That Open Space Within - Anya Gallacio At Camden Arts Centre

By Poppy Bowers | 06 August 2008
a photo of a large dead tree occupying a white gallery space

(Picture) - Anya Gallaccio, that open space within, 2008. Dead horse-chestnut tree, rope, findings. © the artist. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

Exhibition Review - Poppy Bowers resists the temptation to climb trees again as she visits the Anya Gallacio exhibition at Camden Arts Centre - running until September 14 2008.

Showing in the summer season, a time of the year traditionally associated with the great outdoors, British artist Anya Gallaccio’s current installation at Camden Arts Centre proves a very timely one indeed.

'that open space within' is Gallaccio’s first solo exhibition at Camden Arts Centre and is a sculptural installation consisting of the top part of a fully-grown horse chestnut tree.

a photo of a large dead tree occupying a white gallery space

Anya Gallaccio, that open space within (detail) 2008. © the artist. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery, London. Photo: Craig Kao

Working closely with a tree surgeon, Gallaccio has removed the crown of the tree from its trunk, chopping it into a number of parts. The dismembered crown was then transported to the gallery where it has been resurrected with a number of metal bolts and rope. Complete with re-attached branches, the tree now sands upright once again, towering over the visitor’s head and protruding into the recesses of the large room.

As one of the artists who exhibited in the infamous 1988 group show, Freeze, and a nominee for the Turner Prize in 2003, Gallaccio and her work can be seen to be as ambitious as her supporters. 'that open space within' is a monumental and arresting sight to behold.

One has to resist the urge to clamber upon the nearest branch and revert to being a nine year-old. The looming structure still carries cobwebs draped over branch ends and dried buds sit in small crevices within the trunk. This wild, raw structure stands wonderfully awkward within the room, creating a spectacle that would sit well in one of Alice’s adventures.

a photo of a large dead tree occupying a white gallery space

Anya Gallaccio, that open space within, (detail) 2008. © the artist. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

On the day of my visit, the sun was pouring in through the windows of this old gallery and I instantly felt as though the crisp angular white walls did not belong here rather than the tree. Possibly due to their ability to outlive human generations, trees such as Gallaccio’s seem to present a distinct air of permanence.

It is this sense of time and its passing to which Gallaccio turns our attention, as she has done often in her previous work. Using raw organic matter as the material and content of her art practice, Gallaccio often focuses on nature’s temporal character and exploits ways in which this material can be changed.

As with her previous work, that open space within invites us to contemplate our relationship with, and our use and understanding of such daily emblems of our environment such as trees, fruit and flowers.

By displaying not merely a tree but a reconstructed tree, Gallaccio seems to focus on the complexity of changing states and attempts to upset the logical progression of time.

The stretches of cream rope that tie the tree back to the plaster walls and the metal screws bolting the branches together, enable the tree to appear standing as strong as it once did. But this is a futile act that reinforces the brutality of how the tree came to be in the gallery in the first place. Gallaccio seems to present a plant momentarily caught in a complex process between living and dying inhabiting the space between before and after.

a photo of a large dead tree occupying a white gallery space

Anya Gallaccio, that open space within, (detail) 2008. © the artist. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

Standing in the gallery makes you think about the wooden parquet floor and the wooden window frames; wood that could have come from a similar tree. Gallaccio’s tree remains still rough, still untamed.

The green lush leaves on tree tops lining Finchley road can be seen from the gallery window. In this space Gallaccio successfully abandons the idea of time being a linear process and instead shines a light on the layered way in which we, and the world in which we operate, exist.

The clean, white minimal space makes the encounter of Gallaccio’s installation all the more dramatic and an engaging essay by Angus Cook accompanies the show.

Camden Arts Centre is a well-matched setting in one other way than those just mentioned; on the ground floor, the gallery café’s chairs and tables pour out into leafy tree-lined gardens offering a perfect setting to reflect on this poignant and silently provocative show.

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