down by dieback disease in the next decade. Research by Natural England found that 1,058 different species, from beetles to birds, lichens to mammals, are dependent in some way on ash. All of them will be affected by the trees’ demise.
The central pillars of Ash to Ash are two 10-metre-tall trees, one stripped of its bark, leaving a ghostly pale smooth surface, while in sharp contrast its twin is blackened by fire. The truncated limbs are carefully pierced by 10,000 arrow shafts. The artists explain: “The arrow, cleaved from ash, is integral to our artwork. Stripped of feather flight and steel head, it is impaled in its thousands into the monolith form of the two trees.” When I visited the work, the arrows created an eerie sound as the wind blowing onto the Downs filtered through their mass. At certain times of day, the light blurs their shapes, creating the sense of a soft-focus halo around the structures. Ackroyd and Harvey continue: “The two forms seem to mirror each other. One casts a dark shadow of loss. Ash to Ash is our way of inviting people to connect emotionally with the landscape, to help them find a way of mourning the loss of this tree and the way that it will change the land forever.”
The Kent Downs is one of Britain’s most densely wooded landscapes, the ash tree its most common species. Recent drone footage over this iconic and apparently fertile scenery revealed the outline of thousands of ash dying within the forests, making the county the hardest hit by dieback disease so far.
Ackroyd & Harvey’s caring attitude extends to other artists too. Looking to the future and thinking about the weathering of the installation, Harvey muses, “Maybe, as with dieback-stricken trees, once the artwork begins to degrade we should lay the structures down and let them crumble. The budget saved on moving them could go to support up-and-coming artists.”
Their in-depth arboreal knowledge made them the obvious choice to produce Kent’s emblematic piece, as ash has been a source of inspiration for both since they were students. Ackroyd studied with the pioneering artist David Nash in 1978, just after he had planted his iconic Ash Dome installation, a ring of 22 trees planted in a secret location in North Wales and intended to stand for centuries. (The installation is now sadly affected by
“The arrow, cleaved from ash, is integral to our artwork. Stripped of feather flight and steel head, it is impaled in its thousands into the monolith form of the two trees.”
dieback and its future hangs in the balance.) And in the 1980s, as a young Royal College of Art student, Harvey was making arrows and sculptures from ash. The couple combined forces in the 1990s and the tree has continued to act as a muse for them ever since.
Ecology is intrinsic to Ackroyd & Harvey’s textural
Ash to Ash (detail), installed at White Horse Country Park © Ackroyd & Harvey
Photograph © Manuel Vason
Resurgence & Ecologist