomas Struth, Rachel Sussman, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Jeff Wall.

Among the Trees celebrates key works of art that reimagine how we think about trees and
forests. Spanning the past 50 years, the exhibition brings together major works by 38 leading international artists from five different continents. As well as illuminating the beauty and visually arresting character of trees, Among the Trees invites us to consider trees as both symbols and living organisms. Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the exhibition explores how trees have shaped human civilization and how they continue to play an indispensable role in our lives and imaginations.

The works in the exhibition take us on a journey of ideas and simultaneously transport us across the globe: visitors will encounter images of Colombian rainforests, jungles in Japan, olive orchards in Israel, Scandinavian woods and an underground forest in South Africa. Incorporating distinctive and often surprising perspectives, the artists in the exhibition question our conventional representations of trees in order to forge new ways of understanding our crucial and multifaceted relationship with arboreal life.

Ralph Rugoff, Director, Hayward Gallery says: “At a moment when the destruction of the world’s forests is accelerating at a record pace, Among the Trees brings together the work of leading international artists who urge us to think about the essential roles that trees and forests play in our lives and psyches. Hopefully, visitors will leave the exhibition with a renewed sense of appreciation for both the beauty and complexity of these indispensable organisms.”

To create his works, Shi Guowei borrows a hundred-year-old technique of manually pigment-toning black-and-white photographs. The result sits in the frontier between photography and painting, and remarkably conveys nature’s most subtle atmospheric qualities. Guowei's work presents specific components of a landscape from wide-angle perspectives. He photographs a scene from different angles and merges them into one cohesive image of a meadow, rock, forest or solitary tree.  After chemically developing the print, he carefully paints onto the photographic paper using water-based ink. The artist is not concerned with depicting a purely descriptive representation of the natural world and instead relies on his own memory to colour his ‘photo-paintings’. In Pine (2016) and Kyoto (2019) foliage and branches fill the entire frame, destabilising the viewer’s sense of depth and preventing the establishment of a single vantage point. This strange perspective creates a surreal image, suffused with nostalgia and reminiscent of the sublime. The works resonate with traditional Chinese landscape painting where the natural is almost mystical, deployed to illustrate inner worlds and abstract emotions.